The inferiority complex of a brand identity designer

Aprile 21, 20203 Minuti

I consider myself to be very good at what I do, perhaps one of the best. But after 30 years I still haven’t found a simple way to explain it. My father likes to define it as “making people pay more than they should for things they don’t need”. I’ve often wished at social occasions that I was a lawyer or even a marketing manager. Something the average person would understand. I introduce myself as a brand identity consultant which sounds impressive but means nothing to most people so I end up telling them I’m a designer. Their eyes light up and they expect me to be in fashion or furniture. Sexy stuff. When they discover I’m a packaging designer their disappointment is obvious. It’s ironic and a little frustrating because I know how much my work impacts their lives and yet how little they have ever considered it, much less the person behind it. As a graphic designer I’ve always had a passion for consumer branding which is synonymous with packaging. It is the only field of communication design where the effectiveness of your work can be objectively measured. Even if you create something beautiful, if it doesn’t motivate your audience to buy it, you’ve failed. To do it well means developing an understanding of other fields ranging from strategic marketing to behavioural psychology, distribution and digital technologies. This knowledge does give some of us the right to declare ourselves consultants but it’s not a title I’m very comfortable with. In my experience consultants tend to overcomplicate things while I am first and foremost a designer who’s role it is to simplify them.

Being a packaging designer means that unfortunately most of my work ends up in the bin.

My father might go on to say I design garbage. Years ago, we had just finished an important restyling for Ferrarelle and were admiring our work. Upon leaving the office I found one of our creations empty, crumpled up and tossed away on the street. It was humbling and a little sad. But after some reflection I felt a renewed sense of pride. That beautiful piece of garbage was evidence that we had been successful. It demonstrated that our work had connected with someone, motivating them to purchase and enjoy it. The physical work may disappear but what remains is far more precious. Just think for a moment how many bottles of Coca-Cola have been bought and thrown out over the years. Each one of those moments contributing to something intangible worth well over $80 billion.

Its called brand equity; the cumulative value of all those little experiences created by misunderstood packaging designers like myself.

I’ll never find the right few words to explain it.

Avatar photo

Drew Smith

An award winning designer and an expert in consumer brand management, NPD and packaging design with over twenty years of experience. Canadian by birth, he has been the Creative Director of several leading international consultancies and is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and Sheridan College, School of Visual Arts.