Dec 12

The art of surprising

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

If you don’t surprise in one way or another… you do nothing! Quite a radical statement, isn’t it? Well, it is slightly exaggerated, but there is truth in it. If we are in the business of marketing, selling and reaching out towards consumers, we need to be seen, listened to and be convincing!

Now, you cannot do this with me-too designs, unless you have a very low price, which most companies do not have. Thus you have to surprise to awake interest. You don’t learn this from the guideline, nor from best practice. So the only way is to increase creativity and do something that, within category norms, surprises.

The ways to do this are numerous. They are not easy, as there are often several people ‘in the way’ before you reach the consumer, people you need to convince, impress, people who have strong egos, people who say “not invented here”, people who don’t believe in the power of design, etc.

But there is a solution if your BIG IDEA which you have developed to sell the product is so BIG that it speaks for itself, i.e. does not need explanations. There are now and then such great ideas. How about the ipod, Pringles or Red Bull?

How do we arrive at these great solutions? There are basically 5 prerequisites:

  • knowledge
  • gutfeel
  • creativity
  • persistence
  • salesmanship

If you are weak in any of these areas, you have less chance to SURPRISE the consumer.

Now what can you do to surprise a consumer when it comes to package design? I’ll try to give three ideas.

FIRST: Question the briefing

If you follow the briefing to 100%, you will most likely do the predictable and your client will be satisfied – you are not of the ‘creative type’. Question the briefing! Try to challenge the standard marketing thinking. Don’t disregard the briefing, but try some field a little outside the box.

SECOND: Create a big idea

The big idea is a concept and therefore you have to think “total communication” and not only package design. Certain things can be done in package design, others in POS and others in advertising. The pack design will surprise if it does not contain all of the ‘ingredients’. The saying “simplify in order to amplify” is very important here. The surprise is often something amplified, even exaggerated. The surprise can be amplified through various media.

THIRD: Work on material and shape before graphics

As we are so fascinated today by the design computer, we have a tendency to use it too quickly and thus concentrate on layout, illustrations and text.

Great surprising packages are often not graphic design, but shape design. Surprising packages are often the result of the combination of materials, plastic for transparency and cardboard for stability.

Surprising packages often mean cost increases as you may need a new filling or closing line. But have you realized that great packages speak for themselves, so you may need less other media? At the end of the day, the total cost may be the same and as you most likely will be more unique and efficient, you will sell more and isn’t that what it is all about?

Oct 11

In order to set the scene and emphasise why ‘surprising the consumer’ is so important, I have chosen a few quotations I’ve read during my 50 years in the business of designing packaging, POS material, advertising and other media:

  • If you don’t surprise, you do nothing (unknown);
  • Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us (Boris Pasternak);
  • When in doubt, surprise them (unknown);
  • To succeed you have to conform enough (Peter Brabeck);
  • To succeed we must stop being so goddamn normal (Funky Business by Nordström-Ridderstrale);
  • Being right can stop all the momentum of a very surprising idea (Robert Rauschenberg);
  • In order to create new products, jobs and wealth, you have to have the spirit of an artist. You have to accept fantasy and be open to all ideas. You have to be a little rebellious, but not an enemy to the society (Nicolas Hayek.

Well now, here are my 12 advice:

  • Be different
  • Embrace fantasy
  • Be emotional rather than rational
  • Allow humour
  • Amplify the icon
  • Favour a symbolic language
  • Underpromise – overdeliver!
  • Exaggerate appetite appeal/appearance
  • Include art in the design
  • Exaggerate the RTB/USP
  • Design a unique shape
  • Prioritise your website

1. Be different

My favourite is the Pentaward winner Kleenex Special Summer Edition from USA. Not only did they change the standard rectangular shape, but they also added illustrations which, at first sight, were totally unrelated to the product.

2. Embrace fantasy

What market does this better than the British? There are many examples from Tyrrell’s chips. My wife always drinks her coffee ‘naked’, i.e. without sugar nor cream… so the ‘naked chips’ are no doubt without salt. Bravo! What a daring illustration!

