AN INTERVIEW WITH RON FARNUM, FOUNDER OF DAMEN JACKSON
Ron Farnum, is the founding partner and “Premiumizer” of successful Chicago-based packaging and branding agency, Damen Jackson. For nearly 20 years, his agency’s growth has been built around a focus on positive, long-term relationship building, better collaborations, and consistently doing great work for their clients. To name a few, the agency’s client list includes Fisher Nuts, Chapstick, Owens Corning, Daisy, Disney, and Kitchen Aid.
Pantone sat down with Ron to discuss great packaging design, some favorite projects and how he and his team rely on Pantone products to help communicate and achieve color throughout the process.
Q (PANTONE): TELL US A BIT ABOUT DAMEN JACKSON AND HOW THE AGENCY GOT ITS START.
RON FARNUM (RF):
Damen Jackson is a branding agency focused on delivering clear, simple experiences. We work collaboratively and strategically with our clients to ensure we bring their unique brand stories to life. In 1998, when my co-founding partner and I left the agency we worked for, one of our clients at the time, Thomas & Betts, had said to us, “If you happen to jump off on your own, we would go along with you.” That first project – a 500 SKU packaging project – was the first one we took on as a new agency, and soon after, several others followed. We were pretty fearless back in the day, but it has certainly paid off.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT TEAM STRUCTURE LIKE?
We originally started with three people, and then we grew the business up to 25 people in two locations: Chicago and Boca Raton. In 2007, we amicably split off the Florida office and I kept Chicago. Today, our team consists of two senior designers, two production artists, two account and project managers, an administration support person, and myself in strategy. We will frequently also bolster our team with freelance copywriters, designers and specialists, such as videographers or web programmers.
Q: HOW INFLUENTIAL DO YOU THINK PACKAGING DESIGN IS ON PURCHASING DECISIONS?
Packaging is very important, but it’s always changing because of how much online shopping has evolved our experiences. Our goal as package and brand designers is to help clients find an advantage at the shelf (or at first view online), which can be a key message, an impactful image or a bold color that creates an immediate connection with the consumer and provides the “tie-breaker” that gets our clients’ product into the cart rather than the competitor’s product.
Q: DO YOU USE METALLICS IN YOUR PACKAGING DESIGNS?
As frequently as we can. Metallics bring a visual impact that makes products stand out at-shelf. Metallics add dimension and light that plays into the retail display. We use metallics to help differentiate a product from the competition and to really punctuate a message or an image. We use metallics when we want to elevate a product from a basic to a more premium positioning.
We hear this in consumer research and focus groups all the time with metallic packaging, “Oh, that one really caught my eye.” And, really, it’s pretty hard to catch someone’s eye on a shelf in a retail environment without having something on there that shimmers, pops, and really just draws them in – and that’s part of the reason why we would recommend using a metallic; to provide that extra ‘oomph’ on the shelf from a visual perspective.
Q: WHEN WOULD YOU CHOOSE A METALLIC INK OVER FOIL STAMPING?
This would typically be a discussion with the printer and operations, but the fewer separate operations on a single package, the more cost savings. In terms of value proposition of metallic ink, most of the time they can be run in-line with the rest of your colors without requiring a separate printing process that adds cost to the overall package, while still providing the desired impact. A metallic foil requires a separate operation entirely – you have to pull out the print, let it dry, and then run it through the foil machine. Printing metallic inks saves additional steps operationally, saves cost, and I think, particularly with the premium inks for packaging, visually, you get the bang for your buck. Those metallics really hold their own against foil, so I tend to have a hard time justifying a cost boost of a foil over metallic ink.
We are always looking for an opportunity for our clients to have some differentiation or advantage on the shelf. I think one way to do that is to leverage printing techniques that can make the product really sing and jump off the shelf versus the competition. We are looking for any kind of a tiebreaker we can give our clients, because the one the consumer picks up often ends up being the one that they put in the cart. When someone is comparing products, if one looks more premium and the cost is similar, then they are probably going to buy the more premium one.
Q: HOW OFTEN DO YOU USE METALLICS IN YOUR DESIGNS?
Typically, we recommend them when we feel the brand can sustain a premium image on a collateral piece or packaging in particular, which I would say happens roughly 35-40% of the time. Depending on the usage, there can be (though not always) a higher cost for using metallic ink. However, the value of a metallic on shelf is well worth the incremental investment, as it ties back to that visual impact and power to drive purchase. A four-color box is fine, but if you add in a metallic to enhance an element or image, you are probably going to see a better return on that investment.
Q: IS THERE A FAVORITE PACKAGING DESIGN YOU CAN RECALL THAT YOU CREATED WITH METALLIC INK?
Fisher Recipe Nuts comes to mind, where we used a metallic gold to evoke a premium image vs. store brand recipe nuts.
Q: DO YOU EVER ENHANCE PACKAGING WITH SPECIAL COATINGS OR EXTRA ELEMENTS?
