Is it Possible to be Creative and Successful?

I feel like I’ve spent most my life trying to prove I’m not a robot.

When I was growing up, my Dad always told me that it’s important to have original thought and that true creativity is about pushing boundaries and creating new ideas.

He taught me to see things as they are (rather than how we imagined them to be) and then find ways to reinterpret and communicate this as an idea.

I was inclined to rebel against his lifestyle and wanted a more orderly existence.
I chose design as a way to express my creativity within bounds of solving problems to build a career, rather than risk destroying a hobby for the sake of earning money.

I still find I am constantly trying to prove to myself (and unconsciously to him) that I am an individual and not just another robot like everyone else.

There are plenty of examples in history of world famous creative types who died penniless while their art appears frequently in renowned museums and concert halls centuries later (Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mozart, Rembrandt, Vermeer – Even Whitney Houston according to the internet!).

With the advent of ‘social’ media, the communication age and advances of technology these days, we seem to be bombarded by contrasting and contradicting information.

It seems to me that every piece of advice for being successful says that we must do the following things:

  • Automate
  • Systematise
  • Create repeatable actions
  • Use algorithms
  • Adopt AI
  • … and so on

While I know that success is subjective, and so is creativity – it feels like there is a trade off between creativity and following a repeatable process.

On one hand I’m trying to prove I’m not a robot, while at the same time everyone is yelling at me to be more robot.

Photo by Matheus Natan on

by the way; does anyone know if I’m supposed to include the pole which the traffic light is attached to??

… Creative summary

Is it possible to be a creative free thinker who is successful?

Or should I just accept that a good compromise is 80% robot and 20% creative.

I’d love to hear the opinions of some of my fellow creative friends…

Message below

How to make a rigid presentation box

In preparation for Valentine’s day, and as I’ve been stuck at home for the week, I thought I’d make a rigid box to go with a home made gift I was planning.

Although readily available from the shops these days, making your own can mean you can be flexible with materials, colours and sizes and will make the difference between a cobbled together design and something that looks like a gift to be kept.

Talking to traditional box makers, you’d think it was a dark art, but following some basic tips and a bit of practice, it can be a satisfying way to add a bit of luxury to your home made gift.

What do you need?

Things you need

All the tools can be found at your local craft shop or DIY store and are as follows:


  • A sharp blade, I prefer a scalpel but a craft knife would work.
  • Steel measuring rule
  • A sharpened pencil
  • Masking tape (this needs to be the paper type)
  • Adhesive. A strong spray mount can work well but make sure you have a ventilated area (or the garden) close to where your working.
  • A firm surface to work on (I’m working on the dining table with a cutting mat to protect the surface)


  • A sheet of Rigid pulp board: I’m using a grey board which has a black coating on one side. The material needs to be between 1 & 2mm thick (1000-2000mic or 0.04-0.08″). One side of the board will be visible on the inside, so you can coat this or use a coloured or pre-coated material as I am, but these boards can be expensive so a solid grey or display board can also be used.
  • A covering material: I’m cheating by using self adhesive material, but any substantial paper such as wrapping paper works well. You don’t want to be able to see through it and the adhesive needs to stick well, so this may need some experimenting, but if it’s paper on the inside, and not too thick, you can’t go far wrong.

The Method

Step 1: measure the base.

I like to use the edge of the board to keep my lines square. Start by drawing the base panel offset from the edges by the depth of the box.

the side that we’re drawing onto will become the outside of the box, so if you have a coated side, make sure this is face down.

Marking up the base
Marking up the base

Step 2: Measure the sides

The long sides of the box are the same length as the base, so just extend these lines out from your base. The short sides need to be stepped outwards by the material thickness. For me this is 1.5mm, and this allows the material to overlap in the corners. Extend and join the lines to form a cross shape.

Marking the side panels
Marking the side panels

Step 3: Cut out the board panel.

All the outer lines including the short (1.5mm) step should be cut through. The 4 lines making up the base panel need to be scored half way through. This takes a bit of practice but I would suggest several gentle strokes testing each time. If you’ve cut through far enough, the panel should fold neatly. Be careful not to cut too far through as the corners will be too weak.

Cutting and scoring
Cutting and scoring

Step 4: Forming the box

Taking some neat lengths of masking tape, fold up the sides and join them together like a but joint with the shot edges overlapping the long edges. This will form the main structure of the box so it’s important that the tape is firmly stuck.

