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Jocelyne Ehret, director of packaging consulting services for PTIS in Europe, part of HAVI Global Solutions, talks Tim Sykes through the concept of Holistic Packaging by Design™.

The concept of 'holistic packaging by design', which has been trademarked by HAVI and implemented through HAVI subsidiary Boxer (a UK-based creative brand design agency which works with international clients in the area of brand building and brand DNA) is a methodology designed to result in more successful packaging design. 

"The concept of holistic packaging by design means achieving a balance between brand identity, design, business and technical elements,' explains Jocelyne Ehret. The various drivers in packaging development often have competing and conflicting requirements, which require some kind of mediation. 

Sidestepping conflicts

'The object,' says Ms Ehret, 'is to avoid conflicts between different departments in a company where packaging R&D, marketing and brand management, supply chain management and manufacturing may all be working in relative isolation from each other - not to mention isolated from the consumer's perspective. Therefore, the aim is to devise a collaborative way of thinking that will break down these silos.' 

Anyone involved in packaging development is aware of situations where there has been a tension between the need for sustainability and functionality, or between cost and aesthetic aspirations, or any number of other needs. In fact, just about any driver has the potential to conflict with any other one. 

According to Ms Ehret, when collaboration between stakeholders begins, the second key is to be 'multilingual': "By this I mean making sure we understand the languages of the respective departments and stakeholders around the packaging area: the people in product development, IT, the people working in the labelling and regulatory side, the procurement people, those working in promotions. This also means working with people at different levels in the company - the VP, the manager, the technician." 

Balancing the creative and rational

This facility with the 'languages' of the various stakeholders involves synthesising the way they think. "It is necessary to use the two sides of our brain," Ms Ehret claims. "The left brain is more pragmatic and scientific, the right brain more creative and inventive. We have to combine the two impulses to satisfy both the emotional side of the brand's ambition to appeal to the consumer and the rational questions revolving around technical possibilities, market distribution and the supply chain." 

Fundamentally this is an exercise in management principles. 'It is not rocket science,' Ms Ehret concedes. "It is the application of common sense but in reality hardly anybody does it. Everybody knows in theory that we have to collaborate and use our brains as much as possible but in practice it is only in the last few months that we have started to see companies applying a holistic approach." 

Sometimes it takes a neutral party or an outsider to facilitate such a process - someone who can bring all the stakeholders around the table and understand all of their functions and requirements. Moreover, without a figure with the power to initiate such a collaboration, the various departments inevitably continue to work in silo.

Ms Ehret suggests that the same concept applies to packaging manufacturers as well as brand owners: "You have to be holistic in product design, taking into account all the parameters - all the functions and constraints. This should be the same for everybody. It can also be applied to e-commerce and transport packaging, where this approach is currently not very well understood." 


Where technological solutions cannot be found to 'design around' conflicting needs, the dominant driver is likely to emerge from the characteristics of the brand. "It very much depends on the DNA of the company,' comments Ms Ehret. 'If the company is very focused on sustainability, the sustainability driver may be more important than the cost driver. In the case of a low cost private label brand it may be the other way round." 

In some cases a piece of packaging can try to achieve too much to the detriment of its overall effectiveness:

"As you know, there is a proliferation in the use of QR codes, unique product codes and suchlike, which is a new functionality for packaging," she continues. "However, too much of this risks feeding a perception that there is too much packaging. Consumers may see all of this marketing and not understand the role of packaging in protecting the product, avoiding food waste, etc. So in trying to attain an emotional response from the packaging, there is a danger in undermining its core function. How the brand communicates must not detract from the primary mission of the packaging.

"When we load more and more new functionalities onto the packaging - making it more sustainable, adding barrier properties, making it attractive looking, making it heat the product - there is a risk of asking too much of the packaging. Innovation for sure enables packaging to simultaneously carry out more and more functions. But I sometimes wonder whether we should go back to the basics."

Imaginative solutions

While holistic packaging by design can involve a simple mediation between competing requirements, its ideal is to creatively find a means to dissolve the conflict. The use of digital printing for mass customisation is an example of the emergence of a technology that helps address the conflict between the desire for something unique and the need for cost-effective production. 

Ms Ehret picks out two recent packaging solutions where different drivers have worked in successful harmony: "Method is an interesting brand because it doesn't follow the supposed rules of the detergent market, according to which brands should be pitched as very feminine or very premium," she observes. "Instead, it is a brand which is creating a new code of its own. It achieves a combination of the sustainability (using refills), technical input (with its innovative closure system) and the emotional draw of a new shape that is novel for this kind of product." 

The other example is the Miller Coors 'grip can' developed from the US market. "This is a packaging solution drawing on both the pragmatic and inventive sides of the brain," says Ms Ehret. "In this case there was the new technical functionality of an innovative coating providing a new texture to the metal can. This was married with the emotional aspect of the feel, which was like that of the ball used in American football. And the can was released to coincide with the NFL Superbowl." 

HAVI itself has scored some notable successes applying the holistic philosophy. Ms Ehret cites a project with a well know chewing gum brand, where the brief was to redesign packaging to make it more convenient but also to have more of a premium feel. In this case, the task consisted in a kind of functional analysis with the aim of identifying a means around the potential conflict between the two. Another collaboration involved a Californian furniture company, which designed cutting edge office solutions, for instance cabinets specially designed to store bicycles on which employees have commuted. The brand was innovative, trendy and environmentally friendly but used 'awful' transport packaging. HAVI was recruited to propose solutions that were more consonant with the brand's values.

"In both of these cases the key was to combine the messages of the brand with our technical expertise and our knowledge of the value chain in order to come up with the perfect packaging for the consumer," Ms Ehret remarks. 

Challenging assumptions

A key principle of holistic packaging by design is to always challenge assumptions and look to dispel myths, using proactive processes to identify unique and unexpected solutions, Ms Ehret affirms: "When all the stakeholders are around the table it is imperative to challenge the assumptions - failing to do so is one of the biggest limits on creativity.  Usually in packaging development you have the creative agency which comes to the office proposing very nice ideas and then you discuss this with the technical people in the factory who break the bad news that those lovely designs cannot be realised. 

"If there is dialogue between the creative people and the manufacturing people right at the start of product development - rather than in last place, as is usually the case - they often come up with surprising and successful solutions. In order for the process to work, you need to be solution-driven and for everyone involved to be open-minded and constructive. Then you can achieve the best possible packaging design."