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Can digital print be too useful?


I am a true believer in the power of digital print to change packaging design. The speed, agility and flexibility of this technology can make the lumbering elephant that is a traditional packaging timeline really get something of a ‘wiggle on’. This will facilitate more creative, integrated and relevant use of the medium to communicate. But I do have one premonition about the shape of things to come which concerns me slightly…

A quarter of a century ago we used to take drawings of pack designs to a meeting. If the client wanted changes, they expected to wait a fair few days for the next round, and it wasn’t going to be a case of ‘fifty new versions’. A laborious visualisation stage certainly focussed the mind – feedback tended to be precise and carefully managed. Then along come macs and email. Pretty soon clients figured out they could ask to see something in ten alternative colours, and there was no technical reason why their wish could not be our command by just after lunch. Of course, this left agencies with a less firm hold on the creative reigns. This drop in creative control lead to a subsequent drop in creative quality. But such is the way of the world.

Coming back to today (or at least tomorrow) is digital print the next email – another link of control to be broken? Given its speed and flexibility, might a client soon stand on the line, tweaking the packagings logos bigger and smaller on the actual print run, and playing around with the colours? In part this might be a fantastic thing – from decision to action in real time. But what if they don’t invite the designers? Or choose to ignore them? The means of creative production are now even more so in the hands of the marketing team. This is not guaranteed to make the work better.

So this comes back to a rather timeless principle: Does the client value the skill and judgment of their creative suppliers? And has the agency done the legwork to earn and get the clients trust in the first place? Technology is only going to make things faster, so it’s going to be ever more important to take the time to get things off on the right foot in the first place for us all as people.



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