Encouraging an innovative culture within the packaging design industry

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Written by Nikki Clark, the Group Marketing Manager of Graphic Packaging, the UK’s fastest growing packaging manufacturer.

As with any design-led sector, innovation is the pulsing lifeblood of the packaging design and manufacturing industry. Without it the packaging industry would grind to an inexorable halt and the disparity between radical and ambitious new products and outdated, unimaginative packaging would grow.

New packaging development is now just as crucial, if not more so, than traditional new product development. This rings especially true in the ruthless and relentless FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) Industry where products can live or die by the effectiveness of their packaging. The food packaging industry is almost constantly subjected to new market drivers and trends that continually force manufacturers and designers to adapt and satisfy changing consumer demands. Innovation is essential to survival, let alone success.

So how do independent packaging companies build an environment that allows them to not only adapt to shifting consumer demands but to maintain a constant current of innovative creativity that pushes the boundaries of the packaging sector?

Graphic Packaging isn’t quite the grand old man of the packaging industry, but since the early 1920’s they have constantly maintained and verified their role as industry leaders. They take active steps towards implementing an innovative culture to secure their future as captains of the packaging industry, but what exactly are these steps?

Here is their tiered approach to creating a culture of innovation:

Identification Process
Innovating out of thin air is a nigh on impossible task. Ask any creative who has worked within a product design environment and they will understand the difficulties of generating an idea or innovative solution out of the blue without a brief or any information to use as a start point. This is where an in-depth research and identification program comes into place.

Recognising and identifying key consumer trends, technological growth and material developments through in-depth research and investigation provides you with a foundation stone on which you can develop sound and commercially viable ideas and innovations.

Packaging is a hugely multi-dimensional area of business encompassing marketing, logistics, ethical practice and technology all under one umbrella. Focus on just the commercial aspects of packaging such as consumer demands or cost implications and you will surely miss out on innovations that can be made in areas such as market trends and technology. Research and identification for innovation is about more than just identifying gaps in the market to create new solutions. Identifying influencing factors that can facilitate as well as inspire packaging innovations is just as important. These can include developments in materials that opens up new avenues for functionality or developments in finishing that allows for a new approach to design.

Packaging designers, managers and manufacturers generally need to be aware of two broad groups of ‘drivers’ or ‘influencers’ that will dictate how they identify areas they wish to target with innovative ideas. These groups can be defined as ‘demand driven’ groups and ‘supply driven’ groups.

‘Demand’ Influences – ‘Demand’ influences are generally those that serve the consumer’s or retailer’s needs or ‘demands’. This will include factors such as demographic and lifestyle factors, environmental influences and often logistical needs. Innovations that fall into this group are those that are demanded and required by either the target market or the business itself.

‘Supply’ Influences – ‘Supply’ influences are viewed as enablers, factors that contribute towards achieving innovation or allow for further innovation rather than ‘demand’ influencers that force the innovative process. Research areas that would fall into this category would be technology or new materials. These are factors that facilitate the design and manufacture of further innovations.

Maintaining a vigilant watch over all of these potential factors is the first and perhaps most crucial step towards establishing an innovative culture. It allows a packaging company to provide commercially viable inspiration to its creatives whilst keeping ahead of the curve when it comes down to new trends and practices.

Conceptualisation
It’s important for creatives to sometimes feel like they have no restrictions, which is why Benson Group believes in letting them run loose with the design process – at least for a bit! The identification process described above is then used to rein in their ideas, helping to numb that double-edged sword: while unchained thinking offers a greater scope for imagination, it can easily divert away from commercially viable ideas.

Benson Group doesn’t just limit this freedom to the design teams, however. They regularly hold internal innovative thinking days dedicated to creating new ideas. This is an opportunity to unite employees from across different departments to bounce ideas off of each other, promoting a collaborative approach to innovation. Benson Group even go as far as to include representatives from external agencies and companies that they have a close working relationship with, bringing in fresh perspectives to contribute. Additionally, Benson Group take advantage of supplier collaboration to gain input from strategic partnerships concerning materials or finishes that the suppliers specialise in.

Community Outreach & Talent Development
Businesses and enterprises often forget about the talent sat right outside their back door, favouring the distant university graduate over homegrown potential that may have been right under their noses for years. Benson Group focuses on developing relationships with the talent of the future in the local area, maintaining a relationship with local schools, colleges and universities.

Benson Group offers a regular placement for product and packaging design students from Loughborough University Design School and Northumbria University looking to gain experience, helping to ingratiate themselves with the talent of the future and encouraging potential employees to consider Benson Group as a forward thinking, appealing place to work.

Bringing in youthful talent positively influences the innovation culture in a number of ways:

1) Fresh Approach
Bringing in a creative mind that is yet to experience commercial or corporate employment adds a thought process that is uninfluenced by any limitations or factors that may affect long term employees.

2) Recruitment
It is likely that the students welcomed on the placement schemes will go on to have starring roles in the packaging industry. Providing them with valuable experience and some friendly advice early on will stick in their memory and perhaps provide you with preferential consideration when it comes to career decisions later down the line.

3) Consumer Insight
It is highly likely that at some stage the packaging you are contracted to design/manufacture will be targeting the consumer group that your placement students represent. Taking on these students not only gives you the benefits previously listed, but may also provide you with valuable and educated insights directly from your target consumer.

Conclusion
Establishing a culture of innovation is about much more than simply staying on top of developing trends and aspiring to be the first to make the next big packaging creation. It requires a business to think carefully about how people innovate: putting time and resources into fostering both an internal and external community of creative thinkers is an investment that will reap rewards in the future. Even if the company’s current design team is innovating at the moment, within a few months their ideas are likely to be outdated unless the creative juices are kept flowing by whatever techniques work best for the company.

These are just a few of the techniques that work for Benson Group to bring innovation to the company – what ideas work for you? Leave a comment below!


About the author
Nikki Clark is the Group Marketing Manager of Graphic Packaging, the UK’s fastest growing packaging manufacturer. You can connect with Benson Group on Twitter.