Combining experienced designers and branding experts has given Honey Creative a great start, working with superbrands including Harrods and Tesco. Computer Arts Projects talks to its co-founder Doug James
Set up in September 2006, Honey was founded by Doug James and Matt Purkiss-Webb, who joined forces after working together over many years. After successfully building their own companies, they combined their experience of working with Conran, Debenhams, Seat and Saab, among others. Honey Creative pools their retail, packaging and design expertise.
Computer Arts Projects: How do you think packaging design fits in with product branding and advertising?
Doug James: Our success comes from looking at everything together - a 360-degree approach - so we have a four-stage process to look at the commercial and creative sides together. First is to direct the brand's business with a commercial and creative review, then we create the 'big idea': the design's look and feel. Step three is to deliver the actual packaging, which is essential to the success and takes the most time. Finally, we look at growing the future of their business, by repeating the strategic review. So it's all linked in together. You have to know what customers want, and then package the products to communicate to the customer that it's what they want. This gives them a better experience with the brand to build loyalty.
CAP: What issues do you think packaging designers need to be aware of?
DJ: When designing packaging you have to look at the customer journey and inspire their purchasing decision. You need to make their relationship with the brand as enjoyable as possible, to create loyalty. They have choice when they're purchasing, and the job of the packaging is to inspire them to buy your product. All brands talk differently to their customers, but the principles are the same for start-up businesses as for worldwide superbrands like Harrods. I think it's gold for designers to get into agencies like Honey or big established agencies, because they teach you how to communicate ideas through packaging and convert that into sales.
Another of the most important issues is delivery of your designs: you're dealing with many different manufacturers and printers, and you need to build a different relationship with each of them. For instance, we worked with Harrods for a year, and spent eight months of this time designing 250 pieces of packaging. You then move on to the production, and - especially with its range of eclectic products - you have some suppliers such as artisan small honey producers, who make only 400 jars of the finest honey in the world, while others are mass manufacturers and you have to fit around their systems. And there are always some restrictions, such as Harrods' tea has to go into square tins.
Sometimes, it's the more simple and minimalistically beautiful designs that are the hardest to do, as it's what you leave out that makes it great. Then it comes down to printing and finishing - you need suppliers who are willing to go the extra mile to deliver the dream packaging with materials and finishes.
With Clearex we've found that Polish manufacturers are best - they're cheaper than Germans but still have the amazing German engineering. The best international suppliers are the ones that want to prove themselves. When dealing with different languages, you need to try to keep everything as simple as possible to minimise problems, but you have to allow time for this. Your relationship with the supplier is critical.
CAP: How much do environmental issues affect packaging at the moment?
DJ: There's a lot of debate going on and a lack of clarity - one person's definition of environmental impact is different to someone else's. There are issues of sustainability, recyclability, and reduction. Carbon and fossil fuels seem to be the focus at the moment, so the first step is to reduce waste, and cut back on plastics and card. Less weight means less fuel is needed to transport them by plane or train. Premium brands often over-package, such as cosmetics that come in boxes with ribbon, tissue, and bags. But I passionately believe that consumers want choice - it's all about balance.
I think Tesco is one of the best because it listens to the customer and works out the best strategy for delivering what they want. Customers are totally asking for green packaging, but it can't be a passing fad or a PR stunt. People are cynical of Tesco because of its success, but it's got a good culture of change and innovation, with the power to make change quickly and implement a strategy that it thinks is right. Tesco's policy is to reduce, reuse, and then recycle - reducing waste in packaging, then encouraging reusing, then recycling. For instance, Tesco has taken a crisp packet and looked at sealing the bag in a different way to remove a small amount of packaging at the top and bottom. Multiply this by all its crisps packets and it's a huge amount saved, so it's a natural win for the retailer and the customer.
Similarly, Waitrose has introduced refillable packaging for milk - you buy a plastic bag for milk, and you refill it. Marks & Spencer uses only three or four types of plastics and doesn't mix them, so it can easily recycle them. We're working with a supplier in Ireland that produces the plastic, supplies it to retailers, picks it up afterwards and takes it back to the factory to clean it, re-granulate and remould it, and use it again.
CAP: What's your all-time favourite example of packaging design?
DJ: The Jif lemon: it makes you think 'lemon', and it's a lemon with a spout that you can use. But it doesn't stand up, so then a tray was designed for it to sit in. It's classic and timeless. It's a physical brand: the Hoover of lemon juice. I don't even know if there are any other brands. It's the most powerful and recognisable design, which is the key to packaging - you should be able to cover up the logo and still recognise what brand it is. My other favourites are the old Head & Shoulders bottles, Matey bubble bath, and Marmite; Things that influenced my life when I was young.
A recent favourite is the Absolut Vodka bottle, especially the Christmas packaging they did of a mirror ball.