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Ten rules to begin a packaging design project

This post has been triggered by reading an article on a book published by AVA Academia whose title is  Packaging the Brand: The Relationship between Packaging Design and Brand Identity .

I dedicate this to all you out to commission a packaging design project.

  1. Analyze the competition. Gather the more information you can before beginning your project.
    Go beyond a simple collection of nice little boxes, try to understand for each sample collected the positioning, the key message and the product attributes.
  2. Build a synoptic table
  3. Look beyond borders. Extend your research to other markets, especially the emerging ones or those very keen with good design, such as the Dutch market-
    Widening your vision will enrich your skills to individuate the  strengths of your project.
  4. Chose your design partner for their professionalism, the quality of their portfolio, the reliabilty, the creative skills and not only on the price.
  5. Try to reach a result that stands out. Don’t uniform with the rest of your market – it quite never pays.
  6. Make sure the provided solutions can pass all life cycles of your packaging, from the moment it leaves the company, to the moment it gets in the hands of  your clients – and more, to the their dustbins.
  7. Protect your packaging project
  8. Make sure your packaging does not infringe any law.
  9. Always ask for a lifesize mock up and simulate the shelf test
  10. Take some test before going into production

Now dare!


How much do you cost? Estimate the cost of your structure

A little math to help the designer

Figures and creativity usually don’t get along together too well. Too many times the financial of a graphic design firm is a mess,

Launching a firm nowadays or work as a free-lancer accounts also for a little bookkeeping.

I am not going into details on how to streamline the financial department of a firm, for this you would better ask a an accountant, but I will try to give you a little powerful tool to discover the cost of your structure.


This, from now on, should become the axiom of your business.

Learn to base your offer on precise evaluations and don’t lean on random choices.
Learn to keep an archive with a log of each project you had worked on – e,g, the amount of hours you dedicated to the project, the production details, etc.

It simpler than you might think, all comes in a little formula, a magic math formula that is going to change the way you are evaluating and offering your work and will help you not to sink.


  • indicate your fee on a yearly base – this is the money you want to bring home in a year
  • Sum all the professional expenses: lease, telephone, software and hardware, publicity costs, traveling and lodging expenses, employees, personal taxes, etc.
  • Calculate the number of working of days in a year – usually 220
  • Calculate the number of billing days – this data depends a lot on the way your work is organized, for a normal structure it is usually around the 65/70% of the working days, rate that sinks down to the 30/40% for a start-up.
  • Set your profit margin – once again for an average structure you can indicate the 90% and for a younger company the 60%

Done? Ok, here is the formula:
Fatto ciò, ecco la formuletta:


from this you can easily calculate your COST PER HOUR – for convenience I usually count six hours per working day.

And this is the final formula:


if you freelance, the effort is over, if you have employees instead, there is another little obstacle.
Share the cost of your structure among your employees.

This is how you do it.
You must calculate the different impact of the different designers, with their different hourly costs.




and this is all you need!!!

And now!?

And now you make sensible offers!

How to trigger creativity

This post is for those who lead a creative pack, but I think it might interest also designers and e the rest of the world compelled to deal with creatives, such as accounts, partners, pr people, and so .

Motivation is the fuel of creativity. Motivation turns the gears of the creative machine

Treat your designers as species threatened with extinction, screen them and protect them from the cruel world, keep them away from news and never let them meet the clients and YOU HAVE JUST KILLED THEIR MOTIVATION! Say bye bye to creativity and team performance

Hyper-protection, lack of communication, abuse of criticism and lack of appreciation are the ingredients for a sure failure at managing a creative team.

Too often the creative directors forget an aspect that I actually believe to be fundamental: graphic designers, copywriters, art directors, illustrators, photographers and other kind of professionals in the communication industry consider their professions much more than just a way to make ends meet, and in these cases the most valuable money is satisfaction, personal satisfaction, first, and professional satisfaction, immediately after,

A creative director who ignores this implication is creative director who has not understood his or her profession, but worse hasn’t understood the creativity quintessence,
For this very reason, the creative directors must be great at balance criticisms, rejections, taps on the shoulders, and consolations. Wow! This is the profile of a guru!

The hardest part is when the director has an overflowing ego, and usually this is the case, since a creative directory with no personality is just a half director.

