I write quite a bit about the trust bump of printed magazines, how appearing in print – whether in ads or editorial content – can elevate your brand’s trust quotient across channels. Around here we know it to be a fact, confirmed by our own customers.
That trust helps explains the massively higher ROI of printed direct mail over email.
“Judging from figures posted by the Data & Marketing Association, 4.6% of all direct email elicits a response, whereas the corresponding response rate with email is a mere 0.12%,” writes Satyajit Routray in TweakYourBiz. “Hence, of 100,000 recipients of direct mail, 4,600 are likely to buy.”
And it’s not just direct mail, but print advertising that gets to benefit from print’s trustworthiness, Routray continues.
“In a press release on the PR Newswire website, the research institute MarketingSherpa reported what it found from surveying 2,400 US consumers,” he notes. “The survey asked recipients to sort advertising channels into “trustworthy” and “untrustworthy” categories – and the findings were eye-opening.”
Those eye-opening results? Fully 82% of Americans trust print ads in newspapers and magazines, while just a quarter of Americans trusted online pop-up ads. (We already know that digital ads rank low on the trust meter.)
Interestingly, as Daniel Burstein at Marketing Sherpa notes, even a well-respected brand that publishes in print sees a bit of that trust wear off when their content is published online.
“There’s a very high-value online content – even most print publications publish online as well – but that real value is drowning in a sea of mediocrity or worse, and as a whole, it damages consumers’ trust,” he is quoted as saying in Routray’s article.
In the incessant din of the online world, which seems to grow louder and more intrusive by the day, look to print to put out a message that will be more trusted from the moment it is received.
China almost killed the market when it stopped buying U.S. waste, but environmentally aware shoppers are coming to the rescue.
The epiphany came when a certain coffee chain started replacing plastic straws with paper ones. Despite increasingly dire warnings about Texas-size islands of plastic in the world’s oceans, the sudden public debate over straws was arguably a turning point in how American consumers think about sustainability.
On one hand, the rise of paper straws is a brazen case of greenwashing, since straws make up only a tiny share of waste. On the other, the proliferation of paper and bamboo straws marked the beginning of a larger commercial pivot away from plastic.
Companies are beginning to realize there’s more to lose from offending consumers who are aware of how cheap plastic products feed global warming, choke oceans, kill wildlife and—more slowly—threaten us. This is especially the case when it comes to packaging.
Containers, cartons, wrapping and everything else discarded after a product is used make up about 30% of all American trash, or more than 76 million tons annually. Now the biggest retailers and consumer goods giants are racing to replace everything from plastic envelopes to styrofoam meat trays with fiber-based iterations.
The U.S. paper recycling industry, it turns out, has suddenly found itself in demand—and maybe just in the nick of time.
Until 2018, recycling in America—from plastics to paper to assorted waste—was propped up by China’s willingness to purchase much of it, ostensibly for recycling and reuse by its domestic industries. Instead of returning to China empty, shipping containers were filled with refuse, bales of plastic bottles, cardboard and wastepaper.
But when Beijing decided it didn’t want the world’s garbage anymore, slashing the amount it would take while requiring the rest to be near-pristine, the value of American recyclables plummeted.
With an excess supply and no one to sell it to, prices for recycled residential paper even touched negative territory. That means cities have to pay someone to take away the material they collect. The S&P 500 Paper Packaging Index has dropped more than 25% since China started restricting trash.
For U.S. towns and cities, with their colorful recycling barrels and bins, what was at best a breakeven proposition suddenly became very expensive. Unable to sell recycling at a high enough price, they either had to raise taxes to pay for collection, dump it all into landfills or burn it. Many chose the latter options.
Renee Yardley, a senior vice president at recycling company Sustana Group, said 2019 has been “a challenging year” for municipalities that collect paper.
But consumer goods companies might be starting to turn that around.
Trying to get ahead of regulations in countries that ban or tax plastic packaging, some product manufacturers are turning to recycled paper for the first time. With restrictions on single-use plastics in place across 60 nations and 350 U.S. municipalities, analysts on MSCI’s environmental, social and governance research team said plastics “could lose market share to alternatives.”
More than 200 businesses, representing about 20% of all packaging used globally, have made commitments to reduce plastic waste, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Coca-Cola European Partners became the latest to do so, saying it will replace plastic shrink wrap with cardboard for its multipacks across Western Europe, removing about 4,000 tons of plastic annually.
