There are thousands of excellent design firms, suppliers and manufacturers across the globe. How do you know which is the right one for you? And once you find the teams to work with, how do you work with them well? Let’s look at what will help make your next packaging project a smooth process among all involved.
assembling the right team
Great design firms and manufacturers are a dime a dozen, says Fred Hart, creative director, Interact (interactonshelf.com). After a certain point, it comes down to the people.
“Once past strategic and creative credentials, the two most important aspects are whether the team understands your marketing challenge and whether the working chemistry is strong,” agrees Phil Battat, partner, Brand Zoo (brandzoo.com). “Think about this:
- Are they smart, good listeners with curious minds?
- Has their work had a positive impact on their clients’ businesses?
- How has the team worked together to develop creative ideas for other clients?
- Do they work well as a team? Do they have good chemistry with each other and you?
- Can they upend conventional assumptions and are capable of challenging your team?
- Do they have a broad range of work?”
“But don’t get overly concerned about the agency’s category experience,” he continues. “Yes, it is great to have a team that knows the industry, but sometimes too much category experience can be a detriment to new ideas. Remember, the agency’s job is to make you stand out, not just fit in.”
Once you have your partners in place, make sure you bring the right people to the meetings. “Every function at the brand that would be affected by the change of an existing package or the introduction of a new package should be represented,” says Scott Jost, VP of innovation and design at Berlin Packaging (berlinpackaging.com).
“Even still, keep it a concise group,” says Hart. “It’s hard to do anything great when there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. You’ll design by committee, which will never take your brand to a place that is brave, bold or truly resonates with the crowd.”
Battat offers a good screening tool: “Can they say no to the idea or design direction? Involve those people from the start. Brand teams are sometimes overly concerned about ‘working it all out’ and going through multiple design reviews before taking it to the next level. Nothing could be more frustrating for the agency to get to the CEO or CMO and hear the ‘how did we get here?’ question. Confident brand teams have the right people in the room throughout the process.”
Also stressed is the early involvement of the supply chain. A good design partner will bring those members in at the perfect time. “The earlier we can be involved in the process the better,” says Sohail Sethi, managing director, AA Labels (aalabels.com). “We don’t need to participate in the initial workshops for concept definition, but once an idea has been agreed upon, it’s best to get us involved as soon as possible.”
lay the foundation
Come to the table with a clearly defined design concept, purpose and expected outcome, says Sethi. Talk about financials and timing so your partners can work within expectations.
“It is best to be as open as possible as to the target audience, business objectives, brand story, budget and time constraints,” says Battat. “The clearer you are with the agency, the more efficient the process will be.”
When creating your brief, provide concrete information, then allow the team to come up with the solution. “A good brief will strike the balance between being descriptive and directive,” says Jost. “To get the most from your creatives, you want to describe the brand’s history, its competition, its categorical context and so on, but leave it up to them to synthesize that into action.”
“The more targets and references given to us, the more chance we have of hitting the brief the first time,” says Steve Schoultz, VP of packaging solutions, InnerWorkings (inwk.com). “We received feedback from Bacardi, one of our major spirits clients, that our pre-production sampling first submissions are exceptionally accurate, something the brand really values in the NPD process.”
Lastly, bring a sense of self with you, says Hart. “As a brand, you need to understand who you are in the world. People get emotional about who you are and why you do it. Those two things are the most important things that a company can bring to the table.”
Changes will need to be made, so it’s best for all parties to expect and accept them. But by following some best practices and being excited about doing something different, this stage can go as well as the rest.
“Aligned interests make changes easier,” says Jost. “The brand owner and supplier realize a return when the brand is launched and takes hold, and not a moment before. As co-investors they both share a financial interest in the project outcome, so they’re incented to focus on commercial reality and not only revise but also optimize solutions for efficiency. In a model where one project participant is being paid for billable time rather than for an outcome, it’s easy to get misaligned interests.”
“We find that some clients want to be too prescriptive in their reviews,” says Battat. “This goes beyond feedback like ‘make the logo bigger.’ Sometimes clients feel they need to art direct the designers with unnecessary precision. Instead of trying to solve the problem for us, we ask clients to articulate their issues or problems and let us come back with creative ways to solve them.”
Even if the presented solution seems like a big chance, consider taking it instead of changing it. “The world does not need another mediocre product,” says Hart. “It’s really important to be brave and trust designers throughout the process. If you limit people’s ability to think, especially your design partner, you are going to limit the work. The more open minded and brave brands are, the better the work is going to be.”
hand in hand
So as you embark on your next design or redesign project, streamline the process by building a team you know you can trust. Communicate openly about goals and visions, but don’t micromanage the work by trying to do your partners’ jobs for them. When brands are present in the process and value and respect their team and ideas, great packaging happens.