Prototypes & Comps

Ideation Vivace

Posted: April 8, 2013 by
Pat Henry and Linda Casey

One of journalism’s greatest wordsmiths, Arthur Brisbane, is famed for giving the advice, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Peter Clarke, CEO and founder of a brand strategy and design consultancy Product Ventures, says that if a picture is worth 1,000 words, “a prototype speaks 10,000 pictures” when designing packages. 

Part of the prototypes’ power for ideation, adds Tom Newmaster, partner at packaging, advertising and multimedia design firm William Fox Munroe, comes from the insight a designer gets “from the simple ability to correctly convey how well a design performs and an understanding of how package graphics will look when scaled up to actual physical size.”

Resetting the clock on conceptualization
Using prototypes to prove design concepts carries a fraction of the costs of actual package production—both in time and dollars—and it can be the best way to convince a client to make or avoid a packaging change.

Brian Everett, packaging designer at IQ PKG, the design arm of the packaging supplier formerly known as Spartech and now part of the PolyOne Corporation, says prototyping helped the agency demonstrate a better alternative to the large stock tubs that a customer was using for a hand-packed food product. IQ PKG was able to show how a redesigned package would deliver better stacking strength, greater ease of use for the packaging line workers and a “more fun” appearance that made the finished package more competitive in its big-box retailing environment by giving the client a physical prototype that they can hold.

Jack Hinkel, executive director, implementation at brand consultancy Interbrand, says these benefits also extend to virtual prototyping. “When a client is trying to decide if a spot varnish is worth the extra cost, I can use Interbrand 3-D [the company’s own branded virtual prototyping platform] to show in real time what that product looks like with the spot varnish on and with the spot varnish off of the product.”

This, he says, is increasingly important as special effects such as metallic finishes are becoming more popular with brands. “If you have a product that has foil on it,” says Hinkel. “Depending on where it is on the package and in the store, the foil will capture light differently. In a shadow, the foiled area will darken. By viewing the varnished and foiled packages in a virtual store space, we, along with our client, can really evaluate a concept. And I can show them all this in real time.”

Flexibility from in-house capabilities
Interbrand 3-D is powered by Esko’s Studio and Visualizer software. Studio provides designers with a 3-D working environment, and Visualizer is the virtual prototyping engine.

Once Interbrand designers build the art files, the computer creates all of the special effects. But the agency says the most profound effects of this workflow is in the revision stage, where a traditional workflow requires having a prototyping service rebuild the entire physical piece adding days and dollars to a design project’s costs. Interbrand 3-D enables Hinkel to turn the effect “plate” off to render the image without the effect quickly.

“I was able to deliver a project on cost that we were changing in real time,” he explains. “We played with the texture pattern behind the emboss, and silver ink and spot varnish options. I switched back and forth between those three options right in front of the client so they could get a feel for each option right away.”

Scott Lucas, executive director at Interbrand, adds, that Interbrand 3-D enables a client to interact with the design concepts in a very tactile way. “I have Interbrand 3-D installed on my iPad,” he remarks. “It’s amazing to be able to call up the prototype, slide my iPad across the table and let the client interact with it first hand. That’s some kind of moment where the concept comes off of a screen and into their hands.”

Clarke agrees that full control of the prototyping process is important but believes that agencies can retain that control while producing physical prototypes. This is why the agency has invested in everything from label and film printing systems to stereolithographic and 3-D printing systems. 

Working with low-budget projects
Although his agency has been an equipment beta test site for years, pushing the limits of next-generation proofers and production systems, Tom Newmaster concedes that what’s “affordable” hinges on how the client values prototyping as part of the package development process.

The customer who exclaims, “$400 for that little box?” Newmaster opines, may not be fully aware of the cost benefits of validating packaging concepts with physical samples.

But no matter the budget, Newmaster remarks, “let’s comp before we release the file” is always good advice.