3. Be as emotional as possible

The Nivea brand does this in an excellent manner. The symbol they mostly use is the heart, and so do Milka and Mon Chéri!

4. Allow humour!

The British people are the masters and my choice is the thick Yorkie chocolate bar which increased in sales when the text “Not for girls” was added, as well as the traffic sign “forbidden”.

5. Amplify the icon

I have no idea how many times I have advised companies to amplify the icon/spokesman which is often more powerful than the logotype. We are living in a visual world so it only makes sense! Kellogg’s is working in this direction, amplifying the cockerel, Tony the Tiger, etc.

6. Favour a symbolic language

Symbols travel all over the world and are, if correctly used and not too ‘sophisticated’, the best communication tool in packaging, advertising and POS. The strength of Tabasco could not be expressed in a better way!

7. Underpromise – Overdeliver!

… is what Tom Peters taught me. What sample could I select if not the carton tub IKEA use for their meatballs in their food section? It just says Meatballs and shows the Swedish flag. And my gosh are they delicious!

8. Exaggerate appearance and/or appetite appeal

Don’t lie, but push it to the limit! Because if you don’t do it, your competitors will. I’m not sure the Ritter hazelnut bar has that many nuts, but does it matter? There are many enough inside. Cindy Crawford once said: “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.” Yes, make up or food styling is a must today! The decoration on the McCafé cappuccino is another good example.

9. Include art

Whenever possible, add an artistic touch to surprise the consumer! You make your design more difficult to copy, different and thus unique (see below).

10. Exaggerate the RTB/USP

If you whisper, you do not surprise! You have to shout out the key word, be it natural, creamy or, as the illustration shows, “SORRY…”

11. Design a unique shape

Yes, it will most likely cost more. Yes, it will be a bit more ‘complicated’ both in the production, as well as on the shelf… but it surprises! Great package design will not happen on a Tetra Pak, but on a moulded glass bottle such as the Ragu!

11. Prioritise your website

Until the markets wake up and understand that most consumers, today, want to contact the brand for more information, highlight your site as does Nestlé Dessert, the most purchased chocolate on the French market. The QR code is today a must in markets with smartphones.


Hope these advice are useful!

Sep 26

The perfect marriage

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Trends | Uncategorized

Surprising title when it comes to packaging communication? The title could also have been“Don’t change a winning formula”.

Bonne Maman from Andros has become one of my favourite brands since its very beginning in 1971. A simple and unique identity which you find both on the pack, on point-of-sale material, as well as in advertising.

This brings me to the perfect marriage, i.e. the way the pack design is shown in another media, in this case print advertising which has not changed for years. It is simple, emotional, it is telling a story, has little text (consumers do not read texts on ads unless they are highly surprising) and last, but not least, the jar looks as if placed on the ad and gives, thanks to elegant shadows, a 3-dimensional effect, especially with the lid leaning against the jar. Thus the jar is open, suggesting the aroma of the product. Compare this with the number of closed packs one sees in advertising!

The apricots in the foreground amplify taste as the label has no illustration. Handwritten (i.e. script) labels communicate ‘housemade’ and if you add to this the RTB or slogan “C’est toi que j’aime tant”, you have first-class communication. Well done, Bonne Maman!

P.S.: As I travel quite a lot, I often find the Bonne Maman mini-jars at the breakfast table. Can sampling be done in a more efficient way? I doubt

Aug 16


Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Uncategorized

Call-to-action is the terminology we use in marketing when we have such an appealing verbal or visual communication that the consumer actually buys the product.

A simple information such as a price or the word ‘New’ is not enough nowadays as the offer is so wide and the difference between good products so minute.

Consumers understand far better what is different than what is better (as for instance a soup that should taste better or a detergent which is supposed to wash whiter).

I will deal with visual call-to-action in a coming article. This one will deal with the verbal side, be it on packaging or in POS material.

