Over the last few months I’ve been running a series of really nice articles on packaging design written by Laura Donnely from XO Create!, a U.S. based agency that specializes in branding and packaging design, along with other design disciplines.
Unfortunately, my friend Laura is leaving the company, and probably won’t be sharing her insight with us anymore. But the firm continues on in her absence and does great design work. A while back I had a nice email discussion with Jim Stringer, Creative Director for XO. He shared some enlightening thoughts on the design and branding process, as well as the company’s approach to projects.
Jim, Do you feel that packagers are getting more sophisticated about branding?
Yes and for good reason. We have all read the statistics about in-store purchase decisions, how long it takes a consumer to make one and so on. These are all true but the real reason packagers have to become more brand savvy is that their product (the package) is on the front line of their client’s battle - the store shelf. The package has for many become the first touchpoint, the first interaction with a brand and it had better speak the right message in the right voice to its audience or they may never interact with it. We are talking about more than slapping a logo on a box as big as you can and calling it branded. These days the shape, the color, the material all must align to tell one concise, succinct story - the brand promise - and we must do it in way that captures our audience and provides a real value in their life. Quite a role for packaging, but one that can be achieved with the right team and the right framing of the project.
What do you feel is the biggest (missed?) opportunity clients have with their packaging?
Telling their story. Delivering on the brand promise or at least starting to clue the consumer in on what the brand represents. Also it’s the experience after the consumer gets the package home. Does it store the product well? Was it easy to open? Properly childproofed? What post-purchase value can be designed into the package? Also packaging can be a source of tremendous savings when approached from the right point of view. Can we use less material, fewer inks? different substrates? There are so may variables that go into a package it’s no wonder that the right packaging firm can assess the situation and often find ways to shave production costs without sacrificing on the brand or the experience.
What do you see as the most important design trend in packaging in the next five years?
Reduction of materials and sustainability, so start doing your homework! Honestly, these areas are going to continue to be hot and there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what’s green and what’s sustainable. This leaves us, the packagers and package designers, to learn more and lead the way for our clients in these areas including educating them on the facts.
What do you see as the most worrisome design trend happening in packaging?
Moving packaging design overseas. I certainly understand the reasons behind outsourcing, but often any savings realized is spent on production management (are the colors right, is the substrate correct?) and time getting things back and forth. The bigger issue is if your actual design is outsourced, because more often than not these designers have no concept of our varied cultures and emotional triggers. This often leads to very alien looking design and messaging that leaves the consumer more confused than informed. If you are going to outsource your packing production that’s fine as long as you have a qualified person representing the project and it’s objectives dedicated to the outcome of the work.
What do you have to educate your clients about the most when it comes to packaging design?
Production. Many of our clients are new to the world of manufacturing, conversion, printing and fulfillment of packaging. It can be quite intimidating when you have no idea where to start or what’s involved, but over the years we have become very good at bridging the gap between client and production processes. Of course many times the client has never budgeted for this type of education or production management. Yet when it’s all said and done most feel it was worth the extra investment to avoid production pitfalls which can quickly drain a budget.
Describe your approach to redesigning a clients packaging
We first begin by asking the client to write a creative brief describing the general reasoning and objectives that are driving the project. We often help with this brief in areas the client is unsure of or may have difficulty articulating. From this brief we begin to ascertain what areas of the existing packaging may or may not be supporting the desired outcomes. Many times we discover disconnects not necessarily with the packaging but with the product or it’s presentation. For example, a client may have a game aimed at adults, yet the colors of the product itself and/or it’s packaging may unknowingly cause consumers to see it as a child’s product. The copywriting could have the wrong voice, the images could have the wrong art direction, or the client may just being trying to brilliantly solve the wrong problem. This is why we constantly question and circle the project from so many viewpoints; to discover these hidden issues and then design for or around them in order to more clearly articulate the brand or product message.
Is there any kind of packaging that your firm specializes in?
Not particularly since we approach package design as an extension of a brand. We design almost any type of packaging that achieves the client’s objectives, whether it’s glass, plastic, toys or appliances. We have a very talented team here at XO Create! and I personally feel there isn’t much they can’t accomplish. If we were forced to niche I would say most of our work lends itself to the unusual or atypical type of packaging solutions.
What packaging design are you the most proud of?
We are quite proud of all our packaging work, so it’s hard to pinpoint any one project. Just about everything we are really proud of is featured on our website - www.xocreate.com under the portfolio section.
What types of projects are the most exciting to you?
Any project that has a genuine objective to reach or problem to solve. For XO Create! packaging is not a form of decoration, it’s a real opportunity to communicate on may levels and solve some real issues on both the client and consumer sides of things. When we have a defined goal or objective and are allowed the creative freedom to discover solid solutions, we always get excited!
What kind of packaging would you love to design if you had the chance?
Cosmetics packaging would be exciting! Beauty and style products always seem to have a very high aesthetic and this team could really sink their teeth into those values and produce something exceptional!
Do you work remotely often? (email, web, phone, etc.) Or do you prefer working face-to-face with clients?
We work in any capacity that provides the level of detail and responsiveness the client or project desires. This is often a marriage of all forms of communication and we make sure anyone assigned to a project can communicate with a client about the work.
Which package has more fun – a box of fruit or a bag of candy?
A bag of candy! It’s far easier to carry around a bag of jelly beans than a box of kiwi!
If you could be a package for one day, what would you be?
A bottle of high-end liquor - it would be a celebration everywhere I went!
Is there anything you’d like to tell prospective clients?
Hire a good packaging firm, one that can assist with everything from budget and production constraints to branding and emotional touch point creation. Choose them not on the work they have done for others in specific product categories, but on the ground breaking work you believe they can achieve for your unique product or situation. Also, clearly define what you hope to achieve with your packaging and bring your chosen firm in early on in the game, it’s their unique problem solving perspectives and experience that you hired them for, not their software skills, so utilize it and allow them the room to do something you would have never thought of. After all, isn’t that the reason for hiring professionals?
How can clients get in touch with you?
You can contact me via email at - [email protected].