Taping the corners
Taping the corners

Step 5: Mark the covering position.

The covering needs to fold over the edges onto the inside by about 15mm (1/2″). Normally I’d draw this out on the CAD table but if you use the made up box as a guide, this is not too difficult to draw by hand. I have a grid on the backing paper of my covering which helps to ensure it’s square, but using the edge of the material (and careful measuring) works too. Using a ruler, position the box 15mm from your starting edge, then roll it over so that it is sat on its base. Measure the distance from the edge and position the box the same distance from the short edge.

Measure the turn in
Measure the turn in

Position the box 1
Position the box 1

Position the box 2
Position the box 2

Step 6: Mark the corners

place a dot at 45 degrees out from each corner, about material thickness away from the box. This will be the starting point for our layout and will help us re-position the box later.

Marking the corners
Marking the corners

Step7: Drawing the wrap outline.

From these dots, we’re going to create a kind of cross shape with some extra flaps to make it neat.

Start by joining the dots to form a rectangle. Then mark diagonal lines outwards from each corner about 25mm (1″) long. The long sides of the paper, will wrap up and around the corners onto the short edges by about 15-20mm. The diagonal lines form the start of these new flaps.

Using the outer flap distance you measured before, draw the outer edges of the wrap by creating a rectangle equi-distant from the base rectangle.

You can now form the long sides of the box by drawing vertical lines offset by 20mm and meeting the diagonal lines towards the middle.

Drawing the wrap
Drawing the wrap

The short sides need to be cut in from the corners, so that they can fold over neatly inside the box. Measure the inside dimension using the measuring rule and draw parallel lines offset from the base panel and extended outwards towards the outer rectangle. At the corners draw a V shape so that these parallel lines meet the diagonals of the long edges at a point.

Measuring the short inner edge
Measuring the short inner edge

Step 8: cut out the wrap.

Using the ruler and following the lines you have drawn, carefully cut the wrap. You may need to change the blade to make sure you have a neat edge. You will be left with a shape like this:

cut the outer wrap
cut the outer wrap

Step 9: apply the adhesive

if like me you’re using self adhesive material, carefully remove the backing. You may find the material is a bit curly so perhaps leave it under some books for a while first to stop it sticking to itself. If you’re using spray adhesive, you need to be quick here. It’s important to apply a good even coat, but note that the glue starts to set off quickly so read through the next steps carefully and maybe practice first as it is important to make up the rest of the box before the glue dries.

Step 10: Position the box

Position the box
Position the box

Place the glued wrap face down on the surface so that the glued side is up. By aligning the corners of the box with the V shapes you made, carefully and firmly press the box down onto the wrap. Quickly check and smooth any bubbles out, and place back down.

Step 11: Fold up the long edges

Start by pulling the centre of the long edge upwards tightly then using your other hand smooth the wrap outwards towards the edges to ensure there are no ripples. Fold the angled tabs around the corners and press down firmly. Repeat for both sides.

Fold up the long edges
Fold up the long edges

Step 12: fold down the turn-ins

Next you need to fold the turn ins down. I like to make a short upwards cut in the corners to make this easier, especially with thicker materials as it relieves the pressure. Start by folding the corners down, then move to the middle and press outwards. You will need to be firm to make sure the adhesive sticks and that the corners are neat. Repeat for both sides.

Folding the corners
Folding the corners

Folding the turn-in
Folding the turn-in

Step 13: Fold up the short edges

Now the short edges can fold up and over and cover all the tabs. Work from the middle outwards as before and press the turn-in down firmly.  The cut back that we drew earlier should ensure that you have a nice even seam at the corners. Repeat for both sides.

Finished corner edge
Finished corner edge

Step 14: making the lid

The lid is exactly the same and follows the same steps as before. This is where you can get creative. I’ve chosen a short height lid like a shoe box of about 30mm deep, remember that the base panel of the lid needs to be bigger than the base box, so measure the outside dimensions and add a bit of room for friction (a millimetre or two) to each side. If you want the lid to be full height, use the same depth as the base. You can also try contrasting colours or prints, ribbons or filling materials. I went fairly plain as I was limited to what I had in the cupboard, but the materials available these days mean you can create some really nice effects.


