Collaboration across the supply chain

17 August 2015

Collaboration across the supply chain

Collaboration across the supply chain

Giles Calver, planning director of Sedley Place, takes a look at design success for the luxury market.

Everywhere you look these days, you see collaborations: brands working with other brands (such as Johnnie Walker and Dunhill), brands working with artists and fashion designers (like Absolut and Coca-Cola), architects working with artists (like Frank Gehry collaborating with artists HENSE, Chris Lux and Maya Hayuk on Facebook's new headquarters at Menlo Park), and designers working with brands (like Nigel Coates and Lloyd Loom, or Jasper Conran and Stuart Crystal).

One + one = three

The dynamics at play in each of these collaborations is different, but each brand, artist or designer ultimately aims to lever the expertise, skills and creativity of the other party to create something unique. This is what you might describe as 'one + one = three'. This desire to create something unique, to solve a problem, or to take advantage of an opportunity, also lies at the heart of many packaging endeavours, wherein the willingness of the different parties involved in a project directly affects the project's success.

The success factors

Collaboration has a richer, deeper meaning in many packaging projects because of the number of potential parties involved, such as commissioning clients, client production teams, creative agencies, bottle manufacturers, capsule manufacturers, label printers, and carton manufacturers and printers. With so many people potentially involved, there are a number of key factors that can ensure a project's success, in Sedley Place's experience. Apart from the obvious issue of budget (nothing has a more dampening effect on collective enthusiasm than a mismatch between ambition and restrictive cost of goods (COGs) parameters), key factors for a successful project are a clear brief and set of objectives (a shared goal), a thorough understanding of the brand, and a desire on everyone's part to go the extra mile.

A great example

One project that perfectly illustrates these factors is the redesign of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. The brand, which broke new ground in 1992 when it was launched, led the way in establishing the ultra-premium whisky category. However, by 2006, it was looking tired and old-fashioned to consumers, and research showed the brand's packaging no longer conveyed the appropriate luxury cues. In addition, its status as the market leader was challenged, as it faced competition from other ultra-premium brands and premium spirits like cognac.

Sedley Place's brief, in a nutshell, was to retain the brand's core DNA, while adding new features that would deliver the all-important luxury cues and help cement the brand's premier position in the ultra-premium category. A key aspect of the brief was understanding the components of the brand's DNA, such as the square bottle, the slanted label, the striding man and the 'Our blend cannot be beat' message. Fail to identity and cherish these things, and Johnnie Walker would be throwing the baby out with the bath water!

In our case, the challenge was to develop one all-important component, the square bottle, without sacrificing its iconic status. Of all of the brand elements, it was clear that the existing bottle was not conveying the right quality cues, especially in comparison to the competition. The solution was to design a completely new bottle, which retained the square shape but elevated the product in the consumers' eyes, heightening its perceived value. Featuring a heavy glass base and thick glass walls, and featuring a new blue glass, the bottle suspends the whisky in a manner reminiscent of high-end perfume bottles. The bottle contains slight variances in the height at the base of the bottle, reinforcing the Blue Label story by commemorating the 19th century original design, adding hand-crafted cues and communicating a message of rarity.

Having designed the bottle, the next challenge was to produce it. This is where the spirit of collaboration kicked in. Working with Diageo's Production Team at its Technical Centre Europe, based in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, along with bottle manufacturers Stölzle-Flaconnage, we were able to realise our design.

The biggest challenge Stölzle-Flaconnage faced was the increase in bottle weight. In the words of Robert Sherwood, the company's product and mould design manager, "the old bottle was fairly standard in weight, with the 750ml weighing around 550-600g with an ordinary base. The new bottle, in contrast, weighs in at around 1500g and has a thick base. Moreover, the new design called for an increase in wall thickness from around 3.5mm to 6-7mm."

For Robert Sherwood and his team, the challenges were in controlling the distribution of the molten glass, maintaining a consistent glass thickness and achieving the right surface finish. The fact that Stölzle-Flaconnage achieved a bottle that is universally recognised as a thing of beauty can be attributed in part to the company's willingness to experiment with different moulds - one square and one round - and to exploit its expertise to achieve the best result - or, in Robert Sherwood's words, "die trying". It has to be said that this attitude is not always prevalent, but when it is, it makes any design project infinitely more enjoyable.

What's right for the brand

Johnnie Walker Blue Label was relaunched in 2011. Its success, acknowledged by its recent receipt of a 2014 Silver DBA Design Effectiveness Award, is testament to the ability of the whole team to produce a solution that was right for the brand. This focus on the brand is also an important aspect of another collaborative project Sedley Pace is currently working on, this time with the structural packaging experts AM Associates.

Our client is launching a range of cakes and desserts onto the Indian market, and commissioned Sedley Place to help define and express its brand, and then design the packaging for its 20-strong range. We invited AM Associates to collaborate on the project, having worked with them before and trusting their expertise. The success of the project so far is based on the two companies working closely with the client and its food technologists to produce packaging solutions that are on-brand and have the right visual and quality cues for the burgeoning Indian middle class. The brand and COGs have gone hand-in-hand in determining the different packaging options.

Other forms of collaboration

Not all collaborative projects require the same levels of inter-company working but they all manifest an ambition to create something distinctive and engaging. Over the years, we have worked with Stölzle-Flaconnage, on projects like the design of The Singleton's iconic bottle shape; with Wade, on a Johnnie Walker limited edition for the far Eastern market, made of porcelain; and with CCL Label Decorative Sleeves, on another Johnnie Walker Limited edition, featuring a shrink-wrapped bottle. Each of these projects has involved different levels of cooperation, but all have been characterised by an engagement with the project's objectives and a willingness to experiment in order to get the best result. It is perhaps not insignificant that all of the projects mentioned above have benefitted from the involvement of Diageo's Technical and Production Teams.


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