Strategies & Insights

Bold Insights

Posted: December 9, 2016 by
Linda Casey

Modern architecture and rustic charm collide throughout Richard Barkaway’s family home in the greater Chicagoland area, enchanting visitors with a mix of styles, textures and eras. Barkaway and his wife strived to incorporate elements of the local agricultural culture while taking full advantage of the benefits of modern building, evident in the wide open great room and the authentic barn doors displayed behind modern seating.

In much the same way, Barkaway, who currently holds the role of vice president of design and product innovation at Renpure Brands, has been on a mission to mix throughout his career. Earning bachelor degrees in design from institutions in both the U.K. and Japan, Barkaway has worked in and learned from a variety of cultures. “My design career has taken me from the U.K. to Italy, over to the U.S., Japan and Australia,” he explains. “It’s enabled me take those insights and experiences not only from product development but also consumer engagement activities and apply those to projects where I’m developing products for global markets.”

As if mixing cultures wasn’t enough, he strategically sought to gain first-hand experience working in a variety of companies involved in the package design process. “I started in the design consultancy world,” Barkaway explains. “And then strategically made the move from the agency side into the manufacturing side because I wanted to really understand the manufacturing techniques and then that led to me going into the brand side.”

Ramping up collaborative work quicker

Barkaway was inspired to take this unusual path after a conversation with a friend at liquor brands owner Brown-Forman. This friend was frustrated because his partnerships with various design agencies resulted in beautiful designs that needed to go back through the engineering funnel in order to be manufactured efficiently.

During his work on the manufacturing side of the business, Barkaway began to see opportunities for better collaboration from all parties and that biggest opportunity was at the beginning of a package design project.

“The start of a project is a fundamental phase in the design process,” he says. “If it’s not done correctly then it’s just going to have a domino effect further down the line.” With his colleagues, Barkaway created a single document format that could serve as a guideline for projects. “It focused more on the brand positioning to start with but then went on to contain everything from the overarching information positioning statements to more detailed information around product specifics, such as materials, dispensing closures, volume, sizes, that sort of thing.”

Hip to be square

The combination of Barkaway’s breadth of knowledge in addition to his attention to all the details has enabled him to create products that break through category norms. “The Wine Cube redefined its category in that it made wine much more accessible,” he recalls. “Before Wine Cube, boxed wine in the U.S. was a faux pas. It was considered low quality; it was considered budget. Yet, in blind tasting, these particular wines out-performed 90 different bottles in conventional glass!

“From my experience in the U.K. and working in Australia,” he adds, “I brought some of those insights around boxed wine and we created this innovations document about different usage occasions, identifying opportunities in the wine category to look at different formats and we looked at different usage occasions from single serve opportunities to business lunch opportunities and portability opportunities for going outside the house.”

Barkaway contends it was more than his international experience that made the Wine Cube project a success. Much of the success came from the partnership with Wine Cube’s retailer. “We started working with the in-house design team at Target, and we did a number of ethnographic studies,” he recalls. “We looked at what format was already in existence, which was a bit dysfunctional because if you wanted your wine chilled the only way you could store it would be in the door.”

The result was a boxed wine package shape that was efficient from a consumer standpoint and from the retail perspective. Barkaway explains, “Fitting in the back of the fridge, it could dispense without being moved out of the refrigerator.” The cube, also naturally, achieves maximum cube utilization on pallet, and merchandizes well on the retail shelf.

It was also very attractive. “I was told that there was an underground movement with boxed wine parties around this brand,” he recalls. “It also was in the top five selling items across all categories in Super Target stores, and this again was across all categories!”

He is also very proud of how the Wine Cube democratized the product category—noting that design was able to heal the polarization in the market from very high-end wines for most discerning of wine connoisseurs to down-market, volume buys of sweeter varietals.

Be bold in your development and partnerships

Barkaway is poised to do the same for the hair care aisle as part of the Renpure team. Noting how natural hair care used to be the prevue of high-end brands such as an Aveda, Renpure, he says, is about creating natural products that strip away the chemicals found in conventional hair care. Additionally, the brand’s mission extends to align with consumers who care about being good members of the global community. As Renpure notes on its company website, “the world has become a much smaller place, and because of this, our responsibility as a member in this global community is to participate in a responsible manner. Because of this, we hold our suppliers to the same standards we hold ourselves to. We ensure our ingredients are properly sourced, ethically produced, and that our products always hold up to our strict performance standards. We care for you as much as we care for our family, and work to provide you with the best quality products we can.”

Part of this work, again, includes collaborating closely with retail partners. While the details of these collaborations are to be kept off the record. Package Design can note that the partnerships are with a variety of retail outlets from value to premium. Also, at the time of publication, Barkaway shared several new products and package designs in development that will more accurately convey the beneficial nature of the product ingredients, align more closely with consumers’ design aesthetics, and address more segments in the health and beauty aid market.

Renpure is leveraging its relationships with retail buyers to more efficiently and effectively develop and test products. Barkaway encourages other marketers, designers and developers to not be afraid to ask their retail customers to partner on new product development and testing, as it’s in their best interest. “Retailers use products to brand themselves,” he explains, “so product design and development [beyond private label] is also very important to them.”

Don’t forget to look outside your category

Barkaway also repeats the age-old advice of look outside your category. While everyone, especially marketers and designers are time-starved, they would be greatly served to look outside their category for inspiration.

In his role at Renpure, Barkaway often finds himself looking to food and beverage. “Because I’ve worked in beverage and know it’s such a fast moving category, I often find myself borrowing innovations or trends from that category and others and bringing them into health and beauty,” he remarks. The company is currently developing several products, shared with Package Design off-the-record, inspired by the beverage market and the hottest natural ingredients in that segment.

Barkaway did share one concept inspired by the food market, specifically the pet food market, that doesn’t need to be kept confidential.

Encouraging other marketers and designers to not only think beyond their category but beyond what is commercially feasible at the time, Barkaway recalls his exploration of fresh, refrigerated hair care. Inspired by brands such as Freshpet, a line of refrigerated, fresh pet food, Barkaway explored the idea of hair care products with ingredients so fresh that refrigeration would be recommended. Ultimately, Barkaway decided to scrap the project because of the brand fan’s inconvenience of having to pull hair care products out of the refrigerator every time he or she showered. But he contends that exploration led to a different perspective on ingredients’ roles in product development.

Leverage your skills to change the world

He also urges marketers and designers to think beyond their particular discipline, and especially sees an opportunity for the Package Design community to be able to elevate the next generation of designers. “The way that we use these new product innovations, the way we’ve used these new product technologies have evolved, but our core education hasn’t evolved and the creativity is still relegated to the bottom tier in the curriculum,” Barkaway says. “We are still focused on these core subjects and maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the way that we teach our children, the next generation of designers, and really refocus on those strikes, refocus on competencies that may not be identified earlier on in a child’s learning schedule.”

As a father, Barkaway was inspired by a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson. “He shares a specific example of a young girl who had some problems focusing at school,” Barkaway recalls. “It was later found that she had so much tacked in energy. She had this creative mind, and she needed to exert this creativity but she wasn’t given the tools to do it. Turned out that this girl blossomed into one of the most famous dancers in history. She then turned into choreographing all of Lloyd Webber’s material.

“I’m know that I’m seeing this from a very biased perspective [as a father to twin sons],” he adds, “but had they not tapped in to that creativity earlier on, who knows where she would be today?” Barkaway contends that professionals armed with the power of design thinking can transform education to recognize different types of intelligence, including creative intelligence, for the benefit of all humankind.