Finished box and lid
Finished box and lid

…most of all have fun!

Valentines gift packaging
Valentines gift packaging

The Decline of Physical Media – a self fulfilling prophecy?

From my frame of reference as a packaging designer, I’ve had a fairly close connection with the media and home entertainment (HE) industry for several years now. I have always been a keen music lover both as an amateur performer and avid collector. It is with this in mind along with the recent news of the impending HMV administration that I thought I’d express some of my concerns about the state and future of physical media.


It was at a recent National Trust visit that I realised how far the heritage and familiar logo of HMV (His Master’s Voice) spans. As purveyors of music playing devices since 1899, the Gramophone company opened a music shop in London in 1921. Following acquisition by RCA, HMV were also instrumental in building well known brands such as EMI and JVC in the 60’s and 70’s.

Aside from continued growth during the 90’s and some unsuccessful attempts at innovation, I witnessed, along with everyone of my generation a much more rapid decline in the availability of music in disc format over the coming years.

After a sales peak in 2001 fuelled by the popularity of CDs – and as my music buying appetite began to flourish, there grew an air of doom and gloom across the industry as talk of piracy and internet downloads (and of course supermarkets) threatened physical sales. Not constrained to music, film, TV and games also felt the impact of internet technologies. Although difficult to identify, I wonder how much of this decline was due to demand and how much was availability against convenience?

Record Shop

In my parents’ generation, going to the music store was an event. My Mum will recount stories of travelling with her mates into the local record shop to listen to music, grab a milkshake or coffee and choose albums to take home. Even as I was growing up, I had a wide variety of choice – Tower Records, Our Price, Virgin Megastore, I would travel into the city and spend 4-5 hours listening to the ever diminishing vinyl sections and be really proud of myself when I found a great record before it became popular through radio airplay. As time went on, and the internet age overtook, Vinyls and listening stations vanished from the high street to be replaced with everything from clothes to fruit-bars to headphones. A modern HMV store would struggle to boast more than 25% of floor space devoted to music. So even as a committed fan of the shopping experience, I find it increasingly difficult to satisfy my (admittedly eclectic) taste.

listening booth

If I talk to a marketer from any other industry sector they would start by telling me that one of the key motivators of their trade is buyer behaviour. Although there is now a generation of consumers who have never experienced the listening booth, I’m not sure their needs are any different to mine – I buy music over the internet too, in fact I purchase through several channels – music on subscription, music downloads, physical media purchase through the internet and shopping in store. I listen to the radio for recommendations, I also like the ‘listen’ buttons on websites – and my favourite feature of internet shopping is the “you might like this” suggestions. These features used to be available in-store although I fear that this added value and personal touch was too difficult to quantify against sales in a demanding retail environment. What I am very sad to have lost through internet shopping is the additional content, the artwork, booklets and inserts (and obviously packaging) which for me was very much a part of the whole purchase experience.

sgt peppers lonely hearts club band

With its self-fulfilling prophecy, I worry that the music industry and HE sector in general has lost sight of what’s important for the consumer. I will personally be very sad to see the demise of music on the high street, and would love to see a wave of innovation which sets to improve the terrible audible quality that people seem to tolerate for convenience sake. For now, however, I leave you with some hope that I will at least cling on to:

2012 Vinyl Sales grew by 39% in the UK (similar figures reflected in US) – about 15x growth since 1993
Digital downloads reflect less than 1/3rd of all album sales
Even with a 13-14% decline in sales last year – we bought 43.6 million CDs in the UK (86 million US)

Even in the high turnaround, impersonal world of modern music, our appetite is greater than ever.
Provided the industry pulls itself back together and re-invigorates its focus, I am optimistic for the future of physical media.

Why is Packaging Important?

I recently read a book (Ready Player One) in which the lead character became absorbed into a matrix style online gaming world which he felt was better than the “real” world around him. A world of warcraft style adventure ensued as they battled to win a prize to inherit their digital world from its inventor after his death.

Even in this fantasy world of a digital tomorrow, the character had to order his food and hardware to be delivered or collected from an outlet or storage.

I am normally a strong advocate for independent retail and the high street. It pains me to admit, however, that this year I purchased about 90% of christmas presents online. (though 2 gifts haven’t arrived in time which strengthens my argument)

This year (2012) online shopping is expected to reach nearly 10% of all retail spending in the UK and is growing quickly with almost two thirds of adults reported to make online purchases. [, ]

Even in the world of online, we still need Things and things need packaging.

Apart from the career it has developed, to me packaging is important for several reasons:

Product protection.

  • Cucumbers last three times as long on the shelf when shrink wrapped, which increases shelf life and therefore reduces food waste.
  • Good glassware packaging can reduce transit damage to almost 0%



  • For a retailer, liquids and grain would be much more expensive to distribute without convenient packaging.
  • Also as a method of preserving. Tins were developed between 1810 and 1813 to improve shelf life – It’s hard to imagine life without this type of packaging.

Tin Can


  • For a brand owner, packaging can communicate a product benefits
  • For the consumer it can help make purchase decisions.
  • Packaging is also a great way to communicate environmental or ethical status e.g. ‘fair trade’ or ‘recyclable’

Can Communication

Product Extension

  • A container can be a way for the consumer to identify and interact with the product for example a shampoo bottle.
  • Packaging can also become a product in itself for example gift packaging where a collector will keep the packaging both for storage and as a keepsake.


By carefully choosing the correct materials and production methods, not only can we reduce cost and environmental impact of the packaging, we can also reduce waste (e.g. food or perishable goods) improve consumer choice and increase the value of the finished product.

The type of project I enjoy working on the most is gift packaging. The sense of satisfaction when creating a design which will be kept and cherished, rather than disposed of, offers a much greater sense of reward.

Cohesive Packaging Design

These days, you don’t have to look far to find a blog about packaging design. There seem to be hundreds of people from various walks of life giving their top tips about how to create great packaging. Living in the world of 2D, it is easy to forget the stuff that makes the packaging. Many designers aren’t aware of the constraints or capabilities in manufacturing and find it difficult to look beyond the on-screen graphical representation.

Packaging is a tangible thing which you can pick up, hold and open. I wanted to talk about this; the assembled bones and flesh that make up the creative design in the real world. It’s important that all the elements of a design are considered together. The way they interact, look and feel is as important as the pictures and type placed upon them. I have always believed that it is the little details that make a big difference. A minor change can really affect the overall feel of the end result. If, when developing an idea, the designer (or project manager) considers all the following elements, the end result will be a truly cohesive packaging design:

but before I start…

…I realised, while writing, that each element could independently become a huge topic, so over the coming weeks I will start to expand on these component parts along with several sub-headings which have evolved in my notes. In the meantime, however, I will try to summarize as a pre-cursor.

Shape or Structure

The shape is important for many reasons; identification, style, size, mechanics of storage and display. The shape can also determine the ease at which the product is dispensed. Structure for me is the method by which the shape is constructed. Whether it’s the position of a seam line or method of opening, a simple change can be the difference between nice clean lines or low-cost alternative.


From cost to weight ratio, strength and security through to nice ‘touchy feeliness,’ the substrate plays a huge part in the final result. Carefully choosing materials which complement the design in a consistent way can really help the final message. In dealing with large global projects, the availability and environmental impact of the material is also a really important consideration. Poorly managed choices can adversely affect brand consistency, corporate image and cost.

Print Method

Whether a single colour flexo identity stamp or a complex gravure security label, the method by which we apply our text and graphics (although somewhat determined by material and volume) can help ensure our artwork is presented as intended. Rather than making a compromise because of supply constraints, by understanding the benefits and performance of each technique, we can apply our artwork both effectively and efficiently.

Finishes & Techniques

After print comes ‘finishing.’ The generic term for what might be described as the final enhancement. From in-tool embossing to glitter varnish, these enchanting augmentations can easily lead to a garish tackiness if badly executed. With careful consideration, however, they can also be the little detail that you can’t quite put your finger on; an indefinable quality.

Present Packaging for Puerile Pastime

We may not behave as such, but my brothers and I are technically adult. Our tastes and projections of one-anothers’ wants have accordingly matured in a similarly mundane manner.

During our younger years, the unknowing exited surprise of an unwrapping experience was difficult to contain. It has slowly become the centerpiece to our nostalgic (and somewhat exaggerated) storytelling.

As we have grown older, through a combination of inherent intuition and fear of disappointment, we tend towards the safer “is-there-anything-you-need” options.

One recent Christmas, my youngest sibling (perhaps slightly drunkenly) proclaimed “It’s not the same any more, I’m not sure I can get excited about clothes.” he continued to remark that the presents we acquire as adults (although gratefully received) cannot be ‘played with’ or enjoyed as the toys or games we looked forward to as children.

The problem therefore is this:

How can we be sure that the gift is useful and not superfluous while;
a) ensuring that the opening experience is exciting and
b) satisfying our curiously competitive creative nature?

The solution follows:

created by Liz

10 Things you need to know about packaging design

In its overuse, most people dislike the phrase “thinking outside the box” and there are countless packaging companies using similarly un-inventive tag-lines. You don’t have to search too far to find a blog by a branding or design agency discussing the merits of “brand communication” and “consumer engagement”. Today, however, I wanted to pick out what I feel to be the important aspects of packaging design and how they relate to the real world of packaging manufacture…

In plain terms, here are my packaging design top 10 dos:

1) Think about the contents.


Whatever anyone tells you, and however “loose” the creative brief, the MOST important thing about a piece of packaging is what goes in it. Packaging in its most basic state is created to contain something, so in order to consider the design, we really need to understand the product which it has to contain. The contents will therefore determine for us, at least, the minimum size, weight and shape, and in turn the method of opening.

2) Understand the function.


In 1896 Louis Sullivan posed the term “form follows function” which became a maxim for the modernist movement. This idea is therefore not a new one, but it is very important. Although there are some great examples of clever and unique packaging inventions, just creating something that’s different is not in my mind good enough. In order to create truly great packaging we really need to justify our design by relating the shape, materials and all the other elements, firstly to the content, and secondly the journey through which the product will travel. If we can answer the question, what function does this packaging need to serve (whether it’s strength, ease of use or so on) we can then create a truly meaningful design.

3) Be mindful of the supply chain.

A great example of why the supply chain is important is the success of shelf ready packaging (SRP) over recent years. In the world of the supermarket, product would be delivered to a distributer in a box, then shipped to the store in a box (sometimes a smaller one) then removed from the box, and placed onto the shelf loose or on another display unit or box. So some clever people decided that by designing the outer packaging in a better way, you could do 3 things – reduce the time to shelf in store, reduce the amount of wasted packaging, and improve and enhance the brand message during the journey of the product, while giving better protection. If we think about the way the product is stored and transported, we can help to minimise the impact of our design on the wider world.

4) Establish the brand message.

Once we’ve considered the product and its function, we should design our packaging in a way which helps to enhance the message which the brand intends to portray. By selectively choosing the materials, shape and images we can help to communicate the brand to the buyer both consciously and subconsciously. Every element of design from quality and texture through to the strength and complexity can augment our idea.

5) Add an element of security and safety.

Whether attempting to subvert thieves in store, or minimising the risk of loss or damage in the post, if we can add a security feature to our packaging, we will help to improve its market effectiveness. There are many forms of in-store protection in the forms of labels tags and cases, but unfortunately many of these are uncompromising or ugly. By adding an element of “benefit denial” using intelligent materials or design, not only can we improve the look and feel of our product, we can enhance the effectiveness of the packaging as a product in its own right.

6) Research the materials and techniques.

Part of my draw to the packaging industry is the range and speed at which modern technologies are evolving. Even in my relatively short career I have seen some massive shifts in techniques and materials. I could in fact write a new blog about this subject in itself. By really understanding the tools available to us, whether it’s a clever printing technique or a new material technology, we can start to enhance our design in a unique way which works hand in hand with the processes available to us, rather than being limited by our own knowledge.

7) Design the opening experience.

This is my favourite bit of design. It may be true that success isn’t really measured beyond the shelf, but by getting in the head of the end-user and thinking about how they feel as they open the box, we can enhance our product by taking our customer through an experience which is easy and fun rather than annoying and frustrating. You don’t have to search far on twitter to find someone talking about a clamshell pack they couldn’t get into or a product that disappointed them on arrival due to a badly packaged state. If we can improve what I like to call the opening experience, we can begin to convert the sometimes negative image of packaging.

8) Be creative.

Ultimately, what we’re really trying to do here is to come up with something unique that people are going to talk about, or be interested in. If it’s a product on a shelf or delivered via online shopping, we need to design our packaging with words like impact and outstanding in the forefront of our minds. The world is becoming busier and louder, so it’s our job to help our design stand out.

9) Realize the Product/Brand extension.

Marketers call packaging the “silent salesman.” In many cases, for example toothpaste, the packaging is or has become the product. If we think of the packaging as an extension of its contents, we can help present it in a coherent way. Not only can we make a dull product desirable, we can engage the consumer by expanding the uses or features of the product by delivering it in clever ways or combining with other products to create new uses. Some brands even join forces to enhance one another’s image – for example, Jean Paul Gaultier and Coca-Cola (both of whom already have iconic packaging) have merged their brands for this promotion to create something unique and interesting.

10) Don’t forget to Develop.

Just because you’ve created a great idea now, doesn’t mean it will always be great. In order for a design to be relevant and up to date, it should continue to evolve. By considering this at the outset, we can even program ideas into our design so that we can add seasonal or promotional elements to help enhance the message in the future.

Procure! for procurement sake

Although politicians have been avoiding phrases like “green shoots” in recent months, the general consensus seems to be that the economy is once again starting to cultivate. Whether spending or saving is the best route to recovery, many companies have been erring towards caution by cutting as many ‘unnecessary’ costs as possible. I wanted to reflect on how this has affected the packaging industry.

First some facts…

P&G known as the biggest spender in the world of marketing implemented a 5.4% budget reduction between 2010 and 2011 having already reduced their advertising spend by 20% in 2009. At the same time General Motors reduced its yearly marketing budget by 16%, while concurrently channelling 15.7% towards online methods.
Even within the world of media, ironically, there is a reported drop of 11% in marketing spend across the board.
(sources: Times Business,,

The general trend is to spend more effectively by targeting consumers covertly through social marketing campaigns. Analysts therefore predict that marketing using online channels will overtake all other streams by 2016.

“P&G lay off 1600 staff members after discovering it’s free to advertise on Facebook”

So how does this affect packaging?

One of the prevalent strategies that companies seem to have adopted is to re-focus this spend in areas such as procurement. In the boom years, the driving force behind packaging sourcing and spend was the marketing department whereas in recent times, there seems to have been a significant increase of incumbent procurement companies and departments. There have been many new agencies offering these services on behalf of brand owners, while existing print management companies such as WilliamsLee-Tag and HH-Global have been diverting their attention to the world of packaging.

“Why you should consider a career in procurement”

If we can reduce cost of goods and increase competition in the world of packaging this is a good thing, although sometimes the ‘cheaper’ solution isn’t always the most cost-effective.

When outsourcing packaging, it is easy to reduce the cost of materials (e.g. weight reduction or material conversion strategies) or simply remove additional supply chain costs such as print enhancements, reducing the amount of component parts or offering a ‘generic’ branding alternative across territories or form factors. These kind of cost savings are quick hit and easy to quantify.

The Procurement Strategy

The problem with cost reduction strategies is that even when comparing direct campaign effectiveness, the long-term benefits of brand quality can be difficult to measure when trying to gain trust and recognition in the new world of social media. Cost inherently (but not always) affects quality so it is important when designing packaging that we fully understand the benefits and effectiveness of the plethora of finishes and materials in our toolbox.

The good news is that many of the manufacturers, meeting the challenge by being careful with costs and reducing spend during the recession have started to see comfortable balance sheets leading to new investment in premises, technology and machinery.

The packaging holy grail…

I’ve always believed that it’s the little details that count in the battle between good and mediocre design. By understanding the brand message and intended usage it becomes easier to convey this through use of materials and design. But even then, it is important to involve the right people throughout the supply chain from marketing through to manufacturing to ensure that the initial message is communicated in an effective and coherent way.

If you’re looking to promote a product through the viral effects of social marketing, the way it looks on shelf (or tiny .gif thumbnail) is no longer enough. In order to achieve the holy grail of a “YouTube unboxing moment” we must consider the whole opening experience. The unquantifiable and subjective ‘look, feel and quality aspects’ are key to the “I want one of those” effect. It is therefore important, while being conscious of price, to consider all the elements of the packaging such as material choice and design style during the evaluation stage. This way we can begin to really understand the wider effects of packaging upon brand effectiveness and customer opinion.