Receiving accolades such as “simply perfect” for its redesign concept of Kelley Quan New York’s packaging, Envision Creative Group won the 2014 Makeover Challenge, a competition sponsored by FiberMark America. The agency was one of four competing design teams that developed
category-changing concepts for professional makeup brushes, which are often housed in clear plastic sleeves. Each of the concepts aimed to deliver a strong retail presence, without leaving sustainability concerns behind.
All four competitors, Base Beauty Creative Agency, Envision Creative Group, Spring Design Partners and Zunda Group, could be implemented at retail to command attention for this socially-minded brand in a variety of retail environments—from high-end retailers with assisted sales to self-service environments such as Sephora. (Learn more about all four concepts in the August issue of Package Design.)
Quan, a high-demand professional makeup artist, started making her own brushes when she found out about some of the practices used to create the high-end brushes so essential for her job. “Animals are either brutally stripped of their pelts or maimed without regard while being sheared, especially in countries where animal welfare regulations are either lax or nonexistent,” Quan explains.
Kelley Quan New York, Quan’s business, now sells two lines of makeup brushes that measure up to her personal ethical guidelines and precise standards, and which are ethically manufactured in a family-run factory right here in the U.S.
WINNING ONLINE AND IN-PERSON
Envision Creative Group’s redesign concept resonated with the marketing, branding, design and packaging experts in the package design community, who casted the most votes for its concept at this year’s Pack Expo International.
“The design is simplistic and elegant, while the wood base manages to make it feel special,” says Justin Sena, senior graphic designer of McHale Design, while casting his vote. Other voters echoed Sena’s sentiments, noting that the design was clean, streamlined and contemporary, choosing Envision Creative Group’s concept over more complex designs that offered more flexibility in their kit creation. A one-liner from an online voter perfectly encapsulated many of the voters’ support of the design: “Simple elegance will always be in style.”
While voters often used the word, “simple,” to describe Envision Creative Group’s gift-set and single-brush package concepts, they didn’t consider the design to be simplistic as a branding tool—noting that the packaging instantly communicates the essence of Kelley Quan New York’s brand message. Many remarked that replicating natural materials, such as the wooden base used for the prototype, might not be a literal translation of the brand message for a line of synthetic brushes, but it fits the inspiration behind the brand. Voters appreciated an “attention to overall communication that was clever and thoughtful” and a design that’s “creative and consistent with product value statements.”
Many voters’ comments revealed their attention to the stories behind the concepts, recognizing that Envision Creative Group also recommended replicating the wood base in easy-to-clean, heavyweight plastic for hygienic and cost reasons.
Liz Hocutt, a packaging developer at General Mills, noted that the final package could end up resembling marble versus wood, which would be line with the socially-minded ethos of the brand, while simultaneously communicating high-end luxury. Voters found Envision’s prototypes to be beautifully designed representations of what Kelley Quan New York ultimately delivers to its customers.
BEGS TO BE DISPLAYED
The winning concept resonated with voters for its practical attributes. Voters remarked that the creamy neutrals used in the box top and the base was a cooling counterpoint to the Kelley Quan New York pink, encouraging consumers to keep and display the packaging because it “works with any décor” yet “is recognizable as the Kelley Quan brand.” Some noted that the gift set could take up a considerable amount of counter space in a bathroom, but that was worth the sacrifice because the widely spaced slots gave users easy access to the brushes.
Other reactions were more emotional, with one voter stating that she was “obsessed with the wax seal and base” and another expressing she “wanted to buy one now!” In-person voters remarked over and over again how much they loved to touch the prototype packaging, while eagerly describing how the different materials help the concept stand out as a product of quality and style. They noted how the textures of the ribbon, seal, coated paper top and wooden base piqued their curiosity of how the brushes would feel on their skin and made them want to learn more about the Kelley Quan New York brand and its products.
INNOVATION, STIMULATED BY A BLANK CANVAS
Stephanie Silver, vice president and project manager of Envision Creative Group, attributes the brand’s innovative edge to the clean-sheet approach the agency takes to its projects.
“We obviously bring our experience, but we don’t try to lean too much on what works for one client will work for this client,” she says. “We try to figuratively throw open the drapes and look at each new project with fresh eyes.”
Silver attributes this open and empty canvas idea to Envision Creative Group’s creative approach when every aspect needs to be recreated.
This is in contrast to a “standard playbook” that other agencies may use to maximize efficiencies, adds David Smith, president of Envision Creative Group. “Approaching every project fresh and from a completely new vantage point is a lot more work, actually, as we don’t have any repurposing or pooling of concepts that we’ve done before,” he concedes. “But a one-off, every time, custom design meets our goal for our clients, to position them to make the biggest impact on their target audience.”
Smith and Silver also attributes the Envision concept’s success to the design strengths of graphic designer and illustrator Nicole Conlay and the feedback of all 11 team members at Envision. “Other people in the office, who were directly assigned to this project, were involved in providing feedback and opinions,” Smith says. “Everyone including people in sales had a say, but ultimately it came down to Nicole’s initial, strong design vision.
Smith also took the opportunity to correct a misconception that I had about the prototype base. I previously had thought the design was created by a local artist. “I think what’s important to know is he didn’t design it,” Smith clarifies. “We did the design, and he basically carried out the execution. The design solely came from Nicole in terms of how that was going to function and work.”
This is just one of Conlay’s many strengths, Smith and Silver add. “Nicole has a great strength in and passion for the tactile experience,” Silver says. “That plays a huge role into package design especially.” In a humble voice, Conlay responds, “When it comes to packaging texture, it is really important to me. I think being able to feel and touch something, it takes the experience to a whole new level.”
LEVERAGING THE EXPERTISE OF PARTNERS
Silver notes that inclusion of the FiberMark LaCrema Ivory paper in the box top is one of the many reasons why shoppers will start thinking about the use experience upon first interaction with the package. “The coating feels like a soft cheek,” she notes.
She also credits Conlay for her insistence on a prototype that could sell the brand message through touch. “Nicole was fearless in saying, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’d should do it right. She told FiberMark, ‘Your materials are awesome and could help make this product what it needs to be.’ Yes, we had alternatives for creating stuff in house. But utilizing the vendors’ expertise along with ours really did help gave it like the texture that it needed.”
Conlay adds, “Wes Ryon of Eyeon Finishing and the contest sponsor [FiberMark North America Inc.] were just awesome to me. FiberMark did more than provide the Ivory paper. It even PMS matched Kelley Quan’s pink for the inside of the top of the box. Then Eyeon Finishing wrapped all of the boxes flawlessly in that nice soft-touch paper.”
ATTUNED TO THE BRAND’S VISION
Upon learning the contest’s results, Quan expressed how impressed she was with the winning team and how Envision Creative Group embodied the characteristics of her makeup brushes into the concept of the package design. “The voters’ response to Envision’s design clearly tells me that it’s a winner,” Quan continues. “People want it, they find it sexy, and they put together the aesthetic and tactile connection between the brushes and the packaging. It was my goal to have a design that would make shoppers covet both the product and the package.”
At time of publication, she was in talks with Envision to bring the concept to final fruition. “People who have been following my brand for the last five years have shared with me feedback that the Envision concept is a really great design, but they thought there’s an opportunity to improve its branding potential,” she says. “When a user takes the top part of the box away, there’s no branding whatsoever on the stand. There’s no logo or brand color. There’s no definitive Kelley Quan mark on that stand. That is one thing that I would need to implement someway, somewhere on the stand, somehow.”
Quan is also concerned that many of the photos taken for online voting showcased the single brush box with the less expensive white brush. She wants to make sure online the black-handled brushes look just as good as the white in the packaging. Neither of these concerns have dampened her enthusiasm to continue working with Envision, though. “We are two brands that belong together,” Quan says. “They are a smaller American agency, and I’m the little engine that could.”
Package Design thanks FiberMark North America Inc., a world-class manufacturer and global distributor of fiber-based decorative covering materials and dyed-through paperboards. The company forms a rich tapestry of inspired top-of-the-line products for luxury packaging and upscale collateral helping premier brands stand out more distinctively.