As most design agencies are rather weak on the verbal side and as the clients are not much better, we do not see many excellent call-to-action messages in today’s supermarket.

It is not enough to just find the right words, it is also a matter of making them stand out to achieve maximal effect.

The attentive reader of may have noticed that one of my favourite pack designs is the Maggi Aroma bottle with the original design from the year 1886. I should like to draw the reader’s attention to the front label that starts with a real call-to-action, i.e. “Für jede Küche” (for every kitchen), the word Küche meaning here both meal and kitchen.

In order to increase sales of an industrial product we can either

• find new consumers and/or
• increase the consumption with those consumers already using the product.

To demonstrate this latter point, I have chosen the latest version of the Apéricubes from La vache qui rit. On top, as well as on the side, there is a powerful call-to-action: “y’a Match!” (“there is a Match”), so you buy a pack for an up-coming match. Incidentally, that’s the moment this kind of product is mostly consumed.

Two examples of simple surprising/convincing texts on product trays are the Finnish energy drink Battery’s “keeps you going” and the French Michel & Augustin (a highly creative company) that says “Attention, très très bon!” (watch out, very very good!) on their Petits carrés biscuits tray.

The question each designer and/or brand manager should ask when developing a call-to-action text is “do I just inform” (which has little selling power) or do I communicate, i.e. involve the consumer with a text that makes him or her read and hopefully act, thus buying the product!

There is so much still to be done in this area that the creative person has a fascinating future!

Good luck!

Jun 14

Design adds value

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Trends | Uncategorized

Many food and drink products are today very similar which is due to the use of the same raw material, the same technical equipment in factories, from mixers to packaging line.

Therefore, it is difficult to be different in order to achieve an edge, i.e. a preference in the consumer’s mind. This could mean better profitability to be invested in the future.

It is here DESIGN enters as design, correctly used, does not only add perceived and real value, but also helps differentiation.

This site is about packaging communication, but for this article I have chosen an illustration (which could obviously appear on a pack) that many of the readers have seen in reality.

When you visit a McCafé, you do not only get your Cappuccino looking as good as possible, you are also part of the ritual when the person behind the counter prepares your coffee. Rituals are good differentiations in the packaging and product worlds and here I think of how you eat an Oreo cookie or how to drink a Corona. I am surprised that not more companies try to build in a ritual!

Back to design, i.e. the improvement of a product thanks to aesthetical values and convenience.

Paul Rand, the famous American designer who gave us the logotypes for Westinghouse, IBM (the eye, the bee and the lined M) and UPS said that “good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold; it respects the viewer’s sensibilities and rewards the entrepreneur.”

In the food and drink business, the appetite appeal is considerably enhanced through design which can be translated into ‘food styling’. To learn more about this way of improving the looks of a product, I refer to a previous article on the site or to chapter 6 in “The world’s first book about packaging communication” which is becoming more and more a reference for young marketeers.

Apr 10

The Ararat Experience

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

Mr Musheg Mkhitaryan, native from the Ararat region in Armenia, is a very special man. He not only built a water factory in the Ararat Valley, but after three unsuccessful design studies, he saw me on Russian television and decided on the spot that I was his man to help out with his project.

To make a long story short, we met in Geneva one Friday evening, whereupon I flew to Yerevan the following Wednesday. In order to help designing the identities for the brand and the company Ararat, I said: “I must see what Ararat is all about”. I had of course heard about Noah’s Ark and also about Armenia being the first Christian country in the world.

After two days on the spot, I got a good idea of this very special project. I chose my friends at ARD in Vevey to design the labels as they have talented designers, a reasonable price level, a capacity to cope with some 25 designs and last, but not least, were willing to follow my advice as a creative director.

Why do I tell the story? Because it took us only about two months to finalize the project. We are obviously proud of the result and when the bottles will be available in Summer, I am sure people will speak about the Ararat water.

