Graphic design studio by Yurko Gutsulyak

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Packing for Babylonian tower


New marketing Magazine
9/2008
Packing is one of the most important visual communications between producer and consumer of goods. It is the packing that informs about product and its properties, and also affects the desire to buy it at a certain price. That’s why it is highly important to organize this information flow properly as it has an effect on product's perception as well as on product's merchantability.

The company's success is directly related to the accuracy of market communication. Sometimes producer tries to create it himself, but most often he delegates this to professionals. Advertising agencies and design studios specializing in packing development and product exterior appearance become a link, sort of rebroadcast device or decoder, between producer and consumer. So not only is it very important to create a message and deliver it to a buyer, but it is even more essential to get the idea to a designer and gain mutual understanding between a designer and a customer.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen all the time. Below you’ll find the description of basic stones which constitute the tower of Babel of Ukrainian packing.

Stone # 1 – Price  
Our customers are inclined to believe that it is rather cheap to create packing in Ukraine, especially if it is performed by a freelance designer or a small studio. In this case one should pay for the work of one person or several people, not a big team. However, customer forgets and often is not even aware that packing or label creation needs more than just one designer. What is commonly referred to as one notion is actually a set of processes that are very different and equally important:

- art-direction;
- design;
- illustration;
- photo;
- typography;
- pre-press.

All these tasks should be performed by different people, experts in their area of competence. If the label is developed by a freelance designer or a small design studio, one person has to perform several kinds of work. This doesn’t mean spending less time and energy, and in case you work with professionals your result is not going to be worse. Sometimes it gets even better, because they have the unified vision of project. So, why should this development be cheaper?

In Ukraine design gets all the attention, but illustration and typography are mostly not recognized as the ways of visual communication. Customer is willing to pay for design, but absolutely doesn’t want to pay for typography. The reasoning is simple: "Why would I need a designer who doesn’t know how to write a word?".

As a result, we are surrounded by packing that convey the one and only message: “a low-budget product”.

Stone # 2 – Tenders

In recent years design tenders have become very popular, and almost every customer regardless of experience, budget and size of his company is trying to put out a tender. It is virtually a contest to evaluate the ideas and budgets in order to identify the appropriate contractor. Tender provides designers with motivation to create high-quality product that is worth of a decent reward. In practice this scheme works differently.

Paid tender is an option most interesting for designers because they are sure get paid for their efforts at least partly. As a rule, such competitions are open to the selected agencies only. If both parties take a tender equally seriously, they sign a contract that regulates the rights of customer to use the competition entries. In this case designer’s interests are taken into account and he is ready to submit his best work.

Free tender (as well as conditionally paid, i.e. a tender with a token payment) appears to be the most convenient for customer as he has nothing to lose. In fact it is not the case. He is losing time and opportunities.

Free tenders are attended by design studios that are recently short of clients (and how can a good studio be short of clients?), or by such studios that use cheap labour (so can we speak about quality here?). Customer probably understands that he will get a series of mediocre work, but is hoping to find a pearl in a rubbish pile. I myself have repeatedly seen these piles and have never met anyone lucky to have found something worthwhile there.

There is another category of customers who agree to free tenders in order to get packing design for free i.e. to steal the idea. Such tender does not presuppose signing agreement between the parties. Unfortunately, this practice is quite common in Ukraine, and national legislation cannot solve this problem yet.

There are also other schemes for putting out tenders and getting results, but they are rare.

Stone # 3 – Competence
Packing is usually approved by senior managers or business owners. Incredible as it may seem, but they are the least competent for making such decisions. Still how about the saying "customer is always right"? This statement is fair enough only if a customer is not a natural person who is driven by his own tastes, but business in general. And the function of decision making concerning the product exterior appearance should be carried out by a competent representative of this business.

Good taste and thorough knowledge of marketing strategy and product features are not enough for packing approval. Person responsible for decision making should be aware of the latest trends in packing creation not only in Ukraine but also worldwide.  He should also keep a track of innovations. He should be familiar with all the design subtleties and be able to evaluate not only the product as a whole, but all of its elements separately. Most top managers and business owners do not hold this information. They are guided entirely by stereotypes and belief in their infallibility not to mention the fear to delegate their power of decisions to someone else.

And it’s actually the right thing to do as mid-level managers mostly avoid taking responsibility and giving reasons to support their point of view. It’s much easier for them to coordinate the work of design studio in order to get the packing that their authorities will approve on the first or second try, and not the one that is essential for a successful product promotion.

Stone # 4 - Focus groups
When it comes to packing and label design or the product exterior appearance as a whole, much attention is paid to focus-group research. Since competence of decision making is questionable, it’s necessary to somehow justify a choice or lighten conscience. In addition, focus groups produce the appearance of work in marketing department and help to justify its existence.

In fact they are only effective if the company intends to create a mass product that will be viewed by consumers as not worse but still not better than others. No focus group can adequately respond to innovation. Therefore, if producer wants to make a unique offer to customers stating that he is better than others and is ready to set his own rules in business sector, he should trust his instincts, common sense and, of course, take risks.

Stone # 5 – Balance
Design is a qualitative concept and payment is quantitative. Because of the difference between the categories it is sometimes so difficult to establish balance. It is a typical situation in Ukraine when customer does not understand that it’s impossible to measure design. Customer believes that the price is determined by the number and complexity of used elements. He is sure he pays a lot for label or packing development, so he is entitled to request this label to communicate as much as possible and not just for now, but for the next few years, almost like in the Bible. However, he forgets that product exterior appearance is only a part of communication, which performs a specific function.

Most Ukrainian customers are afraid of open space and steadfastly refuse to accept it as a design element allowing the correct focus of the consumer’s attention. It is believed that the free space on the label is not worth paying for. Moreover, in Ukraine it is considered a disadvantage which should be immediately removed, for example to add the third slogan, or fill the space with gold ornaments.

Stone # 6 – Meaning of words
Many design studios and advertising agencies receive technical assignments that can be something like this: "Your task is to develop a very stylish, premium and status packing. Make it creative and eye-catching!” And it's all despite a long list of questions in a brief.

All the words from the task do not have any actual value or meaning since they are very subjective and determined by general level of education and intelligence. If you try to translate this technical assignment into a plain language, it would sound like this: "We have absolutely no idea what we want and why we are doing this, but while you are working with us, it’s you job to come up with something satisfying. You should probably start by using telepathy."

This approach is practiced mostly by large companies having strong belief that working with them is a dream of any agency. This attitude to design would be justified if it provided the expected result. But in this situation customer does not know what he wants to achieve, and consequently will not be able to appreciate the achievement.

Stone # 7 – Sentimentality
Recently this situation is less common than before, but still causes problems in relations between customer and agency.

Producer aims at creating a new advanced packing for a new product, but wants to use the old logo brand designed by the owner of the business many years ago. Customer agrees that logo fails to meet modern requirements, but for all rational arguments gives one answer: "We won’t change logo yet. However, it is necessary to develop a label not tied to logo, so that later we could insert our new logo." What message will consumer get from such packing is very difficult to predict.

You might get an impression that Ukrainian customer is stupid, ignorant, mean and arrogant, that he is unable to accept and appreciate the great design ideas. But it is not the point. My point is quite different.

In development process the main thing is the entire understanding between customer and performer. And if you can’t gain it, it is a fault of both parties. While working on a project and pursuing a common goal (i.e. to create a successful message in the form of packing) both parties should be interested in clear explaining their vision and correct understanding each other. After all, the collaboration would not result in finding someone to blame, it will just result in failed or successful packing.



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