Once the brand to beat, your triple-chocolate fudge peanut butter cookies are now experiencing stale sales. You know that the problem lies not in the quality of your product, but rather in its humdrum packaging. But when it comes to taking the next step -- finding someone to add zing to the package -- you don't know where to turn.
You are not alone. Although an increasing number of manufacturers recognize that packaging can make or break a product, many find themselves at a loss when it comes to selecting a package designer who can best serve their interests.
Companies that want to revamp their packaging or develop a package design for a new product have several options. They can draw upon the resources of their own art department, if one exists. They can call upon the art and design department of their packaging suppliers. They can turn to their advertising agency. Or they can seek the counsel of a professional design firm.
More and more companies are finding that package design consultants provide the biggest bang for the buck. The best firms combine creative ability, technical know-how and merchandising savvy. They have in-depth knowledge both of consumer buying habits and merchandising trends. Moreover, they are familiar with various research methods and know how to apply research findings to design.
So how do you find a design firm with the appropriate expertise and talents? You can start by contacting a firm whose packaging you especially admire and asking for the name of the designer. In addition, you can look through professional design journals to find references to designers who have distinguished themselves on certain products. A third option is to ask a professional design organization -- such as Package Design Council International, Industrial Designers Society of America or the American Institute of Graphic Arts -- to supply you with a list.
Your search for a design firm will be easier if you:
· Define the problem in your own mind first. Even if you have just a sense of what the problem is, you will be in a better position to find the right kind of designer for the project.
· Focus on talent, not size. Both small and large design companies have their advantages. You need to chose a design firm on the basis of its previous work, not on the number of people it employs.
· Evaluate the designer's record of success in many different fields. Think beyond your own industry. A designer may not have direct experience in your field, but may nonetheless have the talent and skills to create a superior package for your product.
It is a good idea to ask several design firms for samples of their packaging work and their credentials.
After you have narrowed the field to the firms that meet your standards, ask the candidates to meet with you and explain some of their projects in depth. For each project, you want to find out about marketing objectives, design disciplines and economics of production. You can then determine for yourself how successfully the package design met the various objectives as defined by the client.
Next, ask for proposals from the firms whose capabilities seem to fit your requirements. Make sure that the designer includes a budget listing procedures and fees for each step in the project. Before making a final decision, discuss the proposal with the designer submitting it. A thorough understanding of all aspects involved will help avoid surprise costs down the line.
If the quality of the designer's work is high and the cost is right, check the firm's credentials. This means contacting previous clients to find out if designers work well with others and know how to support a project by contributing ideas and design skills. Ask if the package design program resulted in increased product sales. If so, determine whether the package design itself was responsible or whether sales were aided by a powerful advertising campaign.
Elinor Selame is the president of Package Design Council International and president of BrandEquity International, a visual communications and brand identity consulting firm based in Newton, Mass.