Why only two months? Because we were given the freedom to work ‘the correct way’. Here is what happened: I wrote and designed the briefings together with the client, in this case Mr Mkhitaryan, the CEO himself, accompanied by his marketing manager, Nadezhda Gulaga. From the very beginning, we had the same objectives. The company Ararat should have strong category labels and I should add art, culture and character to the designs.

We worked stepwise, beginning with my magic marker sketches which were discussed on the spot in Yerevan with the client. These rough sketches showed the three different directions: tradition for Ararat, modernity for another water brand and taste for a lemonade brand.

The design agency ARD then translated these concepts and produced 2-3 design solutions for each brand. Even if we had to re-do one of the brands (we had not followed the client’s wish… thought we were more clever!), we managed to finalize the designs in only two steps and thus also kept down the costs.

As the Ararat Group had decided to trust my advice and as I had decided to trust an agency which had proven to have a high creative level, we moved very smoothly forward, still letting personal taste have some influence over the positionings of the three brands in question.

These designs will not be tested as we see no reason to ask consumers what they think of designs that clearly express the positionings. The products will be sold in Armenia and in Russia, but it is obvious that the Ararat Group hopes to see this water one day in all Europe!

The conclusion I have drawn from this experience is as follows:

  • the higher up design is being dealt with in an organisation, the more efficient;
  • you do not need 5-10 alternatives from your design agency if you set your goal together and work stepwise;
  • an agency must have marketing- and design knowledge, as well as copywriting capacity;
  • the agency can be anywhere in Europe, as long as the key meetings are held with real eye contact! Design is an emotional business and it is important to be able to read body language.

It goes without saying that of the many design projects I have taken part in, this was my most passionate and efficient one! Future will tell us if the designs were the right ones.

Mar 12

DESIGN that sells

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Uncategorized

Having the chance to work on ‘both sides of the fence’, i.e. as a designer in the design world with agencies and as a marketeer in the business world with both retailers and small and big FMCG companies I am, as many readers might have understood, often frustrated. But also thrilled, as there is so much still undone, as Ingvar Kamprad at IKEA so rightly said a few years ago.

In my teaching, either through this website, with my book or in numerous workshops, fairs and seminars, I constantly try to bridge the gap between the above two worlds in order to achieve more efficient communication which should hopefully lead to brand loyalty and sales!

The designers have a tendency to be mostly occupied with the execution and less with the content. The brand managers, on the other hand, are mostly occupied with being ‘politically correct’ and to please their bosses, the research department, or themselves… so who takes care of the content?

As great design is only partly about logic and more about gut feel and emotional values, we don’t see, at least as I judge it, enough great designs in the FMCG trade. It struck me when I was in Sweden last month and did some exhaustive storechecking in the main retailing chains. The Swedish trade is a mixture of private label (retailers’ brands) and national or international brands. Here are my advice to make them more sales-oriented:

RTB/USP… call it what you want

When buying a product for the first time, the consumer chooses it for a certain reason. The trigger may be word-of-mouth, an advertisement, an article in a newspaper, thirst, hunger, etc. But if it is not for the above reasons, the consumer will buy a new product out of curiosity. Now how do we stimulate this curiosity? Basically by words, by pictures, or both. If it is words, they must call to action!

It is here many agencies, as well as brand managers, are weak in my opinion, as it is difficult to be a good copywriter. There are many ways to make an impact with words. You may use what the British people call ‘loaded words’, words which are charged with meaning, such as ‘more’, ‘offer’, or ‘free’.

It can also be a question, as questions have a bigger chance to awake curiosity and reaction. I could not resist a Kellogg’s pack which said “Do you get enough fibers?” In principle, every pack should have a strong RTB!

Appetite appeal or product ‘glorification’

Most packages cannot show the product as it is, unless one uses transparent packing material as glass or plastic. You need to present the product in its best light. This means for instance food styling or product illustration which highlights a special part, or using appropriate props in order to make the product as attractive as possible (without lying, of course!). Great food styling is not only understanding the product, but to add an artistic touch which makes the illustration unique (just as the logotype, the design, the shape, etc.). Great packaging is about uniqueness. It’s about being different.