A ton of recycled paper saves the equivalent of 17 trees, more than 16,000 gallons of water and 5,500 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to Sustana. Americans are also more likely to recycle paper; collection rates for paper are above 60%, compared with 30% for common types of plastic.
But it’s expensive to recycle paper: The process begins with fleets of trucks to pick it up and facilities to clean it, pulp it and eventually turn it into rolls of recycled paper. Then it’s sold to manufacturers for use in their products or packaging.
Now, with a potential change in fortunes in sight, the U.S. recycling sector faces another challenge: a need for expanded infrastructure. Moreover, while the low price of discarded paper makes it cheaper for consumer companies to use it in their products, it’s also attracting the attention of European recycling executives.
One of them is Miles Roberts, chief executive officer of DS Smith, Europe’s largest cardboard-packaging recycler. He’s betting big on the U.S.
DS Smith plans to open a packaging plant in Indiana and a recycling depot in Pennsylvania later this year. Roberts said a key draw of the American market is that the price of recycled paper has become competitive with that of paper made directly from trees.
“It just takes a few years to get the investment in infrastructure going,” Roberts said. “We’re really just at the start.”
London-based DS Smith’s customers include consumer giants such as Mondelez, Nestle, P&G, Danone and Unilever. They have been pushing the company to create the same types of cardboard packaging in the U.S. for their products. (Think TV dinner trays made from paper and paper alternatives to plastic bubble wrap.)
Over the past year, Austrian packaging company Mondi Ltd. rolled out paper-based packaging for everything from deli cheese and premium watermelons to wine glasses. The company notes, though, that plastic packaging will still be needed in the medical and food industries, where other materials would be unsafe or impractical.
Indeed, Mondi’s more deliberate approach is more likely to be the rule than the exception; the company said its strategy is to use “paper where possible, plastic when useful.”
It also bears noting that not all recycled paper products are as biodegradable as advertised: Some are coated in plastic or contain chemicals. Still, the demand for recycled paper products in America is rising, according to Pat Lindner. The new president of consumer packaging at Atlanta-based WestRock Co., Lindner contends that “retailers are now saying, ‘We need solutions for this, and we need it now.’”
He joined the company in March, taking over a multibillion dollar business after spending two decades in the plastics industry. WestRock has gone from working on a handful of new packaging projects to hundreds in the past year, he said. It’s replaced plastic wrapping for beer cans with printable paper labels suitable for advertising, and is substituting paper for plastic lipstick and deodorant containers, as well as envelopes, e-commerce packaging and the dreaded styrofoam meat tray.
That last item has been reborn in a new pressed-fiber version that’s fully compostable.
Ecologic, which makes molded paper bottles out of old corrugated cardboard boxes, said it’s seeing growing demand as well. The Manteca, Calif.-based company said it’s sold 10 million paper bottles since it opened in 2011, but expects to sell as many as 6 million next year alone.
“We’re a little bit more expensive than plastic, but there’s a desperation right now at so many levels to start looking at alternatives,” said founder Julie Corbett. The company makes paper bottles for use with laundry detergent sold under Unilever’s Seventh Generation brand, and the Seed personal care line made by L’Oreal.
To compete with plastic on price, Ecologic has been automating every step of its manufacturing process, and collecting cardboard waste from L’Oreal’s distribution center in Los Angeles for reuse in its bottles. Corbett said she expects demand for paper packaging to grow as consumer product giants shift household products back to powders, which also save water. The pricing gap between plastic and paper bottles should close as they scale up production, she said.
“The packaging industry has for years focused on cheaper, faster and less, but it’s utterly disconnected from the consumer,” Corbett said. “Paper isn’t complicated; that’s why it’s so beautiful. It dissolves.”Still, to be recycled, wastepaper needs to be clean. Pizza boxes stained with grease, for example, won’t cut it. Until recently, neither would paper products coated in plastic. WestRock has been trying to change this, Lindner said, modifying its recycling facilities so machines can process coated paper products such as coffee cups.
“Sometimes a paper solution is going to be more expensive,” Lindner, said, but brands don’t seem to mind, he added, given that more consumers are demanding environmentally sensitive substitutes for plastic.
