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The Red Antler Team Discusses Design and Branding Trends of Today

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 09/04/2017 | 9 Minute Read

We do a lot of Q&As on The Dieline, but none are quite like this. This special interview is conducted between two of the team members at Red Antler, Simon Endres, Co-Founder and Head of Design and Scott Chapps, Head of Industrial Design. They pick each other’s brains about the creative process, the design experience for consumers, what’s next in branding and packaging, and more.

Simon: How do you think about being brave, or being comfortable taking big risks in your creative process?

Scott: Being brave is deeply tied to collaboration, and having the ability to convince your audience by showing them a range of thinking that balances calculated and emotional judgments. You have to demonstrate both the potential implications and the payoff with introducing a novel idea and how it will affect the discourse with consumers. All strategic ideas have a trajectory so risk can be mapped in relation to time and investment, and it may not be prudent to introduce the riskiest idea first but instead ladder up to it—this approach should be articulated in the design strategy phase. You have to make sure everyone is comfortable with being slightly uncomfortable, which is what makes the whole idea exciting in the first place. Being brave should be holistic to include the full support system from brand, digital, content and marketing all working collectively to support the idea and bring it to life.

Simon: What led you to running an industrial design team?

Scott: Over the last 20 plus years I've either been a part of or have established different types of industrial design teams. While the discipline has an umbrella title there are many wonderful thinkers, technicians and craftsman in the field of Industrial design, and I get to learn so much from the individuals I work with. I also get to impart my experience, which is focused on helping teams to navigate situations, pushing hard on strategy and practicing the art of staying as objective as possible about the work.  

Simon: What are 3 positive takeaways you have from certain projects that you still hold onto?

Scott:

  1. Keep it simple by focusing on a single-minded idea (or gesture) that cuts away anything extraneous or distracting.
  2. Create a “moment,” in the form of a detail, a color or a combination of things that sticks with people whether it's big or small. The most unexpected or thoughtful details almost certainly stick and become ownable.
  3. It's important to understand that you can't be everything to everyone, therefore take a stance and express it with conviction, which is closely tied to the risk element.

Simon: As brands become more experiential (pop-ups, the importance of the unboxing experience), how does that affect what you think about? 

Scott: As brands venture more into physical experiences, it shows how they have the potential to affect more of the senses and to be more immersive. They take us to different places or destinations by capturing the imagination, or simply reaffirming a familiarity. We use the idea of connecting with the senses as part of our design tool kit when thinking about a holistic brand experience. When brands manifest in a physical experience they almost certainly augment our perception of the brand and its values.

Simon: As a designer, I see a shift and re-definition of what premium and luxury mean. Do you see a similar shift in packaging, and if so, how does it manifest itself?

Scott: A premium experience doesn't necessarily mean expensive, exclusive or luxurious in a material sense. A premium experience can be tied to how well you resonate with an individual, which is especially true when shifting time into a convenience. The old adage that time is a precious commodity is true now more than ever, and therefore it's considered a premium for both brands and consumers. Overall, I believe that premium is connected to how well and thoughtful you do something, instead of relying on extravagance to convey the message.

Simon: How much has social media—especially Instagram—affected how you think about creating tactile experiences?

Scott: People love to share fun moments or things they've discovered, especially early adopters. So the desire to share something is a component to think about when creating a product experience. We look at ways to welcome users into the brand world through personal messages or by adding a thoughtful addition that goes beyond what they were expecting. If you exceed a consumer’s expectations, you'll likely find your product making its way onto multiple social platforms.

Simon: There is a pressure in branding, design and startups in general to continuously innovate and re-invent the wheel. How do you balance that with familiarity?

Scott: Innovation is a loaded term with a wide ranging spectrum that's traditionally linked to the idea of invention. We think of innovation as a way to change the dialogue with consumers, which by virtue is a form of invention. Having the ability to change a behavior, or an attitude in a meaningful way is innovative because it creates a shift, a means to perpetuate a new way of thinking about a product or a category. As long as the design language and communications we use do not get distorted or too esoteric, we can retain a sense of familiarity.

Simon: How do you view sustainability and responsibility as a part of your role when developing packaging systems for brands?

Scott: As designers, we have to make our products extremely clever to compel consumers to accept a premium. If we're working with packaging we try hard to reduce as much as we can and to use materials that are easy to separate for recycling. If it's a durable consumer product, we'll promote the use of materials that have a small carbon footprint, and are built for longevity, to reduce obsolescence or over consumption. 

Simon: What keeps you inspired on a day-to-day basis?

Scott: Everything from keeping up with the financial news for a broad overview on new, emerging or converging tech trends, to keeping an eye on very specific fashion labels. I follow certain Dutch and Japanese designers who are revered for experimenting with materials and structures. Their philosophies are rooted in experimentation, and essentially having a forum for being brave through design. This keen observation has inspired some of my own design philosophy.

Simon: What is the difference between packaging and industrial design, and why are you building out an industrial design team versus a packaging design team?

Scott: Packaging designers often come from the world of industrial design and find themselves focusing their skills towards packaging, which is a very complex, specialized discipline. We view packaging as a subset of our Industrial design team and our strategic focus is geared towards designing the entire physical experience across many interconnected touch points. In an ideal world we are creating the product and packaging design, and envisioning the space in which the product is introduced, such as a full retail interior, an individual display or a temporary pop up location. 

Scott: What is next for branding, where is it moving, and how does it differentiate itself from the crowd?

Simon: Right now, the power is now in consumers’ hands to pick and choose what brands that want to let into their lives. That means brands need to be built on principles that align with their consumers, be open and relatable and to prove why they deserve people's attention.

We see the need to create richer layered systems, basically giving brands more tools in the toolkit to employ across different channels. A logo and a set of colors are not enough when you need to communicate via an Instagram post one moment, a customer service email and then tell a compelling tactile story though an unboxing experience.

Differentiation comes when companies are built on better principles with a core offering that is actually differentiated. It’s a tough ask to layer a differentiated looking brand ID on top of an idea that doesn’t have a clear point of difference. As branding and design experts, our task is to express this difference in a meaningful and surprising way. We like taking an expected category cue and turn it on its head to create something unexpected but still grounded in the category.

Scott: How do you remain objective in a highly subjective field of work, and how do you truly delineate the two?

Simon: Clear delineation between being objective vs subjective requires discipline in how you toggle and move between the two worlds—not an easy task in the heat of any project!

Subjectivity is a powerful source of creativity where unexpected and serendipitous things can happen but that needs to be balanced with a rational, objective approach. I toggle between the macro and micro: when being objective, it’s important to zoom out for a broader view by asking whether we’re being strategic. Is what we are doing in the best interests of the business? Will this design make sense to consumers? Do we have the right visual or conceptual DNA running throughout the system so it feels like everything is connected?

On the other end, it’s beneficial to switch into a mode where you are being a little selfish and asking yourself questions like, “Do I believe in the idea? What do I want to see in the world? Does this idea excite me? Where can I take this?” This will encourage a more intimate involvement in the project and has the potential to inject unexpected personality into what you create.

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