Before selecting an RTB, an illustration or a layout, a great package designer will always put the question: what will be great to touch? As package design is a commercial form of art which you hold in your hands, it is important that your hands and your sight give the best possible signals to your brain. Smell, sound and taste, the other three senses, are obviously of less importance in package design.

I still remember how Mr Brabeck who wrote the foreword in my book, tore the tear-strip of the carton in which it is packed, took it out and touched the silky surface of the cover, expressing great satisfaction! Why do I stress the importance of the material? Because today, designs are too often developed in front of a computer screen!

Easy opening

Here are the basic advice I suggest you follow:

  • Make the opening device easy to manipulate.
  • If this is not possible, when for instance the product needs to be tamper proof, give as clear and simple instructions as possible of how to open the product.
  • Indicate clearly, for instance with an arrow, where to find the easy opening device.
  • Use illustrations rather than words.

The website and the service panel

I believe that the bond between the product and the consumer should almost be as a love affair, i.e. the bond should be emotional rather than rational. Here is the proposed key information in order to achieve this:

  • a BIG, well visible website where to find further information;
  • a text about the product that constantly changes, stimulating reading, as does a daily newspaper;
  • simple, understandable nutritional information and/or advice for a healthy living, also reminding the consumer to do some physical execercise. I like the Danish traffic lights proposal:
  • some sort of visible seal or quality stamp by the company behind the brand in question, giving a feeling of trust and commitment.

If you follow these advice, I am sure it will show up in your sales!

Feb 01

… or maybe both! The attentive package designer has certainly noticed the great number of brands which are short and memorable, using only a letter, a number, or both.

As I am mostly interested in food and drinks, I have restricted this article to these product categories. It goes without saying that other FMCG categories do have quite a number of examples, as for instance Chanel No 5, or “4711” Eau de Cologne among beauty products.

If I should start with the drinks category, the most famous example is quite recent, as Coca-Cola “zero” is maybe only a decade old, little by little overtaking the more feminine diet/light variety.

I am particularly happy with the success of “zero”, not only because it was designed by my Melbourne friend Mark Cowan, but also because black has more taste than white and the food and drink business is foremost about TASTE!

In the beer category, there are quite a few examples as for instance the Norwegian Hansa “H”, Harmann’s No 4, the Swiss amboss “5”, “1664” from Kronenbourg, as well as the Swiss “1291” (the year the three cantons Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden constituted the Swiss Confederation).

The Irish Ballygowan “B” water, the Mexican “Dos Eyuis”, i.e. XX, the American “V8” vegetable juice, and “7UP” (here in its Chinese version) from Pepsi are good examples, as well as the Swedish Zoega’s coffee brand from Nestlé which uses its big “Z” very successfully.

In Russia, we find two brands, the Pepsi milk brand “M” for milk (from Lianozovo), as well as Coca-Cola’s Rich. “R”.

However, it is on the wine labels that I have found the most frequent use of letters and figures. What about “Cuvée no 3”, “6ème sens” or the cider “Tempt No7”? The “C” for Chardonnay, “M” for Merlot and “G” for Gamay are further examples and I am sure they are not alone!

Moving over to the food category, the first is just “first”, a chewing gum in Turkey! Being an admirer of new ideas, I particularly like Cadbury’s infinity symbol (is it a letter, a figure or both?), as well as Wrigley’s No 5. The master in this group of brands is no doubt “Special K” which, over the years, has become my favourite brand, as it constantly re-inforces its brand positioning with highly creative front and back panels. Well done Kellogg’s!

We saw the use of the first letter being blown up in the wine category. Mulino Bianco is doing the same for several of their products. A highly creative solution is the “S” in Walkers Sensations.

The beautiful “A” which stands for the Danish Anthon Berg has become another favourite and Oxo’s “O” is still going strong!

I was once involved in Nestlé’s “LC1” – I still like the design, but did Nestlé really succeed in making it work like e.g. Danone’s Activa? Anyhow, I don’t think you can have a better radiating blue colour on a pack!

