Packaging Digest caught up with Robbie Workman, creative director at xpedx, for an exclusive interview on achieving improved package usability through engineering. Robbie will also be speaking on the same subject at SouthPack on Tues., April 15, 2014.
What is your background in package engineering?
I have been immersed in the development of creative solutions for consumer brands for over 14 years. I bring keen insight and broad experience to a vast array of brand design, POP, industrial and packaging design solutions. I have also provided and/or directed structural and graphic design to companies of all sizes, from International Fortune 500 to regional business.; though the daily development of ideas from concept, through manufacturing to the check-out counter at national retailers. I am always interested in finding new ways to connect people to the products they love... through design.
How important is the collaboration process with colleagues in research and development, manufacturing, marketing, graphic design, and regulatory departments to address technical and marketing challenges?
Collaboration is by far the most crucial step with any scalable packaging project. The retail landscape has changed dramatically over the last several years, and customers are not interested in packaging solutions which suit the “status quo”. It’s vitally important to build a team of well-suited, influential skill-sets around the project at hand, and dive into the culture and supply-chain of the customer, to solve problems and find creative solutions.
How has increased concern for the environment created a greater demand for packaging engineers?
Every packaging project today has some aspect of addressing a “Green” detail, or positively impacting the environment through its use. Consumers are keen on the impact of a product’s packaging, and how it affects the world around them. It’s exciting to constantly witness new “Green” materials for development, and new ways of using an existing process in more impactful way. Insightful, entreprenureal packaging engineers are the ones breaking this new ground, and discovering these best practices. As long as packaging engineers continue to develop “Green” solutions which don’t compromise budget—they will always be extremely valued by manufacturers and CPG corporations around the world.
What are some key considerations for companies that are striving to “go green” and seek sustainable packaging?
Budget, budget, budget! It’s inside humor for packaging designers, we always say… “We can design it as green, as you can manage!” Honestly, the key question is, what sort of environmental story do you want your packaging to tell? A designer can easily take a packaging style back to its origin, and find solutions with extravagant, highly-sustainable materials—but typically this adds too much onto the existing budget. Oftentimes we find sustainable solutions by addressing a variety of inefficient details, which add up to larger sustainable impact for the product.
Discuss package life cycle.
Packaging life cycle, truly mimics the product’s life cycle…
1) Initially, when a product arrives to market, the associated packaging is an overly-substantial part of the process. Early product volumes are typically low, and the developed packaging is a large budgetary percentage, often intended for some form of hand-assembly to load or kit. However, as the product gains acceptance in the marketplace….
2) The next step of packaging evolves to mimic a larger product volume. Typically the packaging gets smaller in mass, and some aspect of semi-automation becomes a key point of the design. The supply chain for the product starts to form itself at this stage, and new challenges arise for the packaging to address. This stage is where the largest packaging development exists, and the biggest impact is made.
3) Finally, as a product gains significant market acceptance, packaging can slightly adjust to suit. The product has usually been on the market for some time, and a lot of variables have been tested throughout the package’s use. This is the stage where audits are a popular way to locate cost savings. Materials can be adjusted to save cost, space and total spend. Additional, minor tweaks to a packaging design can help drive savings, or increase speed to market.
Name some best design practices for implementing optimized positive impact for end-users.
- Be mindful of who the customer really is, when developing a packaging solution. We always know the market for which the product is intended, but the main question is actually, “Who is the main stakeholder with the company you are designing the packaging for?” A great designer can bridge the customer’s wants, with the end consumer’s needs, and win every time.
- Always go with your gut instinct when designing elements of a package, but…. don’t over-think the details. Designers and engineers are oftentimes charismatic, selfish people. We spend endless hours examining the details of something we create, which countless consumers will touch, open and interact with. That said, you have to come to a point in the design process where a final decision is made, and you don’t look back.
- Be a sponge. Keep your eyes open and never stop watching, learning and asking questions. As a designer or engineer, we have to be open to our competitors, colleagues and the world around us—to find answers to questions we might not even be looking for at the moment. You never know when that one idea that you came across at a trade show, or on a TV commercial, can help you find a solution to the big project which you’ll be working on next week.