The Power of Packaging: Q&A with Lumi’s Head of Product, Stephan Ango
We’ve all been told to never judge a book by its cover, but still, the temptation is there. And for good reason! When it comes to a product or item we’re interested in buying, packaging is important. It supplies us with cues regarding the product itself as well as the company (and the people, even!) behind the product. What’s more, as brands and businesses increasingly become online-only ventures, packaging becomes a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds—to continue the story beyond the computer screen and reach your customers in a tangible and memorable way. These days, the possibilities feel endless, but getting it right is hardly a no-brainer. The logistical challenges posed by packaging often extends beyond the purview of the average new business. Knowing what ink to use, or what paper or stamp or label to chose, is a specialty knowledge set.
That’s where Lumi comes in. With the tagline “Better packaging supplies at the press of a button,” Lumi not only solves a problem all businesses face, but introduces a world of exciting and inspired solutions. Founded by Stephan Ango and Jesse Genet, two entrepreneurs with art and design backgrounds who toiled to launch a business on Kickstarter and picked up a lot of packaging know-how along the way, Lumi is purpose-built for today’s unique and ever-evolving retail landscape. Today, the box your order arrives in is a storefront. The world of packaging carries with it a real opportunity to not only do something better than the rest, but to do something inspired.
We sat down for a Q&A with Lumi’s co-founder and head of product, Stephan Ango.
Hi Stephan! Tell me about Lumi.
The short version is that Lumi is a service that helps online businesses with their packaging. Our goal is to help ecommerce companies not have to be experts in packaging. They can trust us to manufacture the items they need to ship out their orders, and we also provide software that helps to manage all this. What tends to be interesting about the companies that we work with is that a lot of them are ecommerce only. Their packaging is really important because it’s the first physical interaction that people might have with their brand. So we try to help them make that look and feel unique, and really make their brand stand out in the mail. Our specialty is what we would call fulfillment packaging, whatever you use to ship. Boxes, envelope mailers, tapes, tissue and butcher papers, and then small things like rubber stamps, inner plastic bags. They’re tailored to anyone who is shipping ecommerce packages.
What was your path to starting Lumi?
In 2009 I started a business with my co-founder, Jesse Genet. We were studying design at Art Center Pasadena and funded a product, Inkodye, on Kickstarter. We brought it to retailers all over the world, and in the process of building that project, we learned a tremendous amount about building a supply chain. At the time, we noticed that when it came to the physical side of the business, there was really no software or friendly, transparent tools that helped you package your products. You actually had to pull up a phone book because many of these vendors don’t have websites. We felt that there was room for that to improve, and we wanted to share the knowledge we acquired with everyone.
Why should people/businesses/brands care? How/why is packaging an asset for a brand or company?
For the companies we work with in particular, the box that they get in the mail is really an extension of the experience they provide on their website. If you’re a company that cares about creating a cohesive experience for your customers, then from the moment that they arrive on your site to the moment they check out—that’s the first step of the user experience. The very next step is that they’re going to receive something in the mail. It’s not necessary to make it special, but it’s an opportunity that you have to make a great first impression. The companies that tend to care about their products tend to care a about their packaging. They want the feeling of opening the box to be an extension of their product and their website. And so it’s really about cohesion, it’s about making your brand stand out in comparison to other brands. It’s a way to make it interesting, and make it all feel more uniquely tailored to whatever it is that you’re doing.
Today you also have an opportunity to do this at a relatively low volume. Part of our goal is to be a scaleable partner in your supply chain. Even if you don’t have thousands of customers yet, you can create something that will grow with you, that you can make more and more interesting as you grow.
What interests you personally about packaging? What do you geek out about?
I really love the crossover between the digital and the physical world. My background is in industrial design—there’s always that transition where you’re working on your branding or your designs on the computer, and eventually that becomes a physical thing that you touch and feel and interact with in the real world. I enjoy seeing that translation between the two, and part of it is constraints of the physical world… when we deal with the actual physical thing, we’re talking about manufacturing processes, some of which are pretty much unchanged for over a hundred years.
The boxes that we make, for example, are printed using a process called flexography, it’s an incredible machine that uses a giant rubber stamp on corrugate. I really geek out about the process there, and how the ink is applied to the box, what that does to the contour of the shapes that you design in your logo, and how the imprecisions that might occur are the kinds of constraints that you can design towards.
Likewise, there’s a million different ways to design a box, and we actually wrote a long educational piece on our blog about why our stock boxes are better than your average box. It sounds boring, and you wouldn’t think there’s that much difference, but the way they’re folded, the way they’re assembled, the way the pieces tuck in, can vary a great deal. That whole aspect of the design of the cutting dies—there are hundreds of ways to do it!-—but only a few that will look and feel really smooth and nice when you actually interact with the box. That is not only a better experience for the customer, but can save you time and expense when it comes to assembling it. What I always love about packaging is seeing the constraints of the physical world and understanding how digital design can address them.
What are some brands who are doing a great job with packaging?
There is a trend right now—Vertical Commerce—which speaks to digitally-native businesses such as Casper, Warby Parker, MeUndies, Dollar Shave Club, etc.
I think they are really doing the most interesting things in packaging these days. The reason why is that in the past, packaging was about making something that looks good on a retail shelf. But as things move online more and more, you actually don’t need to sell the customer with your packaging. Your website is doing that work. The packaging is really only the vehicle to brings the item to the customer. Now, as we make this transition, the companies whose business model is 100% online, they’re the ones pushing the envelope. What is this new type of packaging? How can we make it interesting? It’s about the atmosphere and emotional experience you want to create… you can get rid of the sales aspect and focus on that.
Why is the visual language--from websites to ads to packaging--of a brand/company important? What makes for a strong visual language?
You’re looking for consistency and cohesion. That doesn’t mean everything has to look the same—but emotionally, it should feel like it’s part of the same story.
What you’re trying to achieve is a consistent emotional appeal and thoughtfulness. That’s how and why people will trust you. Visual language helps users understand and connect to your story. It’s about creating consistency in the relationship between what you say and what you deliver.
It’s also about creating a framework that allows the user to intuitively understand your product, to access its functional purpose. If you’re able to say something and follow through on it across the entire experience, from the abstract digital to the tangible physical, you have a much higher likelihood that people are going enjoy it and come back.
There’s an old adage that a brand is a promise. You’re promising to the customer that whatever it is you make is going to solve some problem for them. You’re promising it through what you say and how your product is presented. And when they use your product, you want them to feel like you’re fulfilling that promise.
What’s next? What are you working on/excited about in the space?
What I’m excited about with Lumi is continuing to encourage transparency between design and manufacturing. We try to do that through the products that we make, our web interface, the software we offer… It’s always improving.
We also have a podcast, called Well Made, about entrepreneurship, branding, packaging. Our goal is to be an authoritative voice to customers and people who are interested in those topics or aspiring to be a designer or entrepreneur. We feel a certain responsibility to tear down walls and expose how this whole world works.