If you’ve shopped with us in the past around the holidays, you’re probably familiar with our holiday packaging. From single jams, to mini sampler collections to complete Italian Dinners, our holiday collection might be the easiest gifts to give. Especially since the packaging is already so beautifully designed and thought out that it requires no wrapping. This is thanks in large part to our incredibly talented in-house design team who consistently ‘wows’ us with their beautiful packaging, striking in-store displays, ads and so much more. We sat down with our Creative Manager, Melissa Ambrose, to get the scoop on all the behind-the-scenes creative work and inspiration that goes into the packaging each year. Check out the video at the end of this post from our packaging vendor, United Paper Box Co., to see our packaging come to life! They are a second generation family owned and operated packaging manufacturer in Holyoke, MA and have been supplying our quality packaging since 2006, working closely with our design team to help turn their concepts into finished packaging.
Q: When does the Design team usually start thinking of concepts for holiday packaging?
A: We usually begin to concept about a year and a half ahead of the holiday we’re designing for. It allows for plenty of time for discussion and it also accommodates our wholesale business, since they begin holiday 6 months or so before we do in retail.
Q: What is your process for initial concepts? Do you brainstorm as a group? Where do you find inspiration?
A: Our initial discussion around themes and concepts for holiday packaging usually starts with Jonathan. We check in and see what he’s been thinking of for ideas and we bring some of ours to the table, too. From that point, we branch out and research the ideas and concepts we discuss, review how last holiday went and think of elements and designs that have worked well for us in the past and start to put a plan together. While we always aim for something new, we also stick with our tried and true elements and always try to work that in. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest! We also take note of input from the heads of our sales accounts (both Wholesale and Retail) and our Buyer. You always have to keep it in the back of your head that you’re designing for Stonewall Kitchen and what does that mean? It’s a little bit more traditional and rooted in New England on some level because that’s our history and our base. The colors end up being pretty traditional. As a designer, I tend to bring in personal preferences but always within the framework of what will serve the brand best. We always stretch our limits just a little bit and we always learn from those ideas. And it’s good to bring that in – it keeps it fresh and interesting. I love to see what new designers we add to our team bring to the table to make it feel different, but still work for our brand.
Q: Has the packaging evolved over the years as you’ve learned from previous years?
A: Definitely. All of the steps that lead up to it getting to the store and then getting it to someone’s house from the store are important to consider. I have a running list at my desk of what does and doesn’t work. We’ve had years where we tried to include a wrap that was an added element and that was a nightmare for our fulfillment team to accommodate and was hard to merchandise in our retail stores. One year we tried a pale, white shimmer paper that we learned wouldn’t work due to scuff marks. You have to ask yourself, how do you keep the box bare bones but still beautiful and special? We used to not show the contents of the box, but that was tough on our Wholesale team. We started incorporating an image of the contents of the gift on the back of the box for ease of the guest, but then that adds another limitation for us when it comes to designing. Definitely all things to keep in mind when we sit down to design the boxes. It provides us with a roadmap of sorts to make sure we’re going in the right direction.
Q: How much time does the entire collection of holiday packaging usually take to design? Do you start with a particular gift first and then branch out from there?
A: Once our concept is finalized, it takes at least 10 months or so to send the final files to the printer. Ideally it’s more like 10-12 months, so about a year’s worth of time goes into it. You concept a lot – then you take everyone’s feedback and get everyone to buy into the idea without seeing all of the designed elements in person. That’s the hardest part, sometimes. We also spend a lot of time discussing the packaging with our vendors to make sure it’s all possible. When I first started designing holiday packaging, we had a “sky’s the limit” mentality with no parameters and we’ve really learned to tailor that down to what aligns with our strategy. Instead of adding a ton of fancy elements, we know now that usually one element is enough to make a statement and still allows us to stay on track. Sometimes I start with that “special” element when I’m brainstorming.
Q: How many variations does each year’s concept typically have across the different gifts and sizes?
A: We usually have three patterns and from those patterns there are four or so variations. What works for the Holiday Blueberry Jam gift won’t necessarily work for a larger gift like the Holiday Italian Dinner. Sometimes an allover pattern will work with a specific box style and other times it will only work for the lid. I list all of my options and then I go over the restrictions of each box and compare and contrast what works for certain boxes and what doesn’t. Then I try to divvy it up so there’s an equal representation of patterns across the collection.
Q: Are designs completed digitally or are elements hand painted and scanned into a computer?
A: A combination of both. For example, our 2016 collection concept was “botanical holiday.” I just wanted to get some ideas going so I did some sketches and scanned them in quickly. I had intentions of hand painting them in watercolors, but to get the idea rolling, I “painted” them in Photoshop and everyone loved how they looked! Last year, our packaging was all designed digitally and I can remember another year that it was all typography. The last couple of years, we’ve started to work in more physical drawings and it is true for our 2017 holiday designs as well.
Q: Do you work closely with our vendor to ensure that the real packaging mirrors the way you design the initial mock packaging in-house?
A: We meet early on in the process to show them what we’re thinking and talk through any limitations. Throughout the whole process we stay in close contact and are always communicating through email and phone as questions come up. They’re great about letting us know what does and doesn’t work, or what might be too risky to try and they usually try to do that up front when we’re sharing concepts. Our mock packaging that we create in-house to show our team for approval is SO different that it can be really tough to get people to buy into it sometimes. Elements like foils and metallic paper are non-existent when we make a mock in-house, so we really don’t see it all come to life until the packaging arrives.
Q: What has been your favorite packaging you’ve designed since you’ve been with Stonewall Kitchen and why?
A: That’s tough – there’s always something from each year that I think is a win and there’s always different reasons for those wins. The 2011 collection with the typography was the first collection I designed by myself, so that has always been a favorite of mine. The typography was so fun and I had a real sense of pride that I walked away with.
Our 2014 collection was also very beautiful, but it was a win for me for a different reason. I got to mentor another designer and watch her learn along the way to make her design concept work. It was a really fulfilling experience to let her chase her vision.
This year’s packaging is also one of my favorites because I love that they’re my drawings. To know it all started as a pencil sketch and that I brought it to life is so exciting. I have a painting background so when I get to tie that in with packaging, it’s a great feeling. It’s always great to hear what my co-workers have to say about the packaging each year.
Q: Any sneak peeks or hints you can give us for 2017 holiday packaging? What can we expect to see next year?
I had a chance to draw again and apply the same technique of adding color digitally, like this year’s packaging. It’s very vintage – think 50’s and 60’s. To me it feels like a classic Christmas movie. Even though the colors are very similar to this year’s and the technique of the boxes are the same, it’s still a very different feel. Stay tuned!
Watch our packaging come to life thanks to United Paper Box Co! And don’t forget to check out our entire Holiday Collection for your gift giving needs. Happy Holidays!