Packaging session focuses on process

CHICAGO — Bluedog Design CEO Michelle Hayward emphasized the initial steps of a packaging project as some of the most essential during her presentation at the United FreshMKT Learning Center June 14.

Before Hayward ran through her list of tenets for successful packaging, she described a development process aimed at ensuring a project is on solid footing from the beginning.

“Time is money,” Hayward said. “If you spend it wisely the first time you don’t have to spend it again.”

She suggested companies begin by assembling a team and defining the role of each member, making it clear who is expected to contribute in which areas.

Hayward also noted the importance of aligning on the ambition for the product — whether the goal is to create a new category, a new eating occasion, etc. — as well as discussing operational realities like how many stock-keeping units the company can afford, which colors can be used on packaging based on the capabilities of existing printers, and more.

“They should share that ambition with you,” Hayward said.

Turning to the actual design of the packaging, she noted first that standing out is key, so companies need to fight the instinct to follow the direction of whichever brand currently has the strongest foothold in the area.

“Mimicking the category leader is usually not the way to win the war,” Hayward said.

Communicating the value proposition of the product is also important, but companies have to keep in mind that less is more when it comes to packaging because consumers cannot digest much information in the few seconds they scan a package.

Building a clear hierarchy into a design will help companies focus the shopper on those two or three most important messages — the name of the company and the name of the salad recipe, for example.

Complexity in packaging can be an issue for food companies in particular, with regulations dictating that certain elements be included.

“When we staff those types of projects, we put of course people who are very creatively minded on those because creativity loves constraints, but we also put systems thinkers on there because it’s also a bit of an information architecture project,” Hayward said.

“There’s no really good answer for it other than you’ve got to have a space for it, and if you’re redesigning it every time because you’re trying to re-fit all of these elements, it’s going to be an expensive way to go,” Hayward said. “Establishing an architecture is going to get you further faster and less expensively for sure.”