I would like to end this article with the quite recent range of “ok.-“ products. If you wish your product to be a lifestyle brand, you choose products which are popular in the culture where you launch them. How about a condom, a cookie, a mineral water, a beer and an energy drink all under the same roof? Well, “ok.-“ did it! Future will tell us if it works.

P.S.: As I write this article, the ultimate number packs just appear on Dieline. I can only say congratulations!

Jan 09

Special Editions

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Bottles | Design | Uncategorized

… how to create something so unique that word-of-mouth becomes an efficient marketing tool.

First of all we must make a difference between a special edition without any other marketing activities and a promotional package.

In the first case, if well done, there is a very small extra cost, e.g. just a new lithography, while in the case of a promotion, there must be a real return-on-investment if considered successful.

Why a special edition? … to revitalize a brand and put it ‘top-of-mind’, in other words to do something different in order to be noticed. However, as always in marketing, no change for change’s sake! The change must produce a synergy effect, i.e. something must be added to the brand by

  • being closer to the target group;
  • a more contemporary image;
  • a stronger identity;
  • making the pack a collector’s item.

There are many good examples, but as it is easier to explain bad ones, I start with two brands that just ‘play around’ with the identity which one should avoid.

Kronenbourg 1664

The other day, I bought some of the cans which play around with the four figures… I question the idea behind it? In my opinion, it will do nothing for the brand.


I think this design is too far from the core idea. Well, as I have not seen any other communication, I may be judging it too severely, but here again, as in the case of the Kronenbourg 1664, I feel one is just ‘playing around’ with the brand.

Now, over to some good examples. I have basically ten categories and hope that some of the examples will inspire the reader to do even better!

Celebrating the original

Kellogg’s is very good at this, repeating quite often that they have the original (and best) cornflakes. I like the example I found in my native Sweden which reads quite prominently “There is only one original”.

A touch of nationalism

We are all more or less nationalists, so why not play on that string? Here is a Norwegian example from Freia (Krafft) that says it all. Do it big or stay in bed!

Seasonal editions

This is by far the biggest category. The masters are Nivea of which I have chosen two examples, as well as one from Ferrero. However, my favourite is the yearly edition of the Tuborg Christmas brew. In fact, the beer is slightly different so maybe it doesn’t belong to this article, but I hope you agree that it is great design, highly emotional! Just while I wrote this article, Nestlé launched a Winter yogurt!

Using personalities

Coca-Cola is doing some great designs for the Coca-Cola Light aluminium bottle with Karl Lagerfeld! Another French example is Perrier (a brand that often has special editions), using sexy Dita von Teese. In this category, we also find the highly sophisticated Coca-Cola aluminium bottles inspired by Daft Punk, the French electronic music group.


My three examples show the great variety which means that there are still many untapped events for special editions. S. Pellegrino had for some months a special edition for the Cannes film festival. A few years ago, during the European Football Championships organised by Switzerland and Austria, Mars changed their Mars bar into “Hopp” which is how the Swiss celebrate their team (“Hopp Suisse”). The third example is Perrier’s Roland Garros tennis edition… a new version every year!

Special shapes

Well here, some cost increases will occur. However, this is the most visible and powerful way of creating a special edition. Didn’t Kleenex’ triangular shaped box win the Diamond Pentaward two years ago? The Evian drop bottle from year 2000 is today sold on eBay for 20x the initial price. This is an excellent example of a collector’s item!

Special materials

As Absolut will never change their bottle shape, what do they do? They dress up the bottles in various materials from plastic to cloth or to metal. Another very popular solution is to sell your product in a metal tin which then stays in the home to be used for other products for many years Kambly’s biscuit tin is just great packaging!

Design and Art

This is a category where I personally would like to see many more examples. Milka uses art now and then, so did S. Pellegrino last year with a special Missoni label. I would add to this category the excellent Heineken aluminium bottle for night clubs and other places with special light effects which make the can glow! What a difference with the “1664” bottle mentioned earlier in this article!


