4 Design Firms + 4 SKUs = Innovation Inspiration

Posted: September 13, 2009 by
Ron Romanik

The 2007 Package Design Makeover Challenge begins here with four profiles of our participating design teams. In this celebration of package design creativity, each participating firm will strive for "Best Overall Package Redesign" as voted by you, our readers. In the July/August issue, each team's four redesigned packages will be presented with a summary of the team's design thought processes and brand strategies.

The Makeover Challenge is a unique "blue sky" opportunity for the design firms to stretch their philosophies and methodologies and produce stunningly original ideas. To encourage innovation, the contest is a fantasy design exercise, where there are really no limits or constraints placed on the design teams. There will be two new extra aspects of the Makeover Challenge this year, challenging the teams to come up with innovative production ideas and creative sustainability initiatives.

This year's accomplished design teams include the Design Resource Center in Naperville, IL, Perennial Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, Tridimage in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Zunda Design Group in Norwalk, Connecticut. These firms have deep experience in structural and graphical design for consumer product goods, experience that will be applied directly to the household cleaning products that are the subject of this year's challenge.

Online voting will begin with the publication of the July/August issue and will end on September 30. The team with the most popular overall package redesign will be awarded the cover story of our November/December issue. The Makeover Challenge sponsor, Paxonix, has provided all the teams with complimentary subscriptions to the latest version of PaxPro, their online asset management and revision tracking software, to help them work efficiently as teams.

Design Resource Center
Naperville, Ilinois

Design Resource Center (DRC) was founded in 1990 by John Norman and Chuck Bokar as a pioneering firm in high-end computer graphics for package design. Norman and Bokar were experts at a multi-computer design system known as Aesthedes because they worked for the parent company, based out of Holland, for several years prior.

After gaining experience in strategic branding and new product development, Norman and partner Chuck Bokar moved the company out of Chicago to Naperville, IL, in 1994. The firm is now an efficient team of 12 designers, account executives, traffic coordinators, and production experts.

DRC's package design methodology is customized for the clients' specific need and follows a structure emphasizing measurable progress. This includes staging presentations at key milestones —or after every step—in the process.

The firm calls their process the "Focus" steps, and it consists of five main stages: 1) Analyze; 2) Strategize; 3) Conceptualize; 4) Execute; and 5) Evaluate. The all-important first step involves a thorough investigation into retail environments and the competition to identify areas of opportunity. "We really get smart about the category," says Norman. As much as anything, this front-end work prepares the team for thoroughly understanding the category and identifying areas of opportunities to help the client differentiate within the marketplace.

Another reason that the process keeps moving along at a good clip is because of DRC's customary modus operandi with the brand owners. "The client is with us on the journey every step of the way," says Norman. He explains that this partner relationship also greatly reduces subjectivity when analyzing proposed designs. When miscommunication happens, either party can ask, for instance: "How is that off-strategy from your perspective?"

Of course, there are times when clients have ideas that DRC might disagree with. When a member of the firm feels very strongly about a specific design issue, Norman encourages the staff to tactfully but persistently "gently nudge" them in the right direction to achieve the desired result. "We're small enough still that we have a passion for what we do," Norman says. "We can still react to what our clients' needs are."

Norman always offers to have DRC take design projects all the way to printing and production. Early on, he politely suggests to clients: "Let us at least set up production standards for you." Having been in the trenches of design and production, he has seen how easily production variations can snowball out of control.

Norman sees a trend in consumer goods package design that is reducing the amount of feature copy on the front panels of packages. He admits that sometimes it is difficult to convince clients to minimize the copy in favor of a more graphically constructed message. But Norman believes this trend is here to stay. "People retain so much more visually," he emphasizes.

Perennial, Inc.
Toronto, Ontario

Perennial Inc. is a 17-year-old, multidisciplinary design firm that draws on the diverse talents and wide experiences of its staff when approaching any retail or package design assignment. Gary Oakley, vice president of creative, has spent the last four years of his 20 years in the industry at Perennial and appreciates the agility of the Perennial design atmosphere.

"We're pretty diverse ethnology-wise," explains Oakley. For each project, team members are selected for their pertinent experience and are challenged to push themselves to maximize the brand experience. "It's also important to listen and watch," Oakley says.

Perennial also encourages its designers to travel around the world in order to widen their horizons. Oakley feels that an awareness of what is going at retail in other countries can be an immeasurable asset when approaching new design projects. The firm encourages diversity by encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and trends from designer to designer and from category to category.

Perennial has experience in all aspects of retail design, from visual brand identity, to product development, to retail store design. This experience gives the company a unique ability to design packages with a full understanding of the impact of the retail environment on the visibility of a package in stores. Armed with this understanding on every project, Perennial is able to create a targeted design that stands out on-shelf.

Oakley says Perennial is constantly searching for "better ways of understanding what consumers go through during a purchasing decision." Oakley observes that typical retail environments have been evolving rapidly in recent years, especially in terms of product visibility. On retail shelves, categories have become broader with more varieties of brand and product selections. Both the breadth and depth of categories have increased, so packaging must now work harder to stake out its space on the shelf.

