Startup Spotlight: The Timeline Leading up to the Launch
By: Evelio Mattos
Ready to launch? Before you do, you’ll want to start thinking about custom packaging now.
The human desire for instant gratification is often challenged by the slower-than-now process of packaging design and manufacturing. We’re breaking up the custom packaging design timeline into three buckets:
- Structural Design
- Visual Design
- Supply Chain
This will outline what takes time, and why each phase is critical to your cause. Use this information to create a realistic packaging timeline. Following these guidelines may mean the difference between hitting or missing your launch date.
Engineering & development process: 3+ weeks
Beyond fit, function, and product protection, structural packaging can increase UX. Simultaneously, it will manage your packaging spend by designing within the limitations of manufacturing, materials, and solving for transportation and storage costs.
What takes time: Expert structural packaging designers will disassemble the user experience process by considering users within packaging’s lifecycle: fulfillment, transport, on-shelf, consumer, and disposal. Discoveries illuminated by this process include substrates, unboxing layers, protection requirements, display-ability, and outer box dimensions for shipping.
This then leads to prototypes that address goals and expectations of the demographic, product, and brand. Packaging engineers sketch solutions, build prototypes, and test against established requirements. Materials are then selected and developed at this stage by testing a variety of substrates that achieve product protection goals.
Understanding the realities of mass production and being able to design within them is critical to a successful program. This knowledge allows packaging designers to determine if hand-made (slower/customizable) or machine-made (faster/less customizable) production is the right course of action.
Once structure, materials, and production methods are defined, dielines are output that enable you to accurately move into the next phase.
Design & development process: 3+ weeks
Today’s consumers expect unique experiences crafted into their unboxing ceremony—thoughtful moments of delight that speak to their personality, and are designed to be photographed and shared via social media. Packaging is the physical embodiment of your brand, so don’t rush it. What takes time: Designers aim to synthesize your brand’s promise into a visual statement that sells, validates, and shares your brand story without uttering a single word.
Before crafting a visual presence, a designer will need key insight into the brand. Tone, demographics, competitive analysis, and having a defined set of goals for the packaging will crystallize a path to a successful packaging design—one that addresses the wants and needs of the brand and consumer.
Designers will present multiple concepts that present the brand in various ways to create moments of delight at different points in the unboxing process. First phase presentations utilize FPO (For Position Only) images and greeked text to maintain the design discussion at a high-level, and to streamline the design process. Approving a direction, the designer will be able to finalize images and copy based on the available real estate, print processes, and materials defined by structural design.
Final packaging design should be presented as physical printed samples in order to allow you test the design under various lighting conditions, photograph for marketing, and confirm any changes prior to going into mass production. Printed samples can be as simple as wrapping inkjet prints around a mock-up or fully printed production samples. Each takes time, but are highly recommended.
Raw goods, manufacturing & transport: longer than you think
The timeline of the design process is dependent on feedback loops, prototypes, and client approvals. The quicker the client responds, the quicker the process. In the supply chain process, the client’s role is less of a driver and more of a passenger. Supply chain moves at its own pace, and if you’re the start-up then you need to be prepared.
What takes time: Everything. Each link in this chain is tied to the previous link’s timeline, so you can’t move forward with manufacturing without materials delivered on time.
Having an experienced supply chain team managing the development phases of your packaging program is critical to a smooth launch. Supply chain managers will ensure everyone communicates in real-time, and will preemptively provide solutions before anything can go sideways.
Inks, adhesives, paper, and tooling need to be sourced, delivered, and tested within the mass production setting to insure stability during production, transit, and lifecycle. Converting flat sheets into final printed packaging might only take a week, but you may be scheduled several weeks out depending on the supplier’s schedule, quantity, complexity, or time of year (peak season is May through October). After packaging is completed, you’ll need to get it somewhere, somehow.
Transporting packaging has its own set of timelines:
- air-freight (10 days)
- ocean freight (4 - 8 weeks)
- truck/train (distance based)
Air freight is faster and costs more, ocean freight is slower but more economical, and both timelines vary based on delivery location.
Coordinating the logistics of global distribution, requires an experienced team that understands the final samples are made which require dielines, tooling and materials. Because packaging is custom to each brand, the molds and dies required to produce packaging won’t exist—they’ll need to be made. Raw materials will also need to be ordered in the sizes specified by the equipment making your packaging. Both tooling and raw material processes take time, and the more custom the construction or substrates, the longer it will take.
Evelio Mattos is the Creative Director of both Design Packaging Inc., and FORMA Structural Packaging. His reputation as one of the leading structural and visual packaging designers for international retail brands has led to collaborative partnerships spanning industries from tech, fashion & beauty, to include wine & spirits.
His team of directors, graphic artists, industrial designers, and Creative Production artists, are involved in the development of powerful user-centric branded retail experiences. Together they strategically identify packaging users to include distribution centers, fulfillment staff, retail associates, and the ultimate user…the consumer.
Evelio’s experience in streamlining and retooling manufacturing processes has led to launching the first ever “Creative Production” team. The team’s focus is twofold: Structural Functionality, and Print Optimization. By applying these two principles, his team is able to deliver the designer’s on-screen expectation to an in-hand experience.
“Good design creates opportunity, the parameters we set define the space in which we design.”