Another way to boost sales is to tie up with another brand. Marmite has done this a couple of times. As we have here a new product, maybe it doesn’t belong to this article. But it is just great marketing!

Social Marketing

I believe this will be a growing category in the future. The example I chose comes from Sweden and it was launched just before Christmas some years ago. Who would not be willing to pay a premium price for a product if the extra money goes to the Red Cross?

As the reader may see, the possibilities to create special editions are numerous. I have no sales figures about the chosen examples, but I know that consumers expect constant change from big brands. Just ask Google!

Dec 05

How good are we?

Posted by Packaging Sense in Advertising | Design | Uncategorized

You will find below some thoughts I gave to a journal and which unfortunately have not been published. It’s about where the designer should be and how good we are in order to reach a great result. How we, the client and the designer together, proceed and maximize the joint effort. This is my very personal view-point so if you have any comments, please give them and I’ll answer, but only by snail-mail!

I’ve had the great pleasure to work with design agencies all over the world, but mainly in Europe. I’ve had the chance to get an insight into many multinational companies after my 39 years at Nestlé where I was responsible for the development of package designs on the marketing side. This means close to 50’000 projects in various cultures and all Nestlé activities from water to chocolate, from petfood to coffee, from food service to ice cream. The comments or advice come from somebody who has always been (and still is) highly critical to most working methods I’ve experienced. I may be wrong in certain areas, but my belief is that only provocation, fantasy and common sense will bring highly creative designs.

Inside or outside designers?

For me, this is a very easy question. In the case of FMCG companies, I do not believe in any inside studio as the type of job we do as designers is too far away from these companies’ core businesses. This being said, I strongly believe in inside expertise, i.e. a few creative designers who know the business and can help brand managers in their job to develop new products or concepts which almost always include package design, as well as other media. These designers should have a thorough knowledge of not only the design process, but also materials, technology, sociology, research, branding, etc., not to forget sketching. They must be very curious in order to constantly update themselves through storechecking, journals, websites (e.g. Dieline,, etc.) fairs and last, but not least, be good teachers or speakers in order to SELL design ideas (see later).

Do not design packages, design concepts

It is impossible to solve a communication issue without seeing the whole picture and package design is only one piece in the puzzle! I therefore strongly suggest that the designer not only designs the package, but 2-3 other media in order to amplify the key visual (or verbal) part which help to understand that communication is effective only with a real synergy effect. When I say “design other media” it should only be conceptual ideas, the final execution should be done by specialists (e.g. advertising agencies) in those chosen areas.

The briefing, the start of a project

One can write pages about briefings, but we all know today that a briefing has to be short (condensed) without unnecessary figures, open-ended to stimulate creativity and focused, possibly with rough illustrations, to set the environment. It is highly recommended that the person who will take the final decision for the work in question be present at the briefing stage. This is seldom the case and we therefore get frustrated on both sides of the fence! A briefing can obviously not be sent by e-mail, but must be presented personally with samples.

Work stepwise! Design what needs to be designed

I see it every week: the client who wants a pack design as quickly as possible and the designer who ‘fills up’ with everything the client asks for in order to please. As we all know, design is a process and you cannot jump stages. I have found out that in many cases it was not about redesigning a new pack, but improving through design something that was not optimal. This is not only more cost effective, but also easier, faster and more productive. As we all know, the first step is to work out the key idea in order to find a direction, the second step being to use a few magic markers to visualize the idea and then, as a third step, use the design computer to give life to the idea, i.e. shape, interest, contrast, correct words, etc. This leads me to the next chapter, which is:

The communication role of design

If a designed object doesn’t express something, doesn’t communicate or doesn’t emotionally touch us, it is a dead object! .. and it has thus not been designed. To reach the best result is only possible with teamwork. Teamwork between the client (who hopefully knows what he or she wants/needs) and the designer, be it the internal design advisor or the external agency. It is here the package design agencies could, in my opinion, do better if they gave as much thought to the verbal as to the visual side. Package design is mainly about communication in order to sell. To do this we need the optimal relation between picture, text, form, material and convenience. We need a designed pack and not a graphic solution.