Another trend that Perennial is responding to is the fact that often the real design "client" is not the brand owner, but the retail store chains who make the decisions that can make or break a brand with more or better shelf placings. The trick is to invent something new while serving the expectations of a client as well as store shoppers, who are used to a certain kind of experience when visiting a particular type of store.
Perennial built the core of its clientele on the premise that "Good design is good for business." Clients often provide them with a lot of information from their research and history, but Perennial filters out what is useful. "Consumer research is a validation of what you're doing," says Oakley. "It shouldn't be a driver of what you're doing."

Of course, none of this prevents Perennial from trying to stay one step ahead of the client and their situation, or prevents them from seeking inventive solutions. As Oakley says, Perennial's package design projects often lead them to see the big picture and to ask themselves: "How much can we influence the stores?"

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Three partners started Tridimage in 1995 in Argentina with the vision that structural design and proprietary shapes should mean as much as graphic design for consumer goods packages. The three partners—Adriana Cortese, Virginia Gines, and Hernán Braberman—are trained as industrial and graphic designers and have a passion for all aspects of package design.

"Packaging should seduce and communicate in three dimensions," Braberman sums up Tridimage's philosophy. In the last five years, Tridimage has seen its international business expand, and now 40% of its business is from overseas. In 2005, Tridimage was the first design firm to win the prestigious Argentine Export Award for its outstanding achievements in the export of design services.

The partners feel that Buenos Aires is a strategic place from which to build an international presence because the culture there is very diverse. Buenos Aires offers a culture that is a blend of styles, influenced most strongly by a combination of Latin roots and European heritage.

"I think being in Buenos Aires is an advantage because consumers everywhere are becoming sophisticated and international," Braberman explains. Their designs run the gamut from the vibrancy of bright Mexican colors to the minimalist trend of European design. The diversity of ages of the partners—55, 40, and 35—also gives them a nice combination of different views and different generations. "We have to be very flexible in terms of aesthetics," Braberman says.

Braberman explains that Argentina has a lot of export-oriented companies who are not sure how to market Argentina culture overseas. He says that these companies often need some encouragement and reassurance that there is great value in showcasing original and local Argentinean flavors and designs to the world.

Tridimage finds that the firm has been "partnering" more and more with their clients, integrating their input earlier and earlier in creative design exploration. "It's very important for our clients to understand our methodology," Braberman says. Tridimage brings together three key elements in their design solutions: 1) 360° creativity; 2) 2D and 3D branding strategy; and 3) technological know-how for manufacturing reality.

The larger national and international brands they deal with might redesign packaging every two years, while smaller companies are often five years or more. Braberman says that for smaller companies with limited budgets, "It's very important for us to see into the future."

The three partners oversee and direct all the projects that come through Tridimage, though they tap as many perspectives as possible from their staff on any given project. "We try to start from scratch, involving both graphic and structural teams," says Braberman.

Tridimage's strength is glass and plastic bottles and integrated structural and graphic packaging for food, beverage, wine, cosmetic, household and spirits brands. Whatever the project, they try to see the brand with fresh eyes and create designs that are both visually stimulating, structurally relevant, and functionally sound. As Braberman puts it: "Packaging is really a window into the soul of the brand."

Zunda Design Group
South Norwalk, Connecticut

Three years ago, four longtime colleagues decided to combine their strengths to create a powerhouse package design and brand identity firm. Charlie Zunda, Gary Esposito, Ed Moeller, and Marie Zunda now lead a staff of 30 that has diverse yet similar strengths that can cultivate long-term relationships with large CPG clients. For over 25 years, Zunda Group's focus has been "Creating Brands That Inspire."

The big concept of Zunda Group is trying to create a unique point of difference because the partners have deep experience on the "other side of the fence," as it were, in the corporate culture of consumer product goods companies. That puts them in a unique position to anticipate the needs of their more established clients. "I'm not sure if we're a big little group or a little big group," Moeller ponders.

Of the established corporate clients, Gary Esposito emphasizes, "They know us, not just of us." Esposito is very proud of the work environment at Zunda Group because there are no egos allowed inside the office walls. "We don't sit off in an ivory tower," says Esposito.

Every project at the firm is handled similarly, and every project is seen by six or seven senior members of the firm during development. One of the firm's strengths is their ability to distill design briefs quickly because they know the marketing language intimately. They usually redefine the brief and go back to clients with their thoughts. A single clear message is important, because the visual graphics need to be focused.
When it comes to brand research, Zunda Group and their team of research partners create innovative research styles that help them get to the bottom of why a brand exists and that allow them to get into the minds of consumers.

Moeller says the firm has definitely responded to—or led—the trend toward package design simplicity. He explains that in recent decades computer software made many companies expect more from their designs, but that strategy did not always produce the most effective designs as brand communications became a little lost by embellishment.

In a sense, today's simplicity trend is reverting to a more pure idea of strong brand design. "We're getting design down to its real core essence," Moeller says, and that essence is visual. "We're still designing brands for very specific targets."

The firm's partners agree on one thing: A brand's essence is contained in all the graphic elements (like color, shape, texture, photography) that make up the packaging. The visual elements on a package must work together to make the brand message clear. Zunda says that it's how the visual elements come together that creates the ability to "create brands that inspire."