Moving Package Design Concepts to Reality Better, Smarter, Faster

‘Rapid innovation’ approach brings together all stakeholders at the start of package design to create consumer-validated solutions.  
by peter ClarkE
Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing by bringing the work to the worker. A new approach to packaging design and development has the same ground-breaking potential.
Its premise: Bring together all the stakeholders (the business decision makers, consumers, the creative talent and engineers) to a facility equipped with the right tools, such as consumer research capability plus in-house prototyping, to solve manufacturing challenges.
This “rapid innovation” approach is a sharp contrast to the traditional method of design and development.
Historically, a “silo” mentality separates disciplines. Each stakeholder operates in isolation from the others, drawing solely on their own experience and perspective.  This filters, or worse, discourages collaboration.
So what happens? Researchers research without considering design particulars. Industrial designers design without the benefit of direct input from a cross-disciplinary business team or instant feedback from consumers.
The resulting concepts arise without a clear understanding of consumer needs and business constraints. So the process proceeds unchecked and yields lead designs that are out of touch with business or end-user reality. What a waste of time, money and effort.
Bridging a huge gap
Every design challenge is an opportunity to bridge the gap between business representatives (engineering and marketing) and the consumer. Nine times out of ten, brand owners expect designers to bring together opposing mindsets and design something breakthrough, yet realistic. Well-intentioned initiatives start out being creative, only to be limited by constraints or divergent perspectives further down the road.
This happens for two reasons. First, conventional wisdom has been to keep business constraints under wraps from the design team for fear of  compromising creativity. Only later, after developing the concepts, do they undergo a business viability check.
Second, bad habits are hard to break. Despite every effort of the corporate design manager to bring together manufacturing and marketing within their own organization, the design process continues to run from functional camps, each side championing their conflicting cause.
Recently, more companies have begun to shift to cross-functional teams internally.  But even in many of these progressive cases, the external design agency is still viewed as an outsider.
The solution is the new collaborative, rapid innovation design model. Co-located cross-functional stakeholder teams (including the creative agency) partner to reveal opportunities, define the constraints and create consumer driven, actionable innovation. It’s a fast-moving method that synchronizes business and consumer needs to yield the ultimate solution quickly.
In a relatively short period of time, the team trailblazes opportunities alongside consumers at a location equipped to embody tangible concepts immediately.  It begins with contextual observation of unmet consumer needs and is followed by consumer ideation.  Through on-site rapid prototyping and consumer research facilities, concepts and consumer-led iterations are incorporated in real time.
After as little as one week, the team leaves with a solid footing in what features consumers want and what can be manufactured.  
Providing an “enabling” facility for the ultimate cross-functional team
The two key success factors of rapid innovation are (1) bringing together the ultimate cross-functional team, and (2) a “position-neutral” site that enables communication and iterative development of “manufacturable” concepts.
The team comprises the requisite corporate marketing and manufacturing players, but also consumer insights, design and, uncompromisingly, the consumer.
As integral process participants that are key to sustaining the speedy pace, the end-user’s voice must be heard early and often to validate strategy against needs.
Simultaneously, the client group provides expert guidance grounded in corporate fact. This includes existing capital expenditures, budget limitations, timetables and brand strategy. Clarifying “must haves” versus “nice to haves” early on identifies fruitful areas to pursue and provides clear measures for concept evaluation.
The creative agency provides the design talent, execution know-how, state-of-the art technology and creative methodology expertise.  
Co-located at an innovation facility, the team has access to an on-site consumer learning center complete with observation tools like mirrored viewing rooms and recording equipment.  Another unique feature available is onsite rapid prototyping capability (like CAD technology and a fully-equipped model shop) to create tangible concept embodiments.
You might be thinking to yourself, “But I already incorporate market research into the design process”.  There’s no question that conventional research facilities are great for exploring branding ideas or advertising campaigns.  But they can’t help you with manufacturing challenges. In fact, traditional research often yields consumer ideas that are simply not actionable.  That’s because these agencies are not equipped to handle iterative concept development.  Let’s face it.  Most times they aren’t even prepared to repair a damaged prop, let alone reshape a model based on participant feedback.  
Bringing the consumer into the creative process and work space
Rapid innovation calls for an intimate understanding of consumer need, behavior and motivation early in the process. As marketing and packaging professionals, we all know that what consumers say they need and what they actually need are often not the same. That’s why this approach requires contextual observation of consumer behavior firsthand by the design team.
Industrial designers and engineers are uniquely qualified by their training to identify and interpret the factors that impact usage and guide solution development. Through ethnography, cross-functional sub-teams study consumers in real life situations: in store, at home, at work and on the go. This reveals their unarticulated needs in context and interpretation falls to the experts, tasked with designing solutions.
Armed with both extensive business and consumer knowledge, the team can brainstorm solutions that are most likely to be successful. The group wastes no time exploring ideas with little chance of measuring up against consumer and business performance parameters.
This new approach maximizes design exploration because it incorporates instant feedback from all co-located stakeholders, including consumers.
The right tools and talent to embody actionable concepts
With everyone at a space that’s equipped with rapid prototyping technology, clients and designers can witness immediate end-user reaction to concept embodiments.
If a concept requires refinements, the team can ideate with consumers to quickly reveal preferences and make consumer-directed resolutions on the spot.
Designers are experts at translating ideas into tangible forms and choosing the appropriate communication tool for each audience, whether sketches or mock-ups. This saves additional rounds of research, off-line refinements and time.
For example, during idea generation, co-located consumers are inspired by packaging stimuli gathered from around the globe, on-the-spot sketching, and “Frankenstein” mock ups. During dynamic dialogue, designers clarify emerging consumer preferences and immediately translate them into manufacturable concepts.
With rapid innovation, immediate consumer-led adjustments are integral to the process. The old-way of thinking about consumer involvement meant trotting out several final concepts at a focus group and expecting them to choose “The One” to go to market.
But how often have you found yourself at a focus group where consumers want something different than what’s shown? Now you face project delays, costly off-line redesigns, and unhappy clients or bosses. And that’s the best case scenario. Worse is when consumers have to settle for concepts presented. Settle? After all that money and time?
The collaborative model ensures that concepts presented have been endorsed by consumers at each design and development stage.  By constantly honing in on what consumers want at each touchpoint, it becomes less likely that the final concepts will be off the mark.
As the team enters the final stretch, lead concepts are perfected and suppliers are added to the cross-functional mix.  These experts validate manufacturing decisions and help with quantitative testing or short-run production.  
By the time the cross-functional team arrives at the “deliver” phase, the process has assured an actionable, consumer-validated outcome. Based in business reality and consumer participation, the team has increased the odds of the concept achieving market leadership.
By removing roadblocks and data gaps early and throughout the process, the progress has been perpetual and swift. The team, having embraced true collaboration and rapid innovation, can feel confident that they have delivered the right solution to market quickly. BP
The author, Peter Clarke, is President of Product Ventures Ltd., a structural design consultancy specializing in consumer-driven rapid innovation.
Contact Peter at 203.319.1119 or