The skilled director knows when to mute the ego and take one step back – this is professional intelligence. The skilled director knows when to congratulate – publicly – and when to criticize – behind closed doors.

Many of view may object that nothing is more gratifying than money, but,when you deal with creative designers.

I am not saying that money don’t matter but if you are working on communication campaign for a football team, I am pretty sure that your creative team would appreciate a lot the chance to watch the games comfortably seated in the VIP stand – something money hardly could buy and a great way to say thank you.

So, dear directors, here some advices:

  • protect the rookies but don’t promise the an easy life
  • train them for the “firing line”, since day one
  • don’t keep away from the clients, get them used to live the relationship agency/client
  • make them used to handle projects from start to end
  • don’t put on them responsibilities they are prepare to handle, but don’t make them feel “carefree”
  • always stand up for them
  • criticize their works, not them
  • publicly congratulate on them for their success
  • make them feel how much you appreciate their daily work
  • be honest

The Art of Presenting

Presenting your solutions is an art you’d better learn!

My experience made me learn a lesson: good presentation can push mediocre projects while lousy presentations can kill precious work.


Here some rules.

  1. REHEARSE,  unless you are skilled presenter, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Don’t improvise, but always leave a little room for a last minute change
  2. STUDY YOUR PROJECT  – Look at your project as if you’d see it for the very first time. This is how your clients will look at it. Be hard with your choices,  don’t just overlook it.
  3. SPOT THREE STRONG ASPECTS, this will lead your presentation.
  4. SPOT THREE NEGATIVE ASPECT, it will help you not to fail.
  5. LEARN HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL ATTEND e THEIR ROLES – make sure that everyone will be able to follow your presentation supplying a printed version – it doesn’t matter if you are presenting using traditional cardboards or an iPad. If you chose to present a printed version, use black cardboards 35×50 that you can spiral bound to help you flicker through the pages
  6. AVOID SURPRISES  – follow a logical path.
  7. AVOID  COUP DE THEATRE – they are amusing but you will look more like a magician.
  8. USE  A LANGUAGE YOUR AUDIENCE WILL UNDERSTAND –  don’t put yourself on a pedestal, be formal if needed and informal everytime you can – in any case be professional
  9. RHYTHM! RHYTHM! RHYTHM! – nothing  is worse than a slow presentation that will put everyone to sleep, so build your presentation rhythm as you would for a little theatre play.

I personally believe that is a good thing to show your client, before the final solutions, the point from which you started from – mood, suggestions, historical or geographical references, inspirations. etc.
Make sure your clients will understand from where your creative process started, they will appreciate details that probably will be lost during a normal presentation. INSPIRATIONS ARE PART OF THE SOLUTION, PRESENT THEM!

Once the steps are clear, the logic is planned and the rhythm acquired… let yourself go!

I usually never present more than three creative solutions to avoid to transform my presentation in a useless piéce of endurance. If I am presenting a brand identity project, I usually end my presentation with recap cardboard, showing the solutions next to each other.  At this point your client we’ll ask you “what is your favourite?”… I usually tell them that it is not important what I like but what makes them feel more at ease.

DO AVOID replying to each criticism or negative feedback but try to show you are open to accept changes.
Your clients hired you because you are a pro, if the criticisms are silly do not hesitate to state your point of view – be kind but firm.  On the other hand, be open to accept  and integrate your client’s points of view, if they go in the direction to enrich the project.


A brand is forever?


Il packaging non è come l'amore!

Bad news!
Branding and packaging design carry a “best before” .
I am sorry to bring such a bad news but I think you’d better take a note somewhere: branding and packaging desing NEED MAINTENANCE.

Maintaining a brand doesn’t mean to start all over from scratch everytime. Maintening a brand means revamp, innovate, integrate and expand.

Think of your brand as a real person. As a real personinteracts on a daily basis with other persons, your brand interacts with other brands in the same market.


In the real world. as in the markes, tastes change, trends go by and styles run after each other. Would you attend a conference in an 1988 Armani suit? Even though Armani, would you feel ok with those shoulder pads and loose pants? If you say yes… you are a true trend setter… but I believe the most of you will answer no.

And so does your brand. Could ytou feel at ease to sell 2.0 web solutions with a logo that screams “designed to be faxed”.

Branding and packaging design are not time independent, they age.

