Challenges in Package Design

Earlier this year, I attended the Package Design Matters conference in Florida. In addition to getting away from St. Louis in the middle of winter, I also loved the opportunity to check in with others in the industry and see if their experiences in the business align with ours. It’s usually an uplifting, validating experience, and this conference was no exception.
Some things we’re all dealing with:
1) How to Ascribe Value to Great Design. 
It’s hard to prove that great design is worth a premium. It’s rare that we can track sales directly back to package design and show direct ROI. And yet, we all instinctively know that it makes a big difference.
In this era of crowdsourced design on the cheap, agencies are constantly being asked to do free pitches and compete with multiple other agencies doing the same. Many of us have been strong and declined. Sometime’s that’s hard to do, but we’re becoming more and more confident about valuing our work correctly. If we give it away free or inexpensively, we’ve devalued our product. And you can’t really bounce back from that.
In fact, at Origin, we just refused to do a free pitch and we got the job anyway. I think our confidence and willingness to walk away actually made the client feel more comfortable with us.
2) How to Optimize Creative Briefs.
The group was in agreement that in order to ensure a successful project outcome, it’s often necessary to challenge our clients’ briefs. Often, briefs are dense and unclear. Their objectives are too broad for the assignment. Their deliverables have no correlation to the reality of their budget. Or, sometimes, they aren’t thinking big enough.
We discussed the efficacy of playing a kind of creative brief “tennis” where we pass the assignment back and forth a few times before both sides agree and work begins.
One agency of note boils down the brief to only one line. Their one line creative briefs lead to ONE DESIGN solution (sort of a love-it or leave-it approach). That may be going a bit too far, but we’ve all too often seen the converse. We’ve seen agencies who present dozens of packaging options. Clients become overwhelmed and can’t choose anything. My magic number is 3. This way, the client gets some say, but isn’t paralyzed by endless choices.
3) How to Deliver Great Packaging That’s Affordable and Environmentally Conscious.
We’re all still struggling with this one. I didn’t see great solutions at the conference. In fact, there wasn’t much discussion of this, with the exception of Brent Nelson, Senior Manager of Packaging Sustainability at Amazon. This will need to be a huge part of our future focus. We’re looking into using more digital content and re-usable POS to help educate the consumer without creating a lot of physical waste.
I’m working on maintaining that post-conference energy and doing all that I vowed to do when I left Florida. It’s always a good idea to get away every once in a while, clear your head from client work, and figure out what you should be doing differently.

About Michelle Thomas