In Europe, paper can “close the loop” in just 14 days, going from one product into another. European cardboard is typically 30% to 40% lighter than that made in the U.S., and uses significantly less virgin material, DS Smith’s Roberts said. As the company’s Indiana plant begins operations, he noted that lighter boxes are a big attraction for U.S. companies, especially since they can reduce shipping costs.
Yardley of Sustana agreed that active demand from U.S. consumer companies is helping prop up the recycling industry. “Customers are coming to us and making us think about it differently,” she said.
Sustana has worked with Seattle-based Starbucks to test how it could manufacture coffee cups from recycled coffee cups while making its recycled pulp compliant with Food and Drug Administration food-safety rules. The goal, she said, is to make more recycled packaging and containers that can be used with food, without the need for a barrier or coating.
Roberts said his company aims to use techniques refined in Europe to replace plastic with fully recyclable material. “The U.S. is a massive, growing and fast-moving market for paper fiber,” he said. (Updates with headquarters of Starbucks in penultimate paragraph. An earlier version corrected the name of DS Smith’s CEO and references to planned facilities in the U.S. beginning in the 13th paragraph.)
Sustainability will continue to be important for organizations big and small in the year ahead. Consumers across industries are demanding that the brands they buy make strides in sustainability. As 2020 nears, here are three valuable sustainability trends to watch.
The circular economy will continue gathering steam
This year, it was hard to ignore headlines about landfills and the United States – at under five per-cent of the world’s population, the U.S. produces 20 per-cent of the world’s trash. Increasingly, consumers are getting fed up with the old “produce, use, discard” model.
Industry-wide initiatives aimed at boosting recycling and product re-use are increasingly emerging, in response to consumer demand for purpose-driven organizations that build sustainability into their products and services. The Ellen MacArthur foundation, for example, has organized a pledge whereby companies including DS Smith and H&M have partnered with governments to create more circular processes.
For our part, we’ve embraced a closed-loop manufacturing process, using post-consumer recycled content from the “urban forest,” for new paper products that are still recyclable. Rolland has also had success investing in circular innovations, such as biogas energy and water treatment systems that reuse water to minimize waste.
Measurement, in your business and within the businesses of the partners you work with, is critical to achieving circularity. For example, we conducted a Life Cycle Assessment to measure our environmental impact and help our customers better understand how we incorporate sustainability into every part of our process.
Gen Z will continue to demand action
As the October demonstrations show, young consumers are demanding change and driving much of the conversation around sustainability – and holding brands accountable. A McKinsey study found that 90 per-cent of gen Z expects brands to take a responsible approach to environmental and social issues.
This mentality will continue to push brands to innovate and create higher standards for sustainable processes. Gen Z and millennials together account for around $350 billion in spending power in the U.S and gen Z alone will make up 40 per-cent of global consumers by 2020.
Companies are already responding to this demand with action. Some of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies are rethinking how they package products to incorporate post-consumer materials. This includes Nestle recently launching new recyclable paper wrappers for its YES! snack bars, among others.
Technology is transforming supply chain management
Pressure from consumers and regulators is also creating demand for greater supply chain transparency. Because of that, new technology is emerging to help companies shift to leaner, but also more responsible, supply chains.
IBM, for example, recently launched IBM Food Trust. It uses blockchain technology to create shared records of food system data, to create more transparency among all parts of the supply chain. Along with being more efficient, it also aims to improve food safety and help brands build trust with consumers. Nestle, Unilever and Walmart, among others, have all signed on to the platform already.
With a new year around the corner, it’s a great time to reflect on how businesses can make a positive societal impact for the future. As you set new objectives and decide which initiatives and partnerships to invest in, remember that the demand for sustainability isn’t slowing down any time soon and that responsible product sourcing could be a means of competitive advantage in 2020.
“We live in a multi-channel world with digitally connected devices that are always on. We receive marketing messages, ads, and alerts from many platforms, devices, apps, and websites,” writes Lois Ritarossi in Printing Impressions. “There are five generations in the workforce making buying decisions for consumer and B2B products and services. Marketers must define and deploy omnichannel strategies to engage with their various customer segments in the channels the customers prefer for different types of communications.”