You can’t sell perfumes and watches or rice with a packaging that has been “aged out” – you lose credibility.

This doesn’t mean that you are forced to follow and embrace each new trend, nor that your logos and packgaging must all be modern and trendy.

This leads to a perilious aspect: how often shgould you revamp your logo and your branding strategy? Only common sense can tell.

In a restyling project it is definitely important to focus on the RELEVANT FACETS of your brand. Usually the designers asked to revamp an aging brand tend to take no prisoners, and to start all over from scratch, while the clients tend to keep the status quo as much they can.


A brand carries with itself positive aspects as well negative ones, while at restyling, try to maximise the positive facets, but don’t forget that some market niches are very similar to old elephants and have some good memory, particularly for the negative aspects – so don’t sweep the bad under the carpet!

Give credit to the loyalty of your customers: unfortunately loyal clients are less keen to changes than you are.
Help them to understand the reasons why you are changing, reassure them that what they loved in your brand IS STILL THERE and you are only evolving with the market.

A restyling project for a known brand MUST be planned in advance and approached in a clever way. Allocate a comfortable budget to do things properly. None of your brand ambassadors should be left behing in the process.

Plan! Plan! Spend! but don’t hesitate!
Don’t let your brand age, don’t let your packagings be too old. Plan recurring interventions, don’t destroy unless what was there was a disaster.
Integrate new elements, when possible – colours, lettering, materials, etc

If your brand is not suffering, try to maintain and add a new line.
If your brand is limping or, worse, collapsing, don’t hesitate. Tear everything down and rebuild it anew.
Identify the market segment you are moving in and reason in terms of brand extension or brand stretching, before beginning to re-brand.

When the graphic designer becomes a brand designer

Graphic Designer o Brand Designer?

A brand design project is usually something that has got more to do with knowing your client than being creative.

Knowing your client is at the base. The more the designer knows of the client and the more is likely they become a good brand designer and the project turns into a solid successful brand project. To do this, the designer has to learn to become a creative consultant or a communication consultant, more than a… simple creative.

Usually, when working on a brand identity project it is more likely to be handling matters that are closer to management issues than pure creativity.

Working on a brand identity project, for a designer, means learning to handle the clients, with their anxieties and self esteem issues, nonetheless their personalities.

Only if you give up your role as an external creative and try to play the role of the invisiblem inside member , you can catch details of the company and brand you are working on..

Working for large company may be financially rewarding and also a satisfying experience in terms of professional experiences.
Large company executives are used to delegate and usually this aspect translates into the chance to work with little interferences.
Usually large companies have a more developed culture and understanding for matters such as brand identity,
Large companies means more money but also a total commitment and complex projects.
Large companies also mean dealing with complicated legal issues, split cost centers, formal approvals and formal presentations to stage and stage again and again every time your project moves up the company.
Many times, in large corporation, the decisions are taken by committees whose members seem to be dodging the responsibility to make a choice – and nonetheless take the risk..

On the other hand, working for a small company is a completely difference experience.
Usually a small company reflects the personality of the owner, some time their personalities loom on the company.
In the beginning, dealing with an owner who has a strong personality and a complete commitment to the company may look just like a plus. Think of their enthusiasm when they see their brand identity take formal…
Working with small companies make the decisional aspect easier, you will be reporting to only one person or to a small group, in the worst cases, and the decisional times will be definitely shorter.
You will be able to discuss with the one entitled to have the last word and this is usually very positive, it will be easier to get to know the brand personality and, if you will use some professionally, you will be soon be able to suggest new tools and influence their decisions positively and in a fast way.
But the other side, the bitter side, will be dealing with the little attention for design and the thin culture for communication, including a self-centric approach of your tycoon.
Dealing wi your client’s personality and ego WILL BE THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE TO WIN.
Often you will be asked to handle fits and bad tempers, silly personal approaches and attitudes, many times you will be asked to deal with the wife’s advices, the son’s advices, the neighbour’s advices. It won’t be a piece of cake. You will be asked to CREATE, EXPLAIN, EDUCATE, RASSURE and DEMONSTRATE. This is not an easy task.


Photography: Shooting groups

Let us be honest, group shots can be an obstacle for our technique and… patience.
Here some sparse advice to bring the job home.

