To change or not to change?: Plewes

Chris PlewesPresidentWilliam Plewes DesignQ. What does it take to be an agent of change?A. You have to look for opportunities for change. You have to see change, versus stagnation, as the key to success.And, actually, in tandem with that, you have...

Chris Plewes


William Plewes Design

Q. What does it take to be an agent of change?

A. You have to look for opportunities for change. You have to see change, versus stagnation, as the key to success.

And, actually, in tandem with that, you have to understand when not to change. That’s a key thing. You can’t just have random, uncontrolled change. You need to be really objective about assessing the equity of what exists.

You also have to be willing to see throughout the entire process the opportunity for change.

Q. How has the client-supplier relationship changed over the past couple of years?

A. I found there have been two camps. The recession has really eroded the trust of some clients. They find the design process a risky business at the best of times, and during the recession, some of them felt it was prudent to be very conservative.

Fortunately, a lot of our clients have respected the need for change. They have seen it as being consumer-responsive.

Some clients have discovered that while they have been hibernating, other manufacturers have been going great guns. So for the last six months, there has been a real ‘Let’s get going’ attitude.

Q. When you enter a relationship with a client, how do you determine just how open they are to supplier-initiated change?

A. Under ideal circumstances, there’s a common interest for change. We try to get a feel for that, not necessarily in the initial briefing, but in the two or three times we go back for discussion, before we even get into the design process.

For example, ‘You say you want evolutionary, but do you mean revolutionary?’ It’s very subjective what that means.

We’ve been on a project where they were saying evolutionary, and, in fact, they were demanding a lot more out of the design.

We came back to them and said, ‘This really is a revolutionary thing you’re looking for, considering your market.’

Q. How important to the process of change is understanding your client’s business?

A. I think it’s key. Don’t even consider change if you don’t know the client’s business. It’s courting disaster.

Understanding is key in two respects: understanding their consumer, but also understanding the client’s process.

Because the product manager may be a strong initiator for change, but if his company is not, if there are circumstances that make change complex or difficult, it may require a different method.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the design is going to be different, but the process of leading the client through the design process may be completely different.

Q. From where do you get your inspiration?

A. I would say other media forms, like tv, magazines, general imagery you see out there.

The other thing which is really important is observing the target consumer.

It doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in the bushes in the park watching people eat popcorn, but as much as possible, with friends or relatives, get an idea of who they are, because they are the real consumers.

Q. How do you stay on top of trends in your field?

A. Being predominantly in the packaging industry, I stay on top of trends by constantly reviewing the in-store environment, and trying to assess its potential.

And also by observing the fringe or related fields. For example, kids’ clothing and tv. Say video is more leading-edge, you can look at one as a means of suggesting where the future lies.

Q. What would be your advice to clients who have expressed dissatisfaction with their suppliers’ willingness and ability to initiate change?

A. Perhaps the supplier is incapable of innovation. Maybe they are just a tired, uninspired supplier.

Barring that, if I was a client and I wanted to hire somebody, how could I guarantee the supplier would initiate change?

First, the client should see what their track record is, establish whether they are good listeners, get a sense of whether they are creative, and whether they really have a passion for what we are doing.

That’s very important. Particularly because the supplier is going to be providing a design, plus a lot of background as to why this design is important, so that it can, in turn, be sold to all levels of management.

I would also advise the client to try to be as articulate as possible when specifying the strategy, what they want the package to evoke.