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Meet our Designer: Packaging Design 101 with Lucy Bilson

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lucy Bilson has been running the graphic design department at Georgette Packaging for the past year. She attended design school in Europe and North America (!!!), and loves all things architecture, furniture design, and modern art. In other words: design is life. When she isn’t creating beautiful packaging for Georgette clients, she’s charming the office with her quick-witted sense of humour and quintessential British accent (we’re still not over it). 

In your opinion, what makes for iconic and memorable packaging?

Branded packaging is an opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves from their competition and gain visual presence in the marketplace. Your packaging should be eye catching but most importantly, visually consistent with your brand. There’s little point having a beautifully designed handle bag if people who see it can’t tell where it’s from! People know when they see a Starbucks cup or a Tiffany’s bag – that recognition is what you’re aiming for. But what about your small, local cafe? Focus on brand recognition within your target market, be it your region, city, or even shopping street. Getting your customers (and potential customers!) to see your packaging in someone’s hand or on social media and instantly connect it with your brand and products makes for successful packaging. It’s a balance between creating a beautiful "unboxing" experience for your product and getting your brand noticed out in the world.

What advice do you have for businesses who just want to refresh and update their existing brand? What’s the best way to approach this?

I usually recommend trying to visually represent the character and values of your business, rather than copying what’s on trend or popular with other brands. Your aesthetic should be something unique which you can commit to long term and which your customers will identify with your products and quickly recognize.

However, as businesses grow it often makes sense to refresh or adapt branding – especially if the nature of the business or the product line has significantly changed. Imagine you started out exclusively selling cupcakes but after a couple of years, became a full service bakery. That would be a great time to update your brand and communicate to your customers the things that are new (like your product offering) and what’s stayed the same (quality, location, ownership).

Your brand should visually communicate to your customers who you are as a business. If it’s time to make a change, look at what parts are communicating the right message and what parts are no longer relevant. What elements can you remove or introduce to make your branding more in line with your company’s personality? What other elements – colour schemes, patterns, photography style, illustrations – can you bring together to create a visually impactful, consistent brand to use on your packaging, in your space, and in your marketing?

What are the best ways for brands to update their packaging seasonally or for the holidays?

Seasonal packaging is a great way to bring attention to and create excitement around limited edition product lines, holiday offers and new products. It’s also an opportunity to experiment with something different, as there’s no need to commit to these new ideas when the season ends. You could experiment with anything from an entirely new packaging item to a new typeface on that packaging, and test out how your customers react to different concepts. Keep the main building blocks of your brand consistent, but take this opportunity to stray from the limitations you have throughout the rest of the year.

Seasonal packaging is something new and exciting for your existing customers and the more they love it, the more they’ll share it with their friends and on social media. There’s something special and exclusive about limited edition products, so definitely capitalize on the hype!

Why do you think that food packaging design is especially important?

A lot of work and attention to detail goes into the creation of food products, especially in the bakery industry. Putting exquisite macarons or a beautifully decorated cake into basic, plain packaging does a disservice to what’s inside and reduces quality perception of the product. If you’re giving a food item as a gift, how much more special and beautiful does the unboxing experience become if that item is in a high quality, branded, printed box? Thinking again about how you portray your brand to your market, your packaging has to represent what is inside the box – the product, the brand, the service you provide. Why not send this message out through your packaging?

Name a packaged item that caught your eye recently.

It’s been around for a couple of years now but I love the Mast Chocolates packaging. It’s simple but they have paid great attention to details like the weight and texture of their paper and quality of printing. The white label they consistently use on the chocolate bars with their logo has become an extension of their brand, allowing them to experiment with all kinds of designs for the main part of the wrapping. Take a white rectangle with black text positioned in the same way on any bright, colourful, patterned background and it looks like the Mast brand. I also like how they are courageous and experimental with their concepts for the packaging imagery – from coloured marbled paper, to illustrations, to black and white photographs. There’s thematic consistency though – each range of flavours uses a similar style. It’s quite clever.

Where do you turn to for creative inspiration?

It always depends on the project and what the customer comes to us with. I want to make sure I draw creatively from places and aesthetics which make sense for each business. So if it’s a traditional french style bakery that wants to be seen as classic and high quality, maybe I’ll look at the typography in hand painted 19th century French shop signs. Or if it’s for a coffee roastery that sees itself as masculine and slightly rugged, I might look at the textures and colours of natural materials, rather than the softer pastels you’d associate with a patisserie. We also keep a constant eye on what’s happening in the food industry and what kinds of design and aesthetics people are responding well to. It’s a balance of finding the right aesthetic for a business as an abstract concept and getting it to connect with their customer base as a living, working thing.

Favourite designer?

Saul Bass is who got me into graphic design – his work is extremely iconic. Bass knew how to use the simplest colours, shapes and typography to create visually exciting, engaging pieces that weren’t overworked or complex. There’s so much visual noise in the world now and I think the challenge is to create work which communicates meaning and narrative in the most elegant, original way possible.

Send Lucy an email at lucy@georgettepackaging.com if you're interested in working together on packaging design!