Taja Dockendorf of Pulp+Wire on What Drives Her Designs
The founder of the Portland-based branding and marketing agency discusses the strategy behind her work.
“The brand’s job is to meet the consumer in the aisle and present a new idea, product, viewpoint, or opportunity in a way that speaks to the buyer’s needs.”
MH+D ASKS DOCKENDORF TO TELL US MORE.
Q. Why focus on CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands in the natural and organic space?
A. My focus on natural and organic products developed from my passion for and experience of supporting better-foryou brands and products. But this did not happen overnight. The focus of my company on CPG brands developed from my strategic outlook and 360-degree view of design as a whole. Creative design should be an immersive experience and should embrace, educate, and inspire the consumer. That can be done with design and messaging but needs to be rooted in why a customer needs this product, why should they care, and why should they buy it? Then we solve those questions with the creative design, ideally to get them to buy. Design and packaging drive the customer first, so it must be compelling enough to catch their attention. Then, once purchased, you have a new opportunity to educate the consumer, relate to them in their home, make their day better, and provide a solution for them and their family. Is this a lot to ask of your packaging? No, not if done right (which is why I love the challenge of the CPG space and why I embrace the natural and organic product world), because we can make a real difference for people.
Q. How does form follow function in the work you do for brands?
A. Your packaging vessel’s fundamental purpose should be to elevate what is inside and create a positive experience with the brand. Take, for example, the box that held your iPhone: unwrapping the crinkling cellophane, the suction as you open the top of the box to reveal the phone tucked neatly under a tray containing simple instructions—the unboxing creates an experience with anticipation. And, at the other end of the packaging spectrum, what about a bag of your favorite trail mix? It’s made for consuming on the go in a durable plastic bag with a resealable top. When designing packaging, we are very aware of its end use, how it will affect the consumer, and how it can make their experience better, or more elevated, or create a moment of happiness. How you use the product is just as important as the vessel (packaging) it comes in. The vessel sets the tone and is a psychological play to guide the consumer’s perceived value and health function. In some cases, with more prominent brands, it tricks the consumer into thinking the product inside is just as good as the outer packaging. So we strive to balance the value, the perception, the mission, and the story with the look and feel because that is how you build consumer trust.
Q. Why is the consumer process so important to the work you do?
A. Understanding the consumer is paramount to creating a brand or packaging that meets them where they are in the buying process. To know the consumer means you are aware of their age, what else is in their shopping cart, their family dynamic, and what influences them to buy. Armed with this knowledge, you can tailor a creative solution to seamlessly fold into their daily journey or create a look they are excited to purchase.
Q. Design is so subjective. How do you tailor your brands and clients to different consumer groups?
A. You can have multiple consumer groups, and the key is to find the common thread that links them together. From architecture to interior design to creative branding and packaging, it is all about knowing your client (and their audience) and tailoring a solution that considers multiple viewpoints. We find the common elements, like what gets them excited, understand their pain points, and then present a solution. It’s not always the perfect solution, but sometimes it is the solution that solves part of the problem or answers a question that helps them move forward.
MH+D IS PROUD TO PARTNER WITH ACCLAIMED ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHER TRENT BELL ON HIS ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN, AND PHOTOGRAPHY PODCAST. TO HEAR BELL’S CONVERSATION WITH DOCKENDORF, PLEASE VISIT TRENTBELL.COM/PODCAST