Packaging Design Industry Insights
Mark Roberts RGD, VP Creative Director at Davis, shares insight into the realm of packaging design and talks about remaining relevant and inspired in the industry today.


Describe your opinion of the packaging industry today.

Packaging has long been regarded as the ‘red headed step child’ of the design industry, and if you believe that, it will be! My belief is that every point of interaction with an audience creates a unique opportunity to tell a story. A brand’s package on shelf is the last (and sometimes only) interaction with consumers before the sale, which is a huge responsibility for a brand. The advertising and media mix landscape continues to evolve and become more and more fragmented, making it more important than ever for brands to present a cohesive expression across all touch points. Having learned the lesson that the big, one stop shop ad agency model doesn’t drive consistent performance across the media mix, clients’ are recognizing the value of engaging experts in their discipline versus brand generalists.


Buck Wild is a new brand that understands its consumers, targets relentlessly, and builds the brand story with a positioning to believe in.


Over the past few years, what changes to the packaging design industry have you noticed most?

These days it seems that just about anyone - not just the big multi-national companies - can manufacture and bring to market a product. This shift is exciting for consumers, retailers, and the industry in general as it creates a tremendous amount of choice. However, it also poses a consistent problem for many of our clients, because when you’re the #1 brand in a given category, there is immense pressure to maintain your leadership (sales), while seeking new innovations that deliver on consumers’ aspirations. To top it all, these companies then need to bring those innovations to life in a way that is respectful of the brands’ heritage, with the speed to market of a new emerging brand. A common problem we seem to be challenged with solving is re-establishing the relevancy of a brand that invented their category many years ago, but has ‘lost its way’ or allowed reactionary tactics to erode their core belief. By redefining and getting to the heart of a heritage brand’s beliefs, consumers have something unique and compelling to engage with, and the brand gets something solid to build on.


What do you see as the biggest opportunities emerging within the industry? What are the greatest challenges?

The greatest opportunity and the single biggest challenge are intrinsically linked. The challenge isn’t new in our industry and the solution seems so simple, and yet very few are leveraging it. As organizations look to innovate or renovate their brands or offerings they continue to look within at what the company can make, what they have capacity for, or what a customer has asked for. They may even look to the category, competition or adjacent categories playing the “me too” game, creating products that lack a meaningful point of difference for consumers. Compounding the problem is the prevalence of designers seeking inspiration from the category (or the likes of Pinterest) rather than watching people and behaviours, and listening to the consumer aspiration, translating those insights into big ideas. To address this challenge, we’ve started focusing our energy on learning well before we set pen to paper. Utilizing an insights methodology focused on "Discovery Learning", we uncover the consumers’ ideal experience. By understanding what consumers truly want out of an experience and understanding what visual sensory cues correlate with that desire, we can hypothesize how our product and creative can fulfill that need. This solves the "what consumers want" problem, as well as helping designers design with purpose, rather than simply what's "on trend".

One of our recent projects was to create this limited edition for Lot 40 Cask Strength Whisky. Craftsmanship is at the center, pulling in cues to the brand’s heritage and distillation process, such as the copper label, to resonate with the whisky’s loyal fans.


What do you feel is the most important, interesting or meaningful trend in packaging design right now?

I believe that design is a language spoken by creatives, and like any other language it needs to be studied to be understood and used to communicate effectively. When you have mastery of your language and you understand your audience, who for the most part don’t speak design language, you see that we as creators are really "translators" taking strategy, insights and facts and turning them into the emotional heart-tugging interactions that create relationships between people and brands. As a company, we leverage our skill as "translator," growing our role and influence in building brands way before the functionality of packaging takes over. We’re creating brands with personality and meaning that manifest as experiences with consumers across different media. This becomes especially critical as we see the notable shift in online purchasing and alternative distribution channels. If we rely solely on packaging or traditional retail environments to bring the brand to life, upstream opportunities are lost.


Can you give an example of a packaging project you worked on that you're particularly proud of and explain why?

There are many brands we've built or rebuilt over the last little while, but Healthy Choice is a great example to illustrate the points that I made earlier. This US brand was the innovator of convenient, healthy food in the 80s. But as consumers' definition of "healthy" evolved, the brand's offering and expression had not. Our goal was to renovate the base, build on the positives and set up innovations that relate to the contemporary perception of healthy.



About Davis

Davis is a full-service branding and design agency, focusing on consumer packaged goods in North America and globally. The agency was founded by Glenn Davis in 1971, with Dramatic Simplicity™ - a core belief - as its underpinning. Initially a design philosophy, it has evolved to become an overall business philosophy, creating maximum performance with minimum complexity. Simple, on its own, could be seen as boring; and dramatic, unnecessary. When combined however, Dramatic Simplicity™ provides functional clarity and emotional connection, engaging the heads and hearts of consumers.