5 Reasons 'No' Can Be an Acceptable Answer in Packaging Design
The second law of thermodynamics states that there are always many more disordered than ordered systems.
This “Thermo” guy must have spent some time in the packaging industry because we are often on the receiving end of "less than ordered" systems.
One reason for this disorder could be that systems without boundaries breed chaos. As designers, our proclivity to always say "yes" contributes to a less-disciplined — and often more expensive — approach.
That is never more evident than when a design navigates from concept to shelf through the packaging development process.
Here are five instances when it is OK for a packaging professional to say, “No”:
No PO, No GO
There are always projects lurking on the horizon, interesting challenges on our immediate radar and influential brand owners eager for our talent and expertise to help them bring their next great idea to life. The official confirmation of their desire for our attention is a purchase order.
This humble PO empowers us to do what we do best and get compensated accordingly. Any activity performed prior to this document is a risk — a purchase not guaranteed for compensation. Once the work is done, the PO is no longer a priority. Remember that many good accounting folks don't always pay for activity occurring prior to the purchase order submission.
There are myriad roadblocks for purchase order approval. A smart printer will resist the temptation to start on a project before this key milestone, regardless of how confidently you are encouraged to do so.
No Art, No Start
Packaging designers are conscientious folks who want to please. We are also trusting. When a client tells me no artwork is available but it’s a basic, two-color vector job, I want to believe. I estimate on faith and plan for the best. The art, when it finally arrives, is often more complex. It includes photos and requires retouching and more advanced construction skills. If I’ve agreed to fulfill the request "in the dark," without seeing the art, I’ll inherit the consequences once it arrives.
Designers are always trying to push the limits of what can be printed. Every moment of print feasibility and capability assessment is critical. A printer not getting that valuable early look should aggressively encourage that important review.
ALWAYS review artwork before proceeding and share it liberally with all stakeholders to get the valuable feedback you deserve. THEN you can perform your magic.
No Lock, No Walk
So, we’ve seen the concept, we’ve solved some of the challenges, and are ready to start. NEVER begin developing a design concept until it is officially locked. Any changes to work performed prior to design lock is REWORK. Since rework is the nemesis of profitability and rarely anticipated, don’t walk before lock! Make sure that any prepress activities are performed on the latest approved artwork, not the many different versions along the way.
No Printer, No Beginner
We’ve locked our concept. Now it’s a race to the shelf. Our time to shine. The ONLY way to be successful in package printing is to know our capabilities (and limitations) and design to those standards. Without a printer assigned to our project, we guess and assume. Our guesses and assumptions soon become mistakes and misses. Do it right the first time by getting printer buy-in. Understand their wants and needs. Let’s clear the hurdles early in the race instead of stumbling over them later. If you are given this opportunity, take advantage of it. Clearly communicate your capabilities. Make suggestions. Give advice. As a key stakeholder, printer feedback gives designers boundaries and guidelines for success.
No Assets = Upsets
Now we’re poised for success; we have our PO, we've gotten a good early look at the art, it’s since been locked, and the printer is now our strategic partner. Are we ready to cook this fine recipe? Only if we have all of the ingredients. Starting without an official packaging technical drawing is like baking a cake without eggs. It’s not that easy to add them at the end of the order. You obviously have respect for the process. Encourage other stakeholders to share your respect. Determine which things are MUST HAVES, which are "like-to-haves," and hold strong to your requirements.
In the meantime, be the expert your client expects you to be. Say "No" when it is appropriate. Say it with professionalism and diplomacy. Follow your NO with what CAN be done. Yes, we can begin design development after you've established design lock. Yes, this project deserves a detailed technical drawing. Package printing is a complex process. The good printer knows when to say "No," the excellent printer knows how to turn noes into yeses and keep the project on track.
I’m sure "Thermo" would agree that a few strategically placed noes along the way will result in a chorus of yeses when your packaging project is a rousing success!
Scott Hosa started his career in the graphic arts at 14 years old as a printer’s helper at a local newspaper, and has been in printing and packaging ever since. He studied graphic design at Youngstown State University, industrial design at The Ohio State University and has worked on all aspects of global branding for clients including Bayer, GSK, Hershey Company, Kraft Foods Inc., PepsiCo., Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson and Unilever. Hosa is currently helping clients build agile brands that thrive in today’s dynamic, disruptive marketplace as associate director of technical graphics at Landor, a global leader in brand consulting and design.