Those customer preferences may seem obvious – digital natives want everything digital, and Boomers hate smartphones, right? The reality is digital natives often long for human and tactile interactions. They appreciate unplugging away from work hours and recognize the downside of too much time on social media.And Baby Boomers are embracing technology to help stay connected and in touch.
This multi-generational and cross-channel reality means marketers are once again embracing traditional media like printed magazines, catalogs and direct mailers that may have been considered obsolete when digital natives started making up more and more of the workplace.
“Great print and well-designed catalogs and direct mail create engagement and demand attention that drives e-commerce sales,” Ritarossi writes. “Retailers are using demographic and spending data to optimize when to send catalogs and direct mail focusing on key times such as holidays, life events — such as moving — or targeted direct mail for abandoned e-commerce shopping carts that spur spending.”
It’s beyond question that technology has changed how we communicate with and engage our B2B audiences. What hasn’t changed? The fact that we are all humans, with an innate attraction to the real and the tangible. This is the reality of marketing today, no matter what generation you aim to attract.
The stats may surprise you. According to CNBC, people still love to own physical books … and the proof is in the bottom line.
“Publishers of books in all formats made almost $26 billion in revenue last year in the U.S., with print making up $22.6 billion and e-books taking $2.04 billion,” writes Lucy Handley in CNBC News, “according to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report 2019. Those figures include trade and educational books, as well as fiction.”
In the U.K., industry experts see similar trends.
“I think the e-book bubble has burst somewhat, sales are flattening off, I think the physical object is very appealing,” said Meryl Halls of the Bookseller’s Association in the U.K. “Publishers are producing incredibly gorgeous books, so the cover designs are often gorgeous, they’re beautiful objects,” Halls told CNBC.
“People love to display what they’ve read,” Halls noted. “The book lover loves to have a record of what they’ve read, and it’s about signaling to the rest of the world. It’s about decorating your home, it’s about collecting, I guess, because people are completists aren’t they, they want to have that to indicate about themselves.”
“While millennials are sometimes blamed for killing industries, it’s actually younger people who appear to be popularizing print,” writes Handley. “Sixty-three percent of physical book sales in the U.K. are to people under the age of 44, while 52% of e-book sales are to those over 45, according to Nielsen.”
E-books certainly have their uses. Handley shares how JD Salinger’s family eventually decided to publish “Catcher in the Rye” as an e-book after receiving a letter from a woman with a hand disability who found it hard to manipulate print books. Yet overall, future generations will continue to embrace print for its many benefits. Print books aren’t going anywhere, especially as younger generations embrace reading on paper.
We’re living in a digital world—one where screens dominate our time. The average American adult spends three hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices, according to 2019 research by eMarketer. This doesn’t include the time spent on a computer at work or parked in front of the television at home.It’s easy to find an app or software platform to help you do run your life, making paper and pen feel old-school. But paper products offer advantages that tech does not. Here are five times when you should choose analog over digital:
WHEN YOU NEED TO RECALL SOMETHING
“One of the biggest assets that paper can provide is that it stimulates our reticular activating system,” says Holland Haiis, digital detox expert for How Life Unfolds, the consumer content site for the Paper and Packaging Board. “It boosts learning and helps with goal achievement by providing better recall and performance.”
Working with paper can make certain tasks faster, says Christine Hofler, owner of Curate for Joy!, a Marie Kondo-certified organizing professional.
“If you only have a short list, a simple calendar, or a small number of contacts to keep track of, paper is faster and easier,” she says. “You can grab a pen and paper and write out a few words much faster than you can open your digital device, locate the app or program, and type in those same few words.”
Retrieving the info can also be quicker, says Hofler. “Just a glance at the paper or page,” she says. “Paper doesn’t go to sleep or run out of power as a digital device can. Another advantage: A single piece of paper is more portable than even the smallest device.”
WHEN YOU NEED TO FOCUS
When you are working with paper tools, your focus is increased, and you cannot attempt to multitask, says Haiis. “When we hold a device, we are subject to its rings, tings, pings,” she says. “The more we task switch, the more we get into brain fog and burnout.”
Paper commands your focus in and doesn’t have built-in distractions that can take you off track. If you need to finish an important project or get caught up on reading, consider paper tools instead of digital.