Avoid too many alternatives

I was writing these lines in my hospital room after a successful hip operation. Neither my surgeon, nor my anaesthetist offer many solutions to me. They know exactly what to do. Along this thought, why does a specialist in design come to his client with 6-8 alternatives? If you are an experienced designer, there are not so many alternatives! There is one main proposal for the first presentation, with maybe two alternatives, unless the briefing reads “do anything”! Some agencies show many alternatives in order to prove that they have worked a lot (and send a correspondingly high invoice…). Yes, I know that some brand managers ask for several solutions which can be tested as professional judgement seems scarce, but how do you know that what you are going to test are good proposals? I believe in research to obtain information, not in comparing package designs.

Understand legislation

If you wish to break the rule which is necessary for a designer to be creative you have to learn the rule. Package designers in Europe are very lucky compared to their American counterparts as the European legislation is not as limiting as the American. I do not want to go into details, but what we believe should be done is often wrong. We can do far more, but to do so needs creativity.

Be proactive

Whether you have an internal unit or an outside agency, in both cases those who like their profession will all be proactive. Do not wait until you are asked. We live in a constant changing world and what you did a year ago (and which you were proud of) can most likely be improved upon. My advice is to work with designers who are never fully satisfied and thus will, on their own initiative, suggest improvements.

Who buys the design?

Well, it can only be the one who ordered the job, gave the briefing and can evaluate the job. It goes without saying that I am against pitching and that I only believe in longterm relationship.

Design cannot be bought from a purchasing department as design has two (if not more) sides: a creative one (difficult to appreciate if you are not trained) and an executional one (easy to evaluate as it is a matter of hours and material).

How to calculate ROI

Here I am a bad advisor as it is a matter of figures, money spent, time involved and sales achieved. Very difficult as new package design is often combined with other marketing activities. It can be wrong timing… there are so many variables. However, as we gain experience in using design, we soon learn what works and what doesn’t.

How do you evaluate/judge creative work?

When I teach I use a grid which individually measures the 5 variables: brand, product, target, impact and uniqueness. I do this to help the client to look at individual parts of the design, as well as at the whole picture. But what I mainly teach with this grid is to judge the conceptual quality (i.e. the idea) and not the execution. It is a matter of finding the big idea and its potential as the design is very seldom perfect at the first execution. I only use this grid when teaching. It has taught me how to think and not to fall into the trap of judging execution only. Most young clients today are amazed by technical qualities and do not see the great idea behind a design and, as I said, its potential.

The human factor

Design is a matter of appreciation. It is therefore very difficult to work with someone who has completely different views. You have to find your counterpart in order that you two build something together . It is therefore necessary that you seek until you find the right designer or agency vs. the right client. This is why, once you have found it, I believe in longterm relationship.

Cultural differences

Yes they exist, but in the FMCG world it is more a question of rural vs. town consumers. Furthermore, it became clear very early in my career (for a food company) that sweet tastes are universal, savoury ones highly local. As to design appreciation, there is obviously a difference between a market where design is important as for instance Denmark or a market where the word design has just been discoved, such as Russia. However, great design transcends borders… just as IKEA. The key to the success is to have, inside your organisation, a few top managers who can fully appreciate great design. I had the pleasure, during my Nestlé years, to have such a person in the present Chairman, Mr. Peter Brabeck.

Widen your vision

Great design can only be achieved if both the client and the designer are trained, each in their way. What I mean is that the designer must learn to sell his work, his idea, his project and the client must understand that if he or she are not visually and verbally trained there will be no dialogue, i.e. no great design as each party will defend their opinion.

I believe that the reason why we could be better is not whether the designer is inside or outside of the company, it is the lack of schooling, mainly on the client’s side, to understand what design can achieve. That’s why I teach.

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