5 ways package designers use digital systems to improve projects

Posted: March 6, 2012 by
Linda Casey

To re-invigorate their brands, consumer packaged goods companies are tapping into consumer thirst for choice. The result is a surge of niche and seasonal products that’s pushing the number of packaged goods higher. Last year marked nearly a decade of double-digit, year-on-year SKU growth, according to printing industry and consulting firm Karstedt Partners, LLC (New York, NY).

While brands may have more SKUs, they’re not necessarily selling as many products in each SKU. Lower-volume SKUs require smaller package printing jobs, challenging designers to amortize the cost of new creative for these products over a shorter print run.

Lucky for them, digital technologies that support design have also grown. Here are five ways package designers and consumer packaged goods companies are benefiting from digital technologies.

1. Calling off the hunt
A common way for packaged food companies to expand their product offerings is to add more varieties under proven product lines. This process clearly offers built-in product manufacturing efficiencies, but it can also be a challenge for designers to extend the product line’s visual consistency
—especially when the other packages (and their product photography) were completed months or even years ago.

According to Chris Powell, senior manager of imagery for strategic branding firm Daymon Design (Stamford, CT), the fly in the ointment might be something as modest as a simple white bowl. He explains that product photography props (such as a bowl) can be difficult to identify and match with those used in previous photo shoots for the same product line. “We’ve got 50 white bowls,” says Powell. “And believe me, they’re all slightly different.”

But making sure that the same white bowl is used for all flavors is a lot easier since Daymon installed the OpenText (Ontario, Canada) digital asset management (DAM) system. It enables package designers to store metadata with photos. And this metadata can include information on where the bowl is located and how to identify it. This helps Daymon designers not only find a prop quicker, but also be certain they’re using the correct one.

2. Speeding projects to accuracy
Accuracy is of the utmost importance to Bausch & Lomb (Rochester, NY), which has a plethora of products for the pharmaceutical and medical markets. The nature of these target markets requires that products and their packaging quickly move from development to distribution.

The company’s global packaging team was completing complex package development projects in less than five months, but the ambitious team thought it could do better. Starting with one vertical market, pharmaceuticals, the group evaluated how it was spending those precious few months. The team found a significant time sink: administrative tasks. The group was spending more than half of its time managing those project details, including the complex review and commenting process.

The group identified the primary problem to be its email- and fax-based reviewing and commenting procedures. For each project, a lead package design team member collected, managed, and interpreted comments from stakeholders from different departments and sometimes different countries. And sometimes those comments were repetitious or—worse yet—conflicting. Such comments often put the package-design team member in the uncomfortable position of mediator between the stakeholders.

The package design team decided to completely revamp its review process by adopting Kodak’s (Rochester, NY) Design2Launch system, which takes an automated approach to routing and alerts. The DAM provides a single place to comment, review, and approve content. It also controls corporate processes with automated workflows, making sure that errors don’t slip in during editing and revision.

Since bringing in the technology, Bausch & Lomb has seen its package design projects’ turnaround time go from months to weeks, and it has eliminated labeling errors. “Since we implemented Design2Launch about four years ago, we’ve had zero product recalls because of mislabeled products,” says Edward Vaquero, Bausch & Lomb engineering director for packaging and plastic.

3. Clearing communication lines
Collaboration is just as important for designers at agencies as it is for those at worldwide brands. Kaleidoscope, an integrated design agency and prototype provider (Chicago, IL), consults with packaged-goods companies on everything from conceptualization and proofing to package printing.

There’s one common requirement from nearly all of Kaleidoscope’s customers, says marketing and sales manager Dan Dowling. “The requests for proposal have a heavy emphasis on workflow systems,” he says. “It’s not just about the creative.”

Clients aren’t content to work within an agency’s system, either. If a CPG is paying money to a vendor for a service, it wants that supplier to work within the CPG’s system. So Kaleidoscope designers are continually investing non-billable time to learn new DAM systems.

This is a challenge, says Guy Gangi, director of brand strategy, planning, and design, but it’s not a bother. The benefits of working within a DAM are worth the time and effort in studying the systems.

For an agency designer, working from the position of an outsider, serving as a mediator for two disagreeing project stakeholders can be challenging. Sometimes the only way to resolve this situation, says Gangi, is to develop two different designs. This isn’t exactly the best use of the agency’s or brand owner’s time.

But a DAM system can help clients develop consensus without the designer mediating the conversation, he explains. This makes for a much more amicable agency-client relationship.

DAM also can be used to better manage relationships and communications between an agency and the client’s other vendors. For one customer, Kaleidoscope collaborates with stakeholders within the client company—a retailer that primarily carries private-label products—and the client’s many co-manufacturers. If communications aren’t managed well between Kaleidoscope and the co-manufacturers, this could damage the relationship between Kaleidoscope and its customer. Kaleidoscope uses DAM to make sure that all of the client’s co-manufacturers and their packaging suppliers and printers are working within the same visual guidelines.

4. Gearing up for consistent execution
Jaye Johnson, principal at design agency Artico, (Waldport, OR) encourages clients—especially those selling perishable goods—to take the use of digital technology all the way to package printing for uniform results. “A client can have a brand color that spans across products,” Johnson says, “and those products can be produced by different co-manufacturers. For example, one could be a chicken product and the other is a pork product. If the purple isn’t exactly the same in both packages and the packages are shelved next to each other in the meat case, one product can look faded compared with the other. The package with the faded purple is going to look old to consumers. In a perishable world, nobody wants to buy old.”

Instead, Johnson likes to design packages for printing on HP Indigo presses. “Going digital, we can standardize colors across print providers, across the country,” she says. “I find it’s easy to communicate exact color to an Indigo as opposed to a traditional press.

“I don’t have to second-guess which printing company and pressman ran this and at what time of day or night,” Johnson adds. “Many of the printing variables are just eliminated. That allows me time to focus on more important things, like implementing a new marketing idea.”

She’s used some of that recovered time to design just-in-time special projects, like a limited-edition Super Bowl product. “We only needed 200,000 for the winning team’s market,” Johnson says, “and speed-to-market was critical.”

Because the Artico design team is very familiar with the press’ color range, it was able to quickly design packages for both team’s markets without the expense of extra spot colors. The agency had the design for the winning team printed digitally after the Super Bowl champion was announced. “The print delivery was three times faster than we could ever do with traditional print methods,” Johnson says.

5. Making production proofs affordable
Boutique personal care products manufacturer Carol’s Daughter (New York, NY) was looking to update its package designs when its printer, Logotech Inc. (Fairfield, NJ), recommended making the switch to digital printing.

“One of the things in our new designs was this canvas-grid background,” says Carol’s Daughter senior packaging development manager Kenney Tonge. “Leslie [Gurland, president of Logotech] and her team said the best way to hold the details in this background was to print it digitally.”

The package printer did more than just guarantee that it could print the canvas background; it provided production proofs at a price that Carol’s Daughter could afford. “With a traditional press, print trial time and costs can become very prohibitive,” says Tonge. “Digital printing was better at giving us the flexibility to see a production proof before printing the whole order.”

Because of the lower cost for press time, Carol’s Daughter could explore various design directions and make changes quickly based on consumer feedback. As of Q4 2011, the beauty brand had rolled out new designs for 95% of its product line.

With advances in DAM and digital printing technologies, package designers no longer need to compromise quality for speed-to-market. Creatives who use these technologies smartly are rewarded with more design flexibility, shorter turnaround times, fewer mistakes, and time to dream up that next big branding idea.


For more information, visit
Daymon Design,
Karstedt Partners, LLC,
Logotech, Inc.,
OpenText Corp.,