WHEN YOU HAVE AN IMPORTANT MEETING
Paper can help foster deeper collaboration during meetings because it doesn’t distract. If people take notes in a meeting with laptops, however, it can be too tempting to check email. When you’re looking for an email, you’re not contributing, says Haiis.
“Any time you are distracted by a device, you go into less depth with a conversation,” she says. “This creates less trust and less camaraderie. If you’re going to move projects forward, you need to work together as a team. Too often, we meet a week later and wonder why we haven’t moved forward. It’s because the meeting didn’t have our attention.”
Make a policy of no technology in meetings, and use paper to take notes instead of your laptop or phone.
WHEN YOU DON’T WANT THINGS TO FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS
Out of sight is out of mind, and if you store notes or to-do lists in a digital app, it can be easy to overlook them.
She recommends creating a dedicated notebook for your to-do lists, keeping it in the same location on your desk. “That way, you always know where to find your upcoming tasks and action items,” says Eckerling.
At the beginning of each week, put the date at the top of a new page and make as detailed a list as possible. Eckerling recommends dividing your list into categories, clients, or projects. “Whatever makes the most sense,” she says.
While it’s nice to have a digital copy of your to-dos, the value of paper is manifold, says Eckerling. “Having your to-dos on paper, where you can check off items as you do them, enables you to be more productive,” she says. “It’s also less likely for things to fall through the cracks.”
Haiis notes that many of us are drawn to digital tools because of the dopamine hit you get when you get a new notification. You can get just as many when you use paper tools, such as crossing something off a to-do list or using colorful tools to make notes visually stimulating, she says.
“When you partner paper with your devices, you get a better balance, professionally and personally,” says Haiis.
All over the world, organizations in every industry are looking for ways to operate in more sustainable ways. At the same time, our landfills continue to overflow.
But this environmental challenge has the potential to actually power sustainability. We prove it every day at Rolland, by using biogas.
Why we turned to biogas
When you think about how paper can be more environmentally friendly, most people immediately think about recycling it. But it comes down to how it’s produced, too.
To us, true sustainability means making sure our entire manufacturing process takes the environment into account, from start to finish – in turn, giving our customers more confidence that the paper they use has a minimal environmental impact. That includes using energy in a way that’s clean, sustainable and renewable, which is why we’ve used biogas since 2004.
A key part of our Sustainability Strategy is our belief in a closed-loop future, where our products are made from recycled materials and can continue to be made into new products after they’re used. This philosophy is also the heart of biogas itself, because biogas energy comes from reuse of materials: from garbage.
In our case, using biogas starts at a nearby landfill, where methane from decomposing waste is captured, preventing it from being released into the air. Then, it’s purified, compressed and transported through a dedicated eight-mile pipeline, ultimately meeting 93 per cent of our paper mill’s thermal needs.
How biogas takes us from problem to solution
Unlike traditional fossil fuels, biogas is a renewable energy source, because it comes from converting organic materials that are continually produced but would otherwise go unused because they’re sitting in a landfill.
Fossil fuels, on the other hand, come from drilling far into the ground for organic material that once used up, won’t return. Biogas is also considered carbon neutral, because the CO2 that comes from burning it as fuel has already been extracted from the environment during the organism’s lifecycle.
As Pascal Meunier, Rolland’s Environmental Manager, has put it, the choice to use biogas at Rolland was based on it being available, but also the fact that it could be harmful to the environment if it is not recovered. “When methane, the main component of biogas is emitted into the atmosphere, it’s a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times greater than CO2,” he says. “By not using biogas, greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas extraction would end up being higher.”
“Energy management is built into our core strategy,” says Pascale Vachon, Rolland’s Corporate Vice President, EH&S and Quality, “and biogas, like use of post-consumer recycled materials, plays a key role in our manufacturing process in keeping the environmental footprint of our products as small as possible.”
Results for the environment, the economy and our customers
Indeed, using biogas allows us to curb our CO2 emissions by 70,000 tons – the equivalent of 23,400 compact cars – every single year.
It’s in part because of biogas that Rolland’s Enviro product line also has less than half of the environmental impact compared to the North American paper industry average, as our Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) reveals. Specifically, its impact on climate change is an impressive 62 per cent lower than other papers in North America, also with lower human health impacts throughout its entire life cycle, in terms of toxicity and contribution to respiratory effects.