  • choose a light set flexible and fast to be set up or relocated. I suggest a couple of speed lights – three is better.
  • bring stands and light modifiers – soft boxes and brollies are perfect.
  • be there on time… no, be there in advance enough to have a littlle to scout the environment
    Understand before the number of people you are going to group together and find the proper location.
  • work hard to set a merry mood, talk with your subjects and spot the dominant personalities, they will be your -aides de camp,they will handle the group for you.
  • direct flash is FORBIDDEN! Place two flashes on two stands at sides of the group, one on the left and one on the right, the higher you can reach. Higher is the light source and the fastest your light will travel along, reaching the back of you.
    The two flashes will generate two orders of shadows on the faces of your group components, much more pleasant than a harsh shadow. A third flash, placed directly on your camera hot shoe and with the head pointing to the ceiling, will lighten the shadows.
  • use your lens as closed as you can, maximizing the D.O.F. – so that all the group will be in focus
  • be fast, the fastest you can, don’t lose the feeling you set.
  • tell them when you are about to click. Count three out loud and ask everyone to look at the camera and smile.
  • smile, smile a lot.

This is a best practice…

the editorial staff @Yahoo!

The picture is part of a corporate photo session that the Italian branch of Yahoo! asked me to do to portrait the editorial staff. The mood of the picture had to be informal and relaxed, conveying the values of the brand.
I wanted to portray the people as I saw them walking along the corridors: smiling and very spontaneous. Guess I did it..

I did the job this way:

Two flashes placed high on both sides and one on the camera’s hot shoe, aiming high to the ceiling,

And for the fanatics:

  • 1/100 @ f/4,5
  • ISO 1000
  • 24-70 @32mm
  • 3 SB 900 linked via Nikon CLS
    2 in slave mode and 1 in commander/flash mode
    tutti in TTL
  • matrix – aperture mode
  • + 2 on the side flashes, no compensation on tcaaba-camera flash and + 1.7 on the ambient light

Put your brand in a package

A nice box-  Just a start…

We are talking packaging design.  We are talking packaging design as an extension of brand design.
Many think that packaging and branding  are two separate discipline, I personally believe that is not true, I am actually convince that packaging design is an extension, if not the most prominent aspect, of branding.

I honestly think that packaging design goes way beyond your  finely designed box you used to box your product in.
Packaging design is an integrated aspect of the building and growing of your brand identity and, according to my humble point of view, one of the most powerful  levers to modify the perception of the brand while you are trying to reposition it.

Here some golden rules to succeed in a packaging design project, trying to go beyond the empty concept of an appealing box

  • Consistency – the packaging project MUST be consistent with the rest of the brand identity
  • Single product or family of products – ALWAYS ASK YOURSELF whether your packaging will be used for a single product or for a family of products, in the latter case your project should be flexilbe enough to cover all the possible solutions and products, without diluting or losing its recognizability. The colour choice, the lettering and the materials should fit all the products of the family – with some far-sightenedsess for what it could concern future product line stretching .
  • Usability – you don’t need to be a fortune-teller but you should be able to anticipate the possible usages of your packaging – shelf, postal shipment? stockage? – for each usage there materials and shapes that are more qualified than other.
  • Test – technology helps us a lot these days and it makes always possible to test our mock-up, producing some sample runs with the final material. Much better invest and lose some little money in a wrong test than discover the mishap during the final production.
  • Special finishing and materials  –   some industries have tight strings attached, e.g. you MUST special material for  everything that is in direct contact with food. Don’t  underestimate costs and limits

Packaging design probably represents the most complex overlapping between graphic design and branding, while the marketing  aspect fo many areas of graphic design is only partial, in a packaging design project is TOTAL.  A packaging project is successful if it makes you sell.

Out, hunting for ideas

A sort of vademecum for us designers to prime the idea hunting process that will be the pivot of all our creative strategy… man, this is what I call responsibility

Being honest, this post is just a field guide to how to generate alternative ideas while you are working on a creative project.

Where do ideas hide? How can you find them? Are there tricks to trigger ideas?

According to my humble point of view, and to the point of view of more distinguished authors… YES, THERE ARE WAYS AND TRICKS TO GENERATE  IDEAS.

