In the late 1920s, Donald Deskey began the work that would one day establish him as one of the founding fathers of industrial design. Deskey was the man responsible for the interior layout of such Big Apple landmarks as Radio City Music Hall and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as the designer of the city’s urban lighting system. Today, almost 70 years later, his legacy continues in the form of the company Deskey Associates (based in Cincinnati and New York), an industry leader in the field of packaging design IDs for brands and corporations.
Deskey works with the big players in packaged goods: Procter & Gamble, H.J. Heinz, S.C. Johnson Wax, Nestlé, Life Savers candy and Hasbro toys. And while Deskey has published extensive research on marketing to kids, it’s possible to distill its findings into a few key points. Making good use of characters, logos and bright colors (especially blue!) and enhancing them through ‘keepable’ packaging and collectibles are the rudiments of marketing success.
Deskey’s approach is based on a changing consumer dynamic, namely the fact that kids are increasingly becoming part of the purchasing world, and are doing so at an ever-younger age. What’s more, even the youngest kids are adept at recognizing brand iconography.
Designing building interiors and light posts might seem worlds away from creating successful packaging for consumer brand products, but the underlying aesthetic is the same: a visually appealing presentation that’s attractive to the general public. According to Laura Mason, Deskey Associates’ executive vice president in Cincinnati, the entire process revolves around two main ideas: ‘accepting a client’s present strategies for packaging and presentation’ and ‘challenging them in areas in that we feel improvements can be made on existing ID designs.’
According to Mason, Deskey takes a highly interactive approach to working with its clients. With the development of brand identity as a major aim, the packaging strategists first undertake a pre-design investigation to ascertain what a given product represents to a specific market. Deskey also conducts in-store research to get a sense of how the product stacks up on the retail floor with rival brands nearby.
Once this background work is done, it’s time for the Deskey design team to, as Mason puts it, ‘kick around some ideas and present maybe eight or 10 of them to the client’ for discussion. The important thing to remember here, according to Mason, is to present packaging in the form in which it will eventually hit the shelves. In other words, actually putting a label around a bottle for presentation and not simply laying it flat on a desk top. In a second round of discussion, the client and Deskey work together to finalize a single design concept.
Overall, it’s a process that has helped Deskey attain its status as one of the largest design firms in the U.S. while compiling a satisfied client list that’s a virtual Who’s Who of consumer-product manufacturers.