Beyond this, the benefits of using biogas extend to the local economy: Before turning waste into biogas, the landfill operator we partner with wasn’t getting any value from the excess materials in the landfill and didn’t have the reliable revenue stream that comes from turning it into biogas.
“Biogas is an economical alternative to burning natural gases, especially for residue landfills which would have otherwise been burned,” explains Pierre-Michel Raymond, Rolland’s Mechanical Engineer and Energy Supervisor. “Plus, a utility operates the pipeline and all parties receive revenue as part of the Rolland supply chain.”
Even putting those positive social impacts aside, biogas has also proven to be good business for Rolland. Using biogas allowed us to drop our plant’s thermal costs by 35 per cent in the first year of biogas use. Clearly, using renewable energy has not only set us up for environmental success, but for long-term business success, too.
We’ve long held the belief that responsible purchasing and product use involves the entire product lifecycle. With energy management and closing the loop being core to our Sustainability Strategy, biogas has become integral to our business.
By using biogas, we’re helping our customers gain confidence that the paper they use came from a process with a limited impact on the environment. In turn, this supports a path to their own lower environmental impact and to a more sustainable, closed-loop future.
At some point in our careers, we all come face to face with that ever-paralyzing “Blank Page.” That monster-eyed project you have no clue how to approach or where to begin. As a lifelong designer–visualizing things that haven’t existed before–that ambiguity has littered nearly every project I’ve touched. Like it or not, it’s simply inherent in the creative profession. But I’ve learned that how you handle “fear of the unknown” can define your career.
Years ago, when touch screens were considered cutting edge, my team and I were tasked with designing the interface for an interactive kiosk. We had few, if any, real examples to inform our thinking.
Completely muddled on how to navigate, we started from scratch. Pushing through discomfort, we met in a war room each day—exchanging ideas and learning everything we could about the technology. We used curiosity to inch us forward—piecing together bits and pieces of nothing. Eventually, we were able to pull concrete ideas out of obscurity and create something pretty darn cool.
I’ve used that experience as a model throughout my career to help confront, work through, and brave ambiguity. If you can see the unknown as opportunity—to listen, get curious, research, and think—you can overcome fear, establish vision, lead a team, and inspire the necessary confidence to co-create. Not to mention, gain invaluable conviction in yourself. Here are some tips on how to overcome fear of the blank page:
LIVE IN THE WORLD YOU’RE DESIGNING
Founder Marco Perry of product design firm Pensa admits, “All new projects start with an intimidating blank page, especially with established products that already work well. How can you improve something that’s been designed a thousand times?” To get beyond the blocks, Pensa doubles down on immersive research.
While collaborating with OneDrop to reimagine the diabetic medical experience, Pensa’s design team lived the life of a diabetic for a week—needling their bodies and testing blood multiple times a day. Reinventing a luggage brand, Pensa flight-hopped cheap airlines seeking inspired ways to improve the worst travel experience. And while struggling with ideas for new deck-staining tools, they built an entire deck in their office—complete with boards, balusters, stockade fence, and chaise longue. “It looked like the backyard of Anytown USA, except in a Brooklyn loft office with a whiteboard. That’s where we brainstormed, tested ideas, and hung out until we cracked the problem,” says Perry. “If you’re stuck, it’s because you’re sitting at a desk–go live in the world you’re designing.”
ASK “WHAT IF” OVER AND OVER AGAIN
Practice being open to even the wackiest ideas. D.C.-based Design Army took “radically open-minded” to the next level when grappling with exorbitant photo-shoot studio fees and travel costs. Founders Pum and Jake Lefebure imagined different “what-if” scenarios and came up with the crazy, yet inspired, idea to build their own photography space–one large enough to rent to other local designers and artists. The egg of an idea evolved into recently launched At Yolk, a 10,000-square-foot creative hub designed to be a testing ground and play space for the D.C. creative community with master classes, fashion and art events, and a massive photography studio. “Good ideas can come from anywhere and might sound nutty at first,” says founder Pum Lefebure. “But imagining ‘what if’ is key.”
DIFFICULT CLIENT? GO WILD
The designers at the social innovation firm Daylight Design, creators of digital experiences like UNICEF Kid Power, admit they often work with clients with fuzzy visions that are difficult to pin down. While building a medical education app to aid patients with chronic health issues, Daylight found themselves stuck in project ambiguity. “We initially assumed we were creating an interactive app and website with everything that entails,” says founder Sven Newman. “But the client kept rejecting designs based on our best judgment as UX professionals.”
