Advice from the Pros: John Silva, DuPuis

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As a designer I learned early-on that great design takes talent and ego because for art to communicate and resonate it has to come from the soul. That’s very personal. Soon thereafter (very soon) I learned though that it’s not about me and that I needed to put ‘me’ into my work but others needed to find themselves in it. Package design is perhaps the most dramatic expression of that precept. Those who participate in the creation and deployment of brands and packaging know that the consumer rules and speaking to their needs with authenticity through engaging, inspiring design is job one. As jobs go though, it is certainly a moving target of cultural shifts and changes in the role that branded packaging plays.

A great deal about the future of branded packaging can be gleaned from observing its evolution over the past centuries and seeing its purpose morph over time. Starting out as simply a plain container used to hold and transport goods as early as 500 years ago, to some of the first uses of what we now call ‘branding’ some 150 years ago, to today’s sizzling-hot marketing touchpoint, packaging now both protects, informs, differentiates, delights and entertains. Many brands and packages even serve as extensions or expressions of one’s own identity, style and values. In more commoditized product segments (e.g. bottled water) the package has now become the primary differentiator that drives the purchase decision. While a brand is more than a package, for most consumer packaged goods the packaging is the purest expression of the brand and perhaps the only opportunity to project its value, tone and manner.

It is in the context of past, present and future that we must decide what YOUR consumers expect, want and desire.

What they have come to expect can often be learned by simply asking them through relevant research and by analyzing the competitive field. In general, whoever is doing it best is where expectations are established.  Expectations mark the cost of entry; they are to be met.

What they want may be learned through consumer critique and various failings within your market segment; in other words, getting the consumer to say “What I really want is….”.  Wants are an expression of what people do not yet have; wants are to be fulfilled.

What they desire however is a much trickier ambition. I have seen little success in asking consumers what it is they desire because that requires an analytical response to an emotional issue. Oh they’ll tell you what they ‘think’ they desire but the answers rarely lead to meaningful innovation or anything beyond parity. That flavor of consumer feedback really identifies wants. When it comes to desire, it’s the old, “they don’t know what they don’t know” paradigm. Desires are not determined through what’s known or extracted out of conventional research; desires are created.

Developing truly great branding and packaging requires consumer insights and a keen awareness of their need-states, combined with visionary instinct and bold creativity-- the “Midas Touch” if you will. Weighing where we have been, assessing where we are, and determining the future of packaging through trend analysis and forward thinking is the balance we must strike. If you are one who requires advance proof of an outcome, branding & packaging may not be your thing. There is indeed an art to this craft of delighting consumers that goes beyond calculation and measurement. It’s often an intangible nuance through visual language and smart risk-taking that separates the wall-flowers from the heroes. Designers that weave marketing science into their art (‘strategic design’) and marketers that allow art to express personality in seemingly abstract ways are mustering to the call.

He who delights and entertains, creates desire, and does it with authenticity first, wins. 
About John Silva:

John Silva has been with DuPuis, a strategic branding and packaging firm, for over 16 years. As Vice President and Creative Director he champions the entire packaging process from innovation to print production. He is currently serving as Creative Director for clients including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Mars Petcare, Hormel and Dole. Co-authored with Steven DuPuis, John’s recent book, Package Design Workbook, provides marketers and designers with knowledge of how to elevate their packaging to the next level, featuring interviews with top brand managers and other industry experts. John earned his degree in Art & Design from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.

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