Mutual respect

It is axiomatic that great work comes from a great relationship – externally, in procuring the commission and, internally, in fulfilling the opportunity. But, in today’s ferociously competitive world of branded packaging, how can we promote such worthwhile collaboration? Procurement has become vital to many of our clients who must respond faster to ever-changing markets, but the negative repercussions of short-term thinking affect a brand’s ability to last in the long term. How – when the market is advancing towards shorter and, therefore, poorer relationships, short-termism, time pressure, creative pitching and generally ‘promiscuous’ behaviour – can the design industry maintain a creative and innovative standpoint?

We begin by understanding the forces affecting how the industry wins business, and the starting point is the quality of people in procurement. Procurement, done well, has been a force for good and has helped to deliver some of our most fulfilling work. Done badly, it is a destructive, not a creative force. If clients do not understand the value of design to their brand, if they have no real will to make a change, then they are running counter to creativity/ designer and client will be like two horses pulling a cart in different directions, and the load – the brand itself – will be thrown.

Clients take to procurement and pitching as a coping strategy in the rapidly evolving marketplace. The accompanying short-term mindsets mean they want simply to get a new design, a brand or packaging on the shelf, on time and under budget, sacrificing design’s creative contribution. If procurers trust the skills and expertise of the design consultancy, and allow them to work creatively, they uphold their side of the deal.

Procurement is, after all, a commercial word for a time-honoured creative partnership, ‘patronage’, and the design industry needs visionary patrons. From Michelangelo to Pope Julius II, from Jonathan Ive to Steve Jobs, creativity and innovation occurs when a framework is in place that allows it to happen. Maintaining a good relationship with the right clients allows that freedom.

It is the design industry’s role to respect the trust we earn from our clients, and our responsibility to be bold and innovate within the parameters they set. Pitching, for example, has led to bad work being done on the cheap, by people who no longer value their responsibilities, and have surrendered their ability to be creative in their solutions.

Fulfilling this half of the relationship means the client feels it owns the vision as much as the design group does. It is seeing an agreed result of a common understanding, not being confronted by an alien concept it will have to be sold in to.

In an ideal situation, marketers focus on identifying the ‹ problem design should resolve, not the creative solution itself, so the consultancy retains its platform for creativity. Forging this relationship is essential to keep your creativity as a designer – it means becoming the brand guardian, acting responsibly and eschewing elitism and self-congratulation. Design groups have fantastic abilities to deliver commercially effective, creative solutions – this is no longer about long club lunches.

Just as a brand lives and dies by the talent of its people, so must packaging design be invested with the best minds. It is common to see portfolios of packaging designers obsessed with generic styles and approaches.

We must realise that designers have to break out of conventions to come up with great work. This begins with bringing through graduates and teaching them that brand packaging is a playground for their creativity, not a prison. It is a canvas that stays visible on shelves for years and seeps into the mainstream.

There is a need for multicultural input, people who can deliver work for the international market, as well as new perspectives for brands closer to home.

Finally, we have to apply this boldness and diversity to every single job. Whether it’s a limited-edition canister, range extension or a back-of-pack – with the right mindset in place, each job becomes equally valued. You will have a creative and innovative solution that has been born from your relationship with the client, and nurtured by the skill and talent of your designers.

Changes in packaging design trends have been driven by the practice of large companies allowing smaller brands to almost act as their new product development arms, buying only the most confident and creative successes and incorporating them. We’ve seen the system at work with hits like Ben & Jerry’s and Green & Black’s. The alternative, an over-reliance on research, can be counter-productive: category-changing creativity rarely wins in research.

Larger companies looking for innovative creativity should free themselves from this efficiency and manufacturing mindset to embrace creativity and the entrepreneurial attitude with which their founders often began. Bigger brands have more to lose by forging change from within, yet the industry has seen a swing in this direction, of juggernauts risking the huge financial consequences of visionary brand design. Marketers can’t afford timidly to accept the conservatism a massive organisation engenders. An opportunity exists now to deliver real creativity to clients, through a relationship that allows them to trust that creativity implicitly and give us a platform to forge truly inspiring work.

When clients devote time and effort building trust with a consultancy responsible enough to innovate with proper understanding, their resources are well spent. They will have a template that repeatedly delivers.

While the trend for mergers and consolidation narrows the pool of decision-makers, and the shelf life of the average marketer has contracted to only 18 months, the design industry must work harder to develop inspired thinking and truly creative concepts. By encouraging visionary thinking from client and consultancy, developing trust between both of them, and being fully aware of the rapid changes affecting the market for brands both global and local, we will be able to uphold and further the creativity and innovation that our industry has to offer.

Glenn Kiernan is creative director of Jones Knowles Ritchie

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