So the team stepped back, nixed the website notion, and explored wildly divergent concepts—sketching animated video stories, interactive illustration screens, even a printable worksheet. As a result, they were able to isolate the client’s vision: a website that could be navigated based on drawings and shapes, rather than text. “One of the best breakthrough tools is to kick all preconceptions out the door and visualize a wide range of ideas,” says Newman.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE CONSTRAINTS, MAKE THEM UP
Navigating the unknown is all about getting iron-clad clear on your purpose. For design firm Noise 13, who was given nearly free rein to brand the tech accessories company Amber & Ash, setting guidelines was crucial to pushing through obscurity. “We were essentially given a blank slate: create a brand, from scratch, in the hyper-competitive market of cell-phone accessories,” says founder Dava Guthmiller. To stay on track, Noise 13 made a detailed plan of attack to give the startup a unique voice inspired by fashion, runway colors, and Pantone chips. “The clearer your goal, the faster a plan will manifest,” Guthmiller says.
There’s no perfect way to brave the unknown. As famed artist and experimental composer John Cage says, “Begin anywhere.” The act of starting is more important and courageous than anything. First ideas don’t have to be winners–often they aren’t. Eventually you’ll find the right one. But isn’t making something from nothing the whole joy of being a creative? We fill blank slates and empty drawing boards with ideas that allow people to engage with the world differently. Through my years as a designer, I’ve learned that making great work means leaning into obscurity—but not getting stuck there.
Arianna Orland is a creative director, user experience designer, and artist. She is the founder of Paper Jam Press and In/Visible Talks, a design conference on the creative process cofounded with Dava Guthmiller of Noise 13.
Living in today’s on-screen world, the idea of flat design has become commonplace. Though designers are becoming more adept at using on-screen techniques to create dimension and the visual sensation of a texture, the sense of touch is missing from our touch screens. Texture has become even more important, and appreciated, as one of the major graphic design principles.
From brand identity to packaging, Pum Lefebure, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Design Army, is a purveyor in the strategy of using texture in graphic design – a strategy that plays a big part in the Design Principles promotion Design Army created for Neenah.
We asked Lefebure share her thoughts about how texture acts as a major graphic design principle.
When should designers think about texture?
If a piece of graphic design is simple and minimal, that’s when you should think about texture. You can have a really good piece of typography on a smooth paper and you can have exactly the same design on a texture paper, and each are going to give you a completely different feeling. If you emboss or deboss a piece of typography…all of a sudden your work has dimension.
How is texture used to elevate design?
Texture adds dimension. For example, we are working on a prototype of a box for a fine jeweler. If you look at the design, it’s really simple typography on a white background. Because we used LEATHERLIKE® paper to communicate an elevated luxury brand, the printed piece looks richer and more luxurious. Instead of simple foil stamping, we used textured foil to create the illusion of metal used in jewelry design. This is an example of how texture can easily take design from simple to intricate.
How do people respond to texture?
Imagine you give two identical teddy bears to a child. One is a smooth teddy and the other is a fluffy, very soft teddy. I’d be willing to bet you the child is going to go with the fluffy one first, because everyone responds to texture. When you look at a plush stuffed animal, it gives you a sense of comfort. It’s something you want to hold and cuddle. Texture adds another, and very different, level of emotional response. Creating an emotional response creates a higher likelihood of brand recall and brand loyalty.
What is a common mistake designers might make when it comes to texture?
A very common mistake in this digital age is to start designing something on the computer and working on the graphic design part without first looking at the material. This is especially true for packaging. You want to look at a swatchbook first, look at the kind of material to see what feeling you’re drawn to. For example, if I want something plastic-like and very smooth, I might pick PLIKE®Papers, and then I would go from there to decide what kind of design would look good on this material. We think about paper as the fabric to enhance our design. We start with texture, meaning we start with the paper first, before we even design anything.
Texture is just one of the 20 design principles featured in Neenah’s Design Principles promotion. Presented in a mysterious black box are 20 different beautifully designed and printed circles. Each designed for a specific principle, and each featuring a different luxurious paper from The Design Collection.