Hands-on Team Player

Q&A with:

Peter DiDonato, owner of DiDonato Design

Judy Dixon, vice president of production at Hornall Anderson

Terri Goldstein, CEO of The Goldstein Group

Pamela Long, director of client services at Little Big Brands

John Nunziato, founder and creative director of Little Big Brands

Faster and cheaper has been the business directive from time immemorial. This desire, Little Big Brands’ founder and creative director John Nunziato says, is fueling a disturbing modern trend in package design. “Because of timing and cost being hero, people are approving PDFs as proofs,” he explains. “This type of proofing will most likely result in a client who’s disappointed when the product gets printed because they’ve seen the image in a very different way,” Nunziato says, noting that packages printed on white ink look different from prints on white paper and very different from images viewed on screen. A physical prototype can more clearly communicate concepts and how the package will look in different retail environments.

A prototype also lets everyone involved in the process, including the designer, brand manager and retail buyer, examine the concept closely.
A consumer packaged goods company understands the proposed direction much earlier in the process as well. “The ability to actually hold a prototype or walk up to it—depending on the project—really accentuates the detail,” Hornall Anderson’s vice president of production Judy Dixon notes. “It’s amazing how many details you realize about a design concept once you see it in 3-D.”

Nunziato adds, “That [the prototype review stage] is when the brand manager really starts to fall in love with the design idea. A prototype gives them a real package that they can go to the store with and put on the shelf. They can keep it around at eye level. They can send it to other people for review.

“It’s also easier for clients to be able to visualize type and color tweaks compared to a 3-D rendering or even a lay flat,” he adds. “A prototype can spur more creativity from the client side. I think it can even lead to some buy in from their side and result in a few more dollars invested in the project because they can see just how beautiful the brand’s going to look.”

To make sure that designers and brand managers are getting the most out of their prototypes, Little Big Brands’ director of client services Pamela Long recommends using a service that’s flexible enough to partner on some of the decisions. “They need to be able to roll with the changes,” she remarks.

Nunziato warns that designers should avoid services that “just receive a file, run it and say, ‘Well, that’s what we received.’” Prototyping services with this philosophy don’t add to the creative process. “I believe creativity continues from the agency to the prototypers to prepress to the printers,” Nunziato explains. “But I believe some of them are not using their creativity. So you want to make sure the prototype house you’re using is asking lots of questions. You want to make sure that the prototyper is invested in the client’s brand as much as you are because they’re a part of the project now and not just a piece of the process.”

That’s why Terri Goldstein, CEO of The Goldstein Group, lists service, a consultative approach and knowledge of retail environments as her top three criteria for choosing a prototype house. A commitment to customer service will help ensure that the prototype house will not only manufacture a viable prototype but also will build a plan for the packaging supplier for making the final packages. A consultative approach helps an agency get the most out of the technical expertise of the prototype house. Knowledge of the retail environment will help ensure that the package design’s intent is met despite how the package is displayed.

Goldstein explains that a good prototype house can then contribute to the design process by making sure that the best substrates and coatings are chosen for the project. “Often a brand can be sitting on the bottom shelf or way up on the top,” she says. “A prototype house that truly understands the retail environment can note how elements might look darker on a shelf or what parts of the design are likely to be covered by shelf tags. A good prototype house also keeps up with the latest technologies and substrates so they can make suggestions that adjust for these conditions.” These suggestions can have a great impact on the efficacy of the final design.

That’s why Peter DiDonato, owner of DiDonato Design, says the first and the topmost question he asks himself when choosing a prototyper is, “Do I trust them?”

“Yes, you have to consider price and quality,” he adds. “But it really comes down to the person you’re working with.”

When you trust that person, Nunziato says, you know that everyone is working toward the same goal. “I trust that they’re a business that’s invested in building beautiful brands with our agency,” he explains. “As a business owner and creative director, I believe it’s important to let creative people be creative. I try to find the ‘specialness’ in a brand and in my team, and, of course, manage expectations.”

Goldstein adds that businesses can quickly reap the financial rewards from a good design-firm and prototype-house relationship. “A good prototype service paints a picture of how colors are met with exact formulas, how blends are achieved, basically how everything is broken down,” she says. “When a client goes to their package printer with a prototype from a great comp house, they don’t have to stay at the printer for two, 15-hour days. They simply say, ‘Here’s the target and here’s how you hit it.’

“My mandate is never to let a design go out of my studio without a comp that the client has signed off on and the formula to hit that target,” Goldstein remarks. “That’s how you get great brands that look as good on shelf as the phase one concept the client fell in love with.”

A peek behind the curtain
In our December 2013 issue, Package Design will showcase prototype services companies as well as manufacturers
of prototyping equipment in a product and services focus on prototyping. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the early submissions:

Manufacturing Target Development
Guy Conti Art & Design Inc. specializes in package design exploration and development. Specialties include folding carton, tube, jar, bottle, box and bag prototyping. Package decorating and finishing options include foil stamping, custom embossing, custom spraying, chrome finishing, shrink wrapping, laser die-cutting, custom dry transfer and silk screening. The firm can also create digital proofs and prepare mechanicals and production targets.

