Drew Smith, founder of Smith Lumen, writes an article for Touchpoint magazine about why even the design of a banal and ordinary product should be special by telling an episode that happened in his agency.

Luglio 28, 20234 Minuti

“The Value of Design Agencies: Ideas over Decoration”

The measure of an agency lies in its ability to add value to all the brands they work for. We should be celebrating ideas, not decoration. It’s business, not a beauty contest.
Generally speaking, design agencies tend to divide clients/projects into two categories. The cash cows that pay the bills and the special ones that allow them to show off.

Design awards showcase an endless amount of gorgeously decorated gin bottles and niche products regardless of how successful they might be in the market. The paradox is that most of an agency’s work is in the unglamorous area of fast moving consumer goods where success is measured by market share and brand value. Ideas, not esthetics are paramount.
We have created some award winning luxury products and I’m proud whenever I see them on display, but what gives me a greater satisfaction is the work we’ve done on the other shelves.
Examples of how we have transformed the ordinary into something extraordinary whether it be dairy products, household cleaners or baby food. A strategic approach is equally important in luxury categories but it is much more of a challenge to add that “wow factor” to toilet paper than it is for perfume. One of my all time favorite packs was designed decades ago by Mary Lewis. Pure creative genius. The product was rubber gloves.

“The episode happened in Smith Lumen”

I’ve discouraged my designers from looking at projects in terms of prestige because the more ordinary a product is, the more room you have to challenge yourself and come up with a truly innovative concept.
Years ago I arrived to the office with a brief. I gathered my team together and told them that I had an amazing new project to work on. Canned vegetables. Their expressions didn’t reflect my enthusiasm.
Those reactions gave birth to a groundbreaking creative approach. We asked ourselves why are canned vegetables so boring? Why is that whole shelf where they sit so devoid of enjoyment? How can we make something boring, look fresh and appealing? Those questions lead to a new way of thinking about one of the least innovative categories in the supermarket. A can of beans is a can of beans… A commodity.

Together with Bonduelle we turned things upside down. The choice was made to use Tetrapack boxes which besides being unique actually preserved taste better than aluminum tins. Instead of showing a spoonful or a bowlful of peas (appetite appeal zero) we created beautifully arranged compositions of vegetables on an array of brilliant colored backgrounds.

Among the other bleak competing products ours stood out like a neon sign. The advertising agency took the concept further and choreographed the veggies dancing in unison to joyous music in the spots they produced. It was disruptive, brilliant and fresh. The results? Sales declined at first but something very rare started happening. Consumer loyalty steadily rose and added positive associations to a stagnant brand. It might not have won any awards but it helped the brand become market leader.

Great designers are driven by the conviction that everything can be improved no matter how banal it might seem. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a team that shares this point of view. By the way, they’ve won another two awards this month.

To read more articles from this month’s Touchpoint magazine go to: https://www.touchpoint.news/tag/touchpoint-magazine/

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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.