Tag Archives: packaging

Can design save the earth?

I have been working on several projects lately that relate to packaging design and comms testing. Some of these projects have been very good gigs as they have taken me overseas.  And I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been so heavily involved in the world of information hierarchies and brand devices that I’ve had little time to come up for air, but I am convinced that design can save the earth (or at least a bottom line) in more ways than I ever imagined.

When I was a young player in this job, we were always taught the biggest and best jobs were the ones you got to “set the strategy” – you know, hang out with the CEO and marketing director and be a “trusted advisor” blah blah blah…

But the jobs I’ve found most rewarding over the past little while are not so much the strategy stuff but the execution stuff.  The business end of a workstream. Making sure all that “strategy” is actually being brought to life.  And while I find myself tearing my hair out about the ad finitum approach that some clients have to testing designs or creative (question: it won’t hurt to chuck in another 58 designs will it?…answer: errr, yes it will hurt) if you come at it with a really objective methodology then it can be incredibly illuminating.  Removing the whole beauty parade approach to testing anything creative is the key. Getting beyond “do you like it”  and taking it to the level of “who does this feel like it’s for”, or “what does it tell you about when to use this” is where the magic flows.  A few projects have freaked us out about how much design speaks to people and can lead them right to you, or steer them far away. 

We just finished a whirlwind project where we had 23 pieces of stimulus to evaluate overnight for a big decision that needs to be made today.  I was really concerned we’d get it down to five or six options, when we really needed to come up with the one. Seven groups later we have it – and our respondents were able to clearly tell us why we needed to ditch the other 22 and go with that one.  The answer wasn’t the prettiest, it wasn’t the most obvious either – but it was the one that answered the questions we set them, which were dictated by the strategy.  I get a strange kick out of isolating the separate impact of the thing that is doing the communicating (label, creative etc), with how and what the thing is communicating about the brand.  Some people stop at the thing. And the old Hall and Partners PSI framework works every time (persuasion, salience, involvement) at giving a truly objective view of things – cuts out all the designer or creative director tantrums. Just a cool framework to tell them what’s being taken out, at what level, and where the gaps are.

So when Baxterd pointed me towards this and this it seemed very fortuitous. I am a pretentious fuck who believes design does make a difference (and in more ways than I ever really thought…)

And don’t get me started how research kills good ideas.  You may think your idea is the coolest around town, but to quote matt moore “does your idea sell more chicken?”


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Brands of Emptiness

I just read here about a new term – Brands of Emptiness – that was coined by UK wine writer Oz Clarke.  Like David Farmer, I also think its a great term, not just a catch all for all those appalling Australian “critter brands” that have flooded overseas markets, but also all those other brands out there with hollow cores – sort of like the Wizard of Oz I guess.  From the distance they look full of subsatnce and promise, but get closer and there aint much to look at.

soaking labels off bottles

But getting back to wine; I have been doing some branding work for a few different wine brands – mainly exploring potential brand stories through label design – and it is entirely true that once you give a wine drinker a way into the brand they latch onto it.  An interesting snippet about the history of the winery, a new way to look at a varietal or blend, a quirky piece of packaging – People become interested.  They look at Australian wine in a different way.  It tells people that the wine makers actually care about their product and the people who drink their wine because they are doing things a bit differently, and they are talking about Australian wine beyond the horrible caricature that we have become. The big brands have relied on embarrassing cliches that limit and stunt a drinkers relationship with the brand.  All they can see is cheap and cheerful.  I am dismayed when I hear drinkers from overseas tell me that “Australia doesn’t produce any great wine”. Not their fault – ’cause that’s all we sell them!

As we have to compete more and more with “cheap and cheerful” wine from other parts of the world, we are going to have to rely a bit more on our brands to pull us through.  And people want engaging brand stories (and will pay more for them) than the cliches.

(The picture above demonstrates the sometimes absurd moments of my job. Hungover in Miami, soaking labels off mock-ups of 24 bottles of wine, before I flew back to Australia…)


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