Martin Bunce discusses building effective design strategies that will stand the test of time
Having worked on global FMCG brands and projects, it’s obviously the latest and greatest that quickens the pulse but for us, as for most design agencies, the sight of their latest launch on the shelf still brings that frisson of excitement. It’s easy to forget the battles and hurdles overcome in bringing creative inspiration to successful and effective market reality. As product designers working in brands and packaging, we’ve developed huge empathy with client champions; from brand, packaging R&D and supply chain, who have to justify to their business how tackling a structural re design program can add value and justify the time and investment needed to implement them.
Typically we find that big 3D, structural packaging projects only come around once in a while. Unlike graphics, structure is not something clients want to dabble around with each time a new marketing plan gets written. That’s because they are fundamentally linked to the production line; how something is physically put together and how efficiently it runs. Sometimes our work will be instrumental in even bigger change that requires a new factory – or 10 new factories – with investment on a scale that requires cast iron assurances. It only becomes worth doing if we can justify the change and deliver a return on that investment.
Clients demand effective, future proof design, that is worth investing in and that will be category leading, not just at launch, but that can support a marketing plan over the next five to 15 years. Convincing a team to make a leap that might result in a factory being rebuilt, requires more than faith. Unfortunately, referencing recent work as evidential proof of the power of great structural design just doesn’t cut it. Their vision is not so much rose tinted by flashy creativity, but fogged with the perspiration of fear. As we look back over the last quarter century, forgotten gems begin to twinkle, their ‘designer pride’ rejuvenated by our need to prove well executed structural design can stand the test of time.
We call this “effectiveness for good”. A good example is our deodorant stick pack created for Unilever in 1996. This pack has been rolled out globally across brands such as Sure, Rexona, Dove, Degree and Lynx and has now been in the marketplace for 18 years. So far, 18 billion have been sold around the world and each year another one billion sticks are purchased. Despite attempts to redesign this pack, it still leads the category and wins consumer tests. Delivering designs that enable brands to become effortless and embedded part of a consumer’s daily ritual and habit is an objective way beyond the transience of the first launch. Of course we all want to take pride in our latest launch, but ultimately we’ll be judged on whether it delivers return on investment and lasting business results.
So how do we aim to deliver ? Apart from taking several silver hairs, sack loads of experience and some new shiny talent and putting it all in a blender, we have teased out a very basic principle: Find out what people really do with stuff! It’s not rocket science, but I believe we can rely on observing people, in home, in store, on the go, right from the off. Our mantra is that we work with “real people in real situations using real things.” We make things as we go, learning experientially, generating innovation and rational creativity that intuitively works with people. We believe in working in 3D from the outset (often with low resolution models). Ultimately we use these things to learn about people, as well as using people to learn about what we are creating.
Successful, proven innovation and structural design is about having a well defined approach and the confidence to explore the unknown, but upon reflection, being able to hold up a classic design from the local supermarket and say with pride: “We did this 10/15/20 years ago” carries serious clout too.