Let’s see…

  • look in the name of the product or in its logo.
    Some of the most creative ideas were born from the name of the procuct itsfleg and when this happens you pratically zero the risk to produce a bland and generic campaign
  • look in  the packaging
    Observe the shape, the curve,  the colour. Is there anything unique to start with?
  • look in the production method
  • This is what Robin Wight, the British communication guru, says about it: “Interrogate the product until it
    gives in and confesses its strengths.” and Bob Insherwood, from Saatchi & Saatchi Australia racconta: “Everytime we approach a new campaign for Parker pens we go back to the factory and look for details to write the story for us.”  Think about it…
  • look in the birthplace 
    Think of Laphroig single malt, think of Ben Sherman shirt and London, think of Chianti wine and Tuscany… well, if you do your homework in the places where the products are made, you may discover a treasure
  • look in the product history 
  • look in the past campaigns
    Do some advertising archeology. Dust off some old campaigns and bring them alive in the current context, polish them for good
  • look in the way the product is used.
    Some like to call it the After Method. Talk about after, without showing before. This is usually a good method
  • try to imagine what happens when you don’t use the produce

I am certain there are many other ways, these are the ones I relied upon during these 20 years… give them a chance and drop me a line

Pro bono: should we always say yes?

Pro bono tua... mors mea!

Yesterday I talking to an illustrator friend of mine when the topic of our chat shifted onto the opportunity to work pro bono. My friends began to curse the moment he took up a pro bono project for no profit organization and went into details, describing how the virtuos relationship was slowly turning into a working hell.

The more he talked and the more my mind was recalling similar situations that I had to go through personally… endless rounds of drafts, very last minute corrections, change of style and absurd requests…

Let’s try to be clear: pro bono </em. Is the contraction of pro bono pubblico, that in Latin means for the good of the community, originally the locution pro bono was used to indicate those projects that agencies or free lancers took up for free because they were destined to a good cause – think of a school, or a foundation or a museum.

Unfortunately, especially with the lingering of the recession, the approach to pro bono extended and it is quite easy to be asked for a pro bono even when the good cause is anything but public.

I personally live pro bono projects with alternate feelings: there are times when I accept them with no problem at all and times when I try to stay away from them as much as I can.

I guess a lot depends on the kind of the client and on e kind of the project.

Once you are sure that accepting to work for free will not jeopardize your finance, once you are certain that the cause is truly worthy, the criterium to accept or to not a pro bono IS the client.

Not all the clients have the sensitivity to handle a pro bono project. This is usually due to the thing that they normally ignore the dynamics of these projects – if they would, everything would be so easier.

if you are thinking to ask an agency or a free lance to work for free, ask yourself these two simple questions:

  • is the cause really good?
  • will e project bring mutual advantages?

    And you should be able to answer YES to both questions before beginning to ask around.

    Ok, you eventually found an agency, you met them and the project is about to begin… Here some advices to help you not become the Terror of the Pro bono. You don’t want that, you want that your project is successful and that in a future you can still count on some helping hand… for free!

  • Open your world to the designers, let them know how fundamental is their work for you and how much you appreciate their support and their commitment to your cause,
  • don’t mock misery, once agreed, you don’t need to look pathetict only because you are not paying a fee. Explain clearly which are the financial difficulties that your organization have, explain how hard is to work for a no profit company or for school board or for your movement, be patient while they show their solutions, be kind even if you don’t like what you see.
  • be clear!, set up an agenda and goals to achieve, exactly as if you were working on a paid project and don’t forget that on the other side the effort is even bigger since it is given for free
  • be nice when you reject a solution but don’t waste anybody’s time, If what you are shown doesn’t match your desires or expectations don’t hesitate to say no, but be nice and do it on properly, don’t beat around the bush, wasting your and the agency’s time.
  • don’t bid,only work with one agency or free lance at the time.
  • be prompt in indicating mandatory elements but don’t overdo.
  • leave the creatives free, the value in a pro bono for the designer is the publicity they can get once the project is complete, if they cannot be creative, they won’t get any benefi.
  • don’t be obsessive
  • ask for the highest care of details la cura dei dettagli, the fact that the project is a pro bono does not mean that is a second class job,
  • allow times that are longer than the usual, give more time to the designers – the fact that they are working for free may force them to do that during weird hours.
  • give the agency public credits and copies crediti e copie
  • do not hesitate to promote the people who worked for you
  • Maybe you won’t become the the king of the pro bono, but people will keep getting your calls and help you for the next… good cause.