Robin Walton, Partner – Creative Director Narrow House

May 7th 2024

«We are a studio where we put creativity before everything and we are passionate about design»

How was Narrow House born?
After years working in large design agencies in Spain and the United Kingdom, we decided to set up our own studio with the idea of ​​doing things in a different way: closer, with a less commercial approach, and being able to create a space where creativity and customer were the priority in all our projects.

They define themselves as "passionate about design", with a motto: "head, heart and common sense." Can you explain a little more about your way of understanding design?
We are a studio where we put creativity before everything and we are passionate about design. Design for us is not only about producing something beautiful and attractive, but it involves meeting our clients' objectives and solving a problem or need. We think that designing without restrictions, without objectives and without taking into account the client and their needs is not design, it is art.
And we understand design as the process by which we solve the visual communication needs of our clients, with three types of parameters existing in this process: rational-ideational (mind); emotional (heart) and functional (common sense).
For us, every design has to work on these three levels and we work with this objective: we create an idea or concept based on our experience and knowledge (head), which connects emotionally with the client, consumer and with ourselves (heart), and that can be brought to fruition, be achievable, and be within the budgetary and production constraints of our clients (common sense). Hence our motto: with head, heart and common sense.

What characterizes a good packaging design?
For us, good design must meet and exceed our clients' initial objectives, or solve a problem in an innovative or creative way. If it is also striking and connects emotionally with the consumer, making them smile, or generating a feeling of nostalgia, for example, it is a plus.
As packaging designers, if we pick up a pack, admire it, sigh and say "I wish we had made it ourselves", then it's a good design!

In his projects, illustration is very important. Because?
Perhaps many of our designs are based on illustrations simply because of the type of client and projects we attract, but we do not believe that illustration is more or less important than other aspects of design (fonts, photography, color, finishes, etc.). In our case, illustration allows us to create not only an emotional bond with the public, