By Ronald de Vlam, Founder

In my previous articles, I have been trumpeting holistic branding and how best to create a meaningful connection between a person and a brand. The key to any successful launch is finding a big idea – or a core truth – that is embedded into the brand experience that makes it delightful, memorable and meaningful for the intended user/buyer.

Transforming a big idea into a valuable (and a commercially viable) solution for a brand is a true test of strategy and creativity. A big idea must reflect the strategic position of a brand but propel it into a new territory that can give it a new purpose or ambition. Translation is a crucial phase between the discovery phase and the start of design exploration. Without due diligence in the translation phase, the design phase becomes analogous to a blindfolded archer aiming for the bullseye.

Insights come from collecting, documenting, observing and analyzing the dynamics and contextual situation of the brand, the business and the consumer. There are numerous tools we can activate from in-home ethnography, to in-store shop-alongs and competitive audits to stakeholder interviews and trend and technology hunting. These activites feed the strategists with information to synthesize into seeds or buckets.

Translation is where the heavy lifting on a project occurs. It is where we find the magic. We often like to quip that meaning often gets lost in translation, but we find that translation is where big ideas can bubble up to the surface.

Translation is inherently a collaborative process, not only among our internal teams but with our brand partners as well. With the convergence of creative strategists and strategic creatives, we thread insights throughout our progress.

Both the clients and target audience are essential to the process. Together we can co-create, ideate, workshop, prototype and iterate so that seeds of strategy grow into potential design strategy platforms. New brand ambition statements, expressed through words, visuals and analogs, can be tested with consumers to make sure we stay on track with the brand’s essence.

A really good example where translation landed us a big (huge!), campaign-able idea is the smile pack we designed for Oreo. We were actually approached to explore new structural packaging options that would drive impulse snacking purchases in their emerging markets. Yet, in our journey of immersion and discovery, we tapped into something much bigger.

There is something very habitual, almost ritualistic with the Oreo cookie. People all over the world love the Oreo experience – and that Oreo moment is very unique to the brand. As you twist the cookie and enjoy the sensorial experience from your hand to your mouth, you cannot help but smile.

That insight inspired both new structural packaging concepts, (for instance, intuitive opening and packaging that promotes sharing and on-shelf presence) but it also inspired our smile graphic, created by the subtle twist of the cookie, revealing the white smile.

Once we uncovered this idea, there was a whole new opportunity to re-imagine the brand identity on the packaging. With a simple but evocative approach to the design, we could create an immediate emotional connection with the consumer.

‘Smile’ fit within the brand’s legacy and helped adults uncover moments in their day where they could tap into something delightful, familiar and fun while on the go. A moment of escape that all started with a smile. Satisfying both consumers and Oreo’s brand managers.

None of this could have been possible without translation. It’s the foundation of meaningful and purposeful design. It’s essential to a holistic design approach because translation is the conduit between insights and the big idea that can lead to a unique experience that surprises and delights people.

(This article appeared in Package Design, September 2014).


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