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January 14, 2013

How to Choose a Package Design Firm

How to Choose a Package Design Firm

Before starting SmashBrand, our award winning packaging design firm, we owned several popular global consumer product brands.  With over 10 years experience of hiring design firms for our own products and brands we learned exactly what you need to look for. Check out our story, and if we are not a fit for your organization, follow our guide below when you are looking to hire a good packaging design firm.

In a time where consumers have millions of choices in the crowded retail battlefield, selecting the right packaging design firm for your product may be one of the most important stages in your product development cycle. Ask yourself: If my packaging is the last 15 seconds of my marketing, what is grabbing my customers attention and converting the sale?

We think awesome packaging is critical to the product’s ability to grab the consumers attention. Good package design promotes brand awareness, boosts product visibility and increases the salability of the product. While we hope that we get a chance to show you how we can make your product awesome, here are a few tips to finding the packaging designer of your dreams. These are the elements I would look for when searching for that dream designer.

Look for Experience

We don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t some great designers out there creating edgy, awesome logos, playing Fruit Ninja with their head phones on, but experience in the industry is one of the most telling qualities in terms of how effective a graphic designer is. You don’t even want to know how hard it is to stay in this business, let alone succeed (out of the roughly 25,000 designers that enter the professional world every year, only 20 percent last five years).

A successful, enduring graphic designer will not only have a fantastic sense of color, shape, light and shade (all of the artsy stuff) but also know how to visualize ideas in the third dimension – all the while working under budgetary constraints and often ridiculously short timeframes. A graphic designer with proven experience will likely prove to be pretty darned reliable.

That’s design experience but what about real world retail experience?  This is the second part of experience that I believe is just as important as design experience.

Before starting SmashBrand we had built, grown, made profitable and sold multiple consumer product global brands and e-commerce sites.  This helps us understand the challenges first hand because we have been there, competing in some very tough markets.

Unlike designers who just go to design school and work exclusively creating design work for clients, we have  extensive experience competing in the retail battlefield.  Our experience has taught us that catchy slogans and entertaining visual graphics alone won’t be enough to win in the marketplace. Brands need to engage the consumer through visuals that tell their story. The right story comes from years of experience in marketing our own products and brands to consumers. This experience is just as important as design experience.

If you want a strong brand that can compete in crowded markets, I’d look for design teams that have had retail experience to go along with their design capabilities. They are out there (I’ve worked with many) and worth every penny.

Look for Happy Clients

If a package designer’s previous clients have written reviews that indicate they’re bouncing off the walls with joy over the work done for them, the first thing you want to do is check that the clients, company and projects even exist. Seriously. Sadly, many testimonials are fakes and it only takes a quick check to make sure things are on the up and up. Any decent design firm is not going to mind that you are vetting them, it’s quite normal.

After you’ve verified by phone call or email that the companies do exist and they did, in fact, employ this designer, ask questions relating to the experience of working with the designer. Was the designer easy to get a hold of? Did he or she respond to you quickly? What was it like to work together? Was the product successful?

Look for a Packaging Designer with a Process

A logo, package, web or app design should have a thorough process; any designer that churns out packaging like a vending machine will not have given your brand, market, goals or identity any thought at all. Typically a strategic process leads to a stronger product and should include things like research, strategy, and the fun stuff like design and implementation.

Price is another consideration. We’re not suggesting that the higher the price automatically means the higher the quality, but a firm that has the expertise and experience required to produce high-quality designs that can really compete in retail isn’t going to be cheap — plain and simple.  Cheap gets you “average”, don’t be average.  The expression, “you get what you pay for,” didn’t come from nowhere; it came from an embittered company that employed a crowdsource design firm for $400. Well, probably.

Look for a Portfolio that Pops

Every artiste has his or her own style, but a packaging design firms portfolio should have a diverse array of projects; projects that shouldn’t necessarily be identifiable by designer. If you can look through a designer’s portfolio and see obvious design similarities between projects for different clients, that is a strong indication that the designer either doesn’t have the ability to vary his or her aesthetic, or believes leaving a personal mark trumps creating a unique visual identity for the client. Your company has a unique story to tell, and your design should reflect that in an original way.

However, there are some designers that specialize in certain statements for certain markets. If you know that the package designer’s major successes have been in designing strong, bold, simple brands and you, likewise, want a strong, bold and simple brand, then you might be in business.

Finally beware of designers that have a high concentration of unused designs in their portfolio. You want to see how successfully a designer collaborated with a company, not what the designer would do if he or she had tons of free time to dream up random concepts.

Use the same judgment and standards when choosing your packaging designer as you would when choosing your plastic surgeon. You want to make sure that he or she has the experience, has a track record of success and can show you a roster of happy clients, because the work—good or bad—is going to be with you for a long, long time.

If you’re ready to make your brand awesome, then it’s time to get in touch with us. Otherwise use these guidelines when looking for a design team to work with.

author

by Kevin Smith

Managing partner at SmashBrand. We’re a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.


Purposefully selective, we work with brands that want to stand out and also stand for something.


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