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We regularly read failure stories about new product introductions, especially in the packaged goods sector: product X is ceased three months after launch because sales volumes were low; brand Y announced a recall because consumers complained about the product quality and so on. More often than not, packaging can be responsible for such disastrous finales.

At Cambridge Design Partnership we place a lot of emphasis on developing strategies and methodologies that help minimise risk in new product development, and this includes packaging. Our ‘design integrity’ model gives our clients confidence that the packaging systems we develop on their behalf will demonstrate technical excellence, superior functionality and emotional punch, consistently and sustainably through time. This model is underpinned by human-centred design principles and advocates the need for a multidisciplinary, holistic and empathic approach to packaging (and product) innovation.

Based on our model, we suggest two fundamental steps to successful packaging innovation.

1. Stakeholder-Centric Design

Placing key stakeholders at the heart of the packaging design process is of paramount importance in today’s fiercely competitive environment. By stakeholders we mean every individual who either has a vested interest in packaging being successful or would benefit from well-designed packaging solutions. That includes brand owner teams, such as marketing and R&D, packaging suppliers and consumers respectively.

So why is it important to include key stakeholders in the packaging design process? Today’s crowded retail setting gets flooded with products that offer similar benefits and packaging is the only viable means for brand differentiation. To this end, marketers increasingly recognise the value of packaging; scientists and manufacturers constantly invent new packaging systems and technologies, and consumers are rapidly becoming more savvy with greater expectations. Packaging however gets interpreted differently across stakeholders. To marketers packaging is another tool in the marketing mix; to manufacturers it is science and a supply chain medium; and to consumers it is an integral component of the consumption and usage experience.

It is therefore the designer’s responsibility to alleviate any antithesis between expectations and develop a common language that can be understood by and benefit all stakeholders. Designers must think as marketers, act as scientists and feel as consumers. They must have the ability to ‘download’ every piece of useful information hiding in stakeholders’ heads and use them as building blocks for the synthesis of meaningful and relevant design. Designers must find ways of inviting and retaining stakeholders in the design arena, to embrace their needs and harness their insights. Stakeholders shouldn’t be expected to create the packaging but they should be encouraged by designers to help shape, mould and enhance it.

2. Holistic Development

It is crucial that everyone involved in packaging understands that design is not just about artistic expression. There are quite a few parameters, as outlined below, that need to be brought together through the development process in a smart and cost-effective manner to guarantee a truly innovative and successful packaging solution.  

Structural design: building structural equity offers a true opportunity to differentiate on-shelf and beyond. Ergonomics, form, materials, dispensing and feel are critical factors to brand and product success. Structural elements not only add functionality but they also have meaning, emotionality and sensorial qualities deeply embedded into them. A bag of crisps for example does not merely provide room for graphical executions but its substrate has visual, tactile and auditory properties which subconsciously affect consumers’ perception and drive choice and purchase.       

Label and graphics design: label and graphics are important elements too, especially in creating shelf-impact and in communicating product information. They are a means of ‘dressing up’ structural packaging and boosting structural equity, or even masking structural imperfections.   

Engineering: engineering the ultimate experience is feasible and a key differentiation indicator. Optimising packaging performance at a physical, cognitive and sensorial level offers a massive opportunity to captivate consumers and to secure repeat purchases. The sound of a can, the surface texture of a plastic bag, the odour emitted when opening a bottle, are qualities that subconsciously affect the way consumers perceive and feel about packaging. These qualities can be manipulated to trigger a targeted consumer response and purchase behaviour.  

Technology: augmented reality, printed electronics, light-weighting, nano-coatings and biopolymers are only a few examples of how technology can be embedded into packaging development to help enhance the consumption experience, uplift a brand’s status and deliver environmental and consumer benefits. Testing those with consumers is vital before any investment decision is made. 

Manufacturing: developing manufacturing processes alongside packaging is critical to achieving quality standards and meeting production requirements and customer demands at reasonable timescales and costs. It helps packaging teams to overcome specific challenges of yield, capital expenditure and IP constraints through a systematic approach to identify and resolve manufacturing challenges.

At Cambridge Design Partnership, as product and packaging development specialists with a global client base, we know that in tough economic times with ever-increasing competition, success relies on faster time-to-market and accurate decision-making. We have observed that successful companies achieve that by employing a holistic and stakeholder-centric approach to product and packaging development. Typically these companies understand that packaging is a platform for differentiation, and that commercially effective innovation is a balancing act between stakeholder needs, design, technology and science. However, finding the right balance is not trivial and requires rigorous processes, time commitment, and specialist knowledge. This is why a lot of leading companies choose to work with us – we have the process, we make the time and we have in-house expertise to make innovation work.

Blog developed for the Latin American publication specialized in packaging and converting technologies
El Empaque+Conversión B2B Portales, Carvajal Información.

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