Sure. Any time we can find an opportunity to leverage a new unique type of finish, we are going to talk to our clients and our packaging and print vendors to see what we can do. One of the things that I would like to see in general in the market would be some more education to designers about what is feasible and cost effective in the printing arena. Clients are often cost conscious of the packaging as part of their overall cost of goods. They never want to spend more than they have to, but when it comes to the package becoming a competitive advantage, then they’re willing to invest in it. If we can find cost-effective ways to work with a printer and our clients to really create impact on the shelf, then we’re going to do that. It takes a little more planning in advance – you have to build that into your time frame to do a little exploration and experimentation to make sure that it’s going to work for you, but I think they’re all meaningful explorations.
Q: IN YOUR DESIGN PROCESS, DO YOU FIND YOU AND YOUR TEAM GRAVITATING MORE TOWARD BASIC METALLIC COLORS LIKE GOLDS AND SILVERS OR TO MORE COLORFUL HUES?
We’ve mainly been more into the jewelry colors: the golds, silvers, and platinums, because they have that traditional premium nature. However, with the range and opportunity of other metallic colors that are out there now, like the blues, which are quite impactful and beautiful, we’re starting to recommend more and more of those into our designs.
Q: ARE YOU ABLE TO DESCRIBE YOUR COLOR PALETTE DESIGN PROCESS?
That tends to be pretty collaborative. When we get the design concepts far enough down the road, I sit with our designers, and sometimes our production team and the account folks, and we fan out colors and try and pick out what we feel is really going to work well in that context and for that particular package.
Q: DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PANTONE METALLICS COLOR AND WHY?
No, because they all have their place somewhere! But if you FORCED me to choose, I’d select PMS 10252 C because it is just a gorgeous mid-tone that’s really interesting. There’s a serenity to it – its powerful but also peaceful.
Q: ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY BRAND OR PACKAGING DESIGNS CURRENTLY USING METALLIC INKS?
Yes, we are actually revitalizing a particular premium food brand packaging right now, and we are considering using more metallic colors to really create impact. The current design uses a heavy black background and metallic gold type and brand mark. It’s very sophisticated and elegant. We’re probably going to print a holiday sleeve with a metallic red bow and black and gold colors to really provide a holiday and premium image, but still tightly related to their brand. I’m pretty excited about the results of that one – it’s really turning out well. On a different project, we are using jewel-tone product differentiator colors, like a purple and a brighter blue and a brighter green. We’re discussing the opportunity to possibly throw metallic on those to really help the products look more premium over the competition on- shelf.
Q: WHEN WOULD YOU DECIDE TO ADD IN A METALLIC COLOR?
We start with how the product is positioned in the market space and consider if it needs to be elevated. Then we would pull a metallic into the working palette, as a way to “premiumize” a product line and help consumers cue into the fact that this one is a little more special than somebody else on the shelf. I would love to say that metallics are on our minds from the get-go, but I think it’s really important to connect a reason for a metallic to exist on a package rather than just “because”. To me, it does justice to the process that way. Once we’ve positioned that product line where it belongs and begin the design, then metallic comes into consideration with printing. We talk about line colors, process, varnishes, leveraging the substrates – that sort of thing. Then we all get around the table and start pulling chips, which is really fun. I love doing that.
Q: SO YOU’RE USING PANTONE CHIPS IN YOUR PROCESS?
When they’re sitting every day at their desks, the designers use the formula guides. When we know we are using specialty colors, we definitely use the Pantone Chips because you really have to see a full range of blue, for example, from lighter to more saturated to help decide what really feels right. That’s when the chips come into play – we pull them, set them up, stare, and fight about them. It’s a great part of the process, too – being able to disagree and help push the design together. At the end of the day I think the designs end up stronger and more appealing this way.
Q: WE LOVE HOW YOU USE THE WORD, “PREMIUMIZED”. DO YOU ALL USE THAT TERM A LOT IN YOUR OFFICE?
Yeah, premiumized. It’s not my own word, but I have heard it before, so I’m borrowing it. Actually, it might have been a client who said it first, but it is kind of interesting — everyone seems to understand what it means.
Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY DESIGN ADVICE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OTHER DESIGNERS?
I think about this often and my recommendation for designers everywhere would be to be bold – whether it’s with color, design, or structure – and be confident about making bold recommendations to clients. Whether the client realizes it or not, design is a critical aspect of the consumer perception of their product, and hopefully they’ll understand that a bold, confident design represents a leadership position in the market. That’s what we, as designers, are paid to do: to think more boldly and confidently and ultimately make our clients look as good as possible over their competition. You can’t do that by playing it safe. You really have to go out and give it your best, your most creative, but also be flexible because it’s a game of compromise. Everyone has a vote, and unfortunately in a lot of cases, bold and aggressive designs can sometimes be filtered out a little bit more vanilla, but it’s important to start by challenging a preconceived notion and get out there with something really creative. That would be my advice.
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