Understanding the Three Tiers of Packaging Design

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Understanding the Three Tiers of Packaging Design Agencies

Printron is a graphic services company.  While our services do include building and refining packaging artwork, we are not a design agency.  We believe in partnering with creative agencies, and focusing on design synergies.  We have developed strategic partnerships to work in harmony with our creative partners to ensure brand cohesiveness.  This provides the benefit of working with a focused boutique agency in concert with our technical services.  With each of these partnerships, we have put in the hard work to truly integrate our ways of working, and provide a seamless hand-off from creative and adaptive design to artwork and prepress.  The Packaging Design industry has a broad reach, which can cover multiple levels of engagement.  You may have heard the terms “Tier One”, “Tier Two”, and “Tier Three” when describing a packaging design agency’s capability.  These terms refer to what type of design services an agency may offer.  Let’s look at these services in more detail.

Tier One: Creative Design

There are actually two types of Tier One Creative Design Agencies.  The only difference being, the more sophisticated agency will offer design “Strategy” in addition to “Creative Design” services.  Design strategy is a more overarching engagement which will include a wider analysis of strategic objectives, coupled with qualitative and/or quantitative consumer research.  During the creative design stage, the agency will work with a CPG/Brand Owner through an iterative design process to develop what is called a “Master” or lead SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) design concept. This master design concept will serve as a precedent for all of the SKUs within a brand’s product range. The use of colors, logos, graphic elements, fonts, and layout all become part of what is called a “Brand Architecture”. Once established, a brand architecture can be scaled across the brand’s entire portfolio of products. A good creative design agency will take the time to build a “Brand Guideline” or “Design Standard”, which documents everything that makes up the brand’s architecture, including technical specifications for size, fonts, colors, etc. It also provides direction for which specifications can be modified and those which cannot (logo color and cropping for example). Essentially, a brand guideline serves as a blueprint for the brand.  It is important to note that a Tier One design agency will also offer Tier Two and Tier Three services.

Tier Two: Adaptive Design

A Tier Two Adaptive Design Agency will take a Master lead SKU design concept and use a brand guideline to adapt the design concept across all of the structures within a brand’s product portfolio. Appropriately, this is called “Design Adaptation”. During the design adaptation stage, an adaptive design agency is still very much deploying creative design skills, however the work is guided by the brand architecture established for the Master lead SKU. Multiple design concepts for each structure will be presented as options for the client to consider. Therefore, the files are not intended to be production ready, or more appropriately stated, not ready for print. These design files are often built with lots of layers (layout options), FPO images (For Position Only – not final photography), romance copy (gibberish text used as a placeholder) and may not even use the most current/active printer dieline (defines the overall shape/outline of the package design). It’s still a fluid process at this stage. Just as with the initial creative design process, the adaptive design process will deliver a lead SKU or “Design Master” for each package structure. A little confused? Let’s look at an example…

Everyone loves Jell-O, right? There are many different flavors of Jell-O. In addition, there are also several different serving sizes for each flavor. For our example, we’ll focus on two serving sizes; 3 oz and 6 oz. These two serving sizes require two separate carton sizes; two different structures. In our example then, there will be two Jell-O design masters; one for the first flavor of the 3 oz carton, and another for the first flavor of the 6 oz carton. Once the design masters for each structure have been approved, we’re ready for the “Artwork Rollout” stage.  Here again, it is important to note that a Tier Two design agency will also offer Tier Three services.

Tier Three: Artwork Rollout

A Tier Three Design Agency will develop each Master lead SKU (for each pack structure) into what is called a “First-In-Series” (FIS) artwork. Unlike an adaptive design file, a finished artwork file must be “Production Ready”. This means the file is built using the most current active printer dieline, final copy, approved photographic images, final colors (printer ink-set), and clean layers which represent only what is being used. During the design adaptation stage, the objective was to adapt designs across varying package structures. With the artwork stage however, the objective is to extend or rollout designs within the same package structure. Once we have a FIS artwork for each master, the next objective is to build “Next-In-Series” (NIS) artworks for all of the remaining SKUs in a brand’s product range which share the same dieline/structure. Building upon our Jell-O example above, the illustration below shows how the additional Jell-O flavors share the same dieline/structure and major design elements.

Whether you are looking for a brand-new design, a refresh for a current package, or a simple line extension, Printron can connect you with the right partner with the right fit for all your creative needs.

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