One more strawberry?
It’s a familiar tale: branded packaging is the only marketing medium which consumers willingly invite into their homes. Before all the advertising jingles and promises, packaging is the gateway to consumers’ minds before they have even seen, touched, or tasted the product itself. Organisations claim that they understand the role of packaging in this process and its importance to building brand equity and shaping the consuming experience. Alas, in reality, beyond all the ambitious talk, most budgets allocated for branded packaging design are negligible, restricting any possible explorative innovation, killing all the hope for meaningful product differentiation. Investments are made on bad advertisements for fake-hero products, which even skilled visualisers struggle to produce photoshop miracles out of. The bad news is that we are going to have to put up with this for while a longer; the good news is that such organisations won’t stay competitive for long by continually delivering the same drivel.
I know for a fact that these organisations are full of passionately talented people who want to see change and innovation. Somewhere up in the chain however, heavy management structures shackle all desire and hope to progress, for the sake of ticking the box off and moving forward. Processes, structures, and controlled systems seem to overshadow the strive for exploration, adaptation and agility for new ways of working - the very things that foster real innovation. Instead, we are stuck with organisations that are signing off artwork and giving direction via software systems, in an attempt to ‘‘improve communication’’, so that management can have serious discussions about the amount and size of strawberries on that given pack. In an attempt to communicate to as wide of an audience as possible, organisations often fail communicate to anyone at all. The insecurity and lack of ideas are producing nothing more than karaoke kings, who are waiting for someone else’s next big hit.
Foundations for failure
What fosters such inability to utilise packaging design lays in the tools organisations use to cover defeatism and support protectionism. The reassurance comfort blanket, formally known as ‘‘research’’, has become a shield to hide behind from failures to try something new. In other industries, research is known as an activity that should inspire, provide guidance and enable innovation. Here, it now goes by the name of ‘‘shit-hits-the fan-shield’’, ‘‘disaster checker’’ and a fan-favourite with designers – ‘‘the judge of beauty competitions.’’
It is not just the researchers’ fault. The generalist research itself is what offers on a platter a disturbingly flawed foundation: from its initial premise, to its inability to deliver actionable content that the creatives can utilise to deliver tangible, life-changing innovation. Researchers need to understand they should be providing data that is digestible and actionable by users who are not concerned with advertising spend but with usability and consumers’ experiences with the brand and the product. Those in the boardroom should understand that they need to invest in meaningful insight and can’t get away with recycling the same irrelevant data for different purposes. Research should be made accountable in the same way designers are accountable for targeted products that they design and deliver.
Briefing, research and design should be a collaborative and simultaneous activity from day one. Designers, expert researchers and managers should all have a shared role in co-producing the brief and educating the decision-making leaders that the brief is not a fixed statement of intent, but an attempt to frame and capture fuzzy and complex problems in motion.
Knowledge gap and innovation glue
Designers should be taking active roles in facilitating design, innovation and change at senior management and boardroom level. There is a reason why companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google are using designers, as project managers and board members. Designers, rather than say engineers or accountants, are the individuals who are best able to evoke and guide brands and product-packaging development towards agile practices, customer-centric decision-making, and better collaboration across all fields of knowledge. How many other professionals are looking simultaneously at consumer behaviour, competitive positioning, strategic branding, affordance, usability and accessibility, explorative material development, prototyping, mimicry, forms relationship to function, hierarchy communication and needs, brand consistency, typographic legibility, colour and alignment, promotional narrative, retail environments, experiential design, cultural and contextual relevance, distribution, printing and production methods, implementation and the list goes on. Designers are the only ones exploring desirability, feasibility and viability, they fill the knowledge gaps with valuable glue – the same glue that holds information and innovation together, turning non-tangible and tangible experiences into measurable results.
I will leave you with this, I think it’s quite important, it is something my darling mother use to say to me every morning …..wake up!
Ian Rooney / CEO PACKLAB