Packaging Prototypes
Schawk’s brand deployment packaging prototype services range from providing comps for “live” local market tests in-store, to production comps used to sell new products at retail, to hero comps suitable for media exposure and public relations opportunities. SGK can produce a wide range of CPG prototypes, comps and sales samples, particularly for the food, beverage, health and drug industries including: both rigid and flexible packaging, comprising cartons, pouches and shrink labels, which can be produced using clear, white and metallized substrates, along with heat shrinkable films.

Complex Prototypes
Bridge Premedia prototypes allow clients to reproduce metallics, white ink, spot varnishes, and embossing effects on production substrates such as shrink overwrap film, shrink sleeves, foil, paperboard, biaxially oriented PP, PET and corrugated board. Prototypes offered include cartons, pouches, shrink label and overwrap, rapid prototyping of jar and bottle structures, and interactive virtual prototyping.

Food Packaging Prototypes
As a digital printer of FDA-approved food packaging, PrintSure can manufacture prototype pouches, cartons and shrink sleeves that can be used for direct or indirect contact with food.

3-D Structural Prototypes
IBC Shell produces 3-D printed prototypes on a Cimquest fused deposition modeler to communicate the beauty and confirm the functionality of packaging concepts. The 3-D CAD Buildware can transform design concepts into complex, finished decorated prototypes that can also incorporate moving components.

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Ideation Vivace

One of journalism’s greatest wordsmiths, Arthur Brisbane, is famed for giving the advice, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” Peter Clarke, CEO and founder of a brand strategy and design consultancy Product Ventures, says that if a picture is worth 1,000 words, “a prototype speaks 10,000 pictures” when designing packages. 

Part of the prototypes’ power for ideation, adds Tom Newmaster, partner at packaging, advertising and multimedia design firm William Fox Munroe, comes from the insight a designer gets “from the simple ability to correctly convey how well a design performs and an understanding of how package graphics will look when scaled up to actual physical size.”

Resetting the clock on conceptualization
Using prototypes to prove design concepts carries a fraction of the costs of actual package production—both in time and dollars—and it can be the best way to convince a client to make or avoid a packaging change.

Brian Everett, packaging designer at IQ PKG, the design arm of the packaging supplier formerly known as Spartech and now part of the PolyOne Corporation, says prototyping helped the agency demonstrate a better alternative to the large stock tubs that a customer was using for a hand-packed food product. IQ PKG was able to show how a redesigned package would deliver better stacking strength, greater ease of use for the packaging line workers and a “more fun” appearance that made the finished package more competitive in its big-box retailing environment by giving the client a physical prototype that they can hold.

Jack Hinkel, executive director, implementation at brand consultancy Interbrand, says these benefits also extend to virtual prototyping. “When a client is trying to decide if a spot varnish is worth the extra cost, I can use Interbrand 3-D [the company’s own branded virtual prototyping platform] to show in real time what that product looks like with the spot varnish on and with the spot varnish off of the product.”

This, he says, is increasingly important as special effects such as metallic finishes are becoming more popular with brands. “If you have a product that has foil on it,” says Hinkel. “Depending on where it is on the package and in the store, the foil will capture light differently. In a shadow, the foiled area will darken. By viewing the varnished and foiled packages in a virtual store space, we, along with our client, can really evaluate a concept. And I can show them all this in real time.”

Flexibility from in-house capabilities
Interbrand 3-D is powered by Esko’s Studio and Visualizer software. Studio provides designers with a 3-D working environment, and Visualizer is the virtual prototyping engine.

Once Interbrand designers build the art files, the computer creates all of the special effects. But the agency says the most profound effects of this workflow is in the revision stage, where a traditional workflow requires having a prototyping service rebuild the entire physical piece adding days and dollars to a design project’s costs. Interbrand 3-D enables Hinkel to turn the effect “plate” off to render the image without the effect quickly.

“I was able to deliver a project on cost that we were changing in real time,” he explains. “We played with the texture pattern behind the emboss, and silver ink and spot varnish options. I switched back and forth between those three options right in front of the client so they could get a feel for each option right away.”

Scott Lucas, executive director at Interbrand, adds, that Interbrand 3-D enables a client to interact with the design concepts in a very tactile way. “I have Interbrand 3-D installed on my iPad,” he remarks. “It’s amazing to be able to call up the prototype, slide my iPad across the table and let the client interact with it first hand. That’s some kind of moment where the concept comes off of a screen and into their hands.”

Clarke agrees that full control of the prototyping process is important but believes that agencies can retain that control while producing physical prototypes. This is why the agency has invested in everything from label and film printing systems to stereolithographic and 3-D printing systems. 

Working with low-budget projects
Although his agency has been an equipment beta test site for years, pushing the limits of next-generation proofers and production systems, Tom Newmaster concedes that what’s “affordable” hinges on how the client values prototyping as part of the package development process.

The customer who exclaims, “$400 for that little box?” Newmaster opines, may not be fully aware of the cost benefits of validating packaging concepts with physical samples.

But no matter the budget, Newmaster remarks, “let’s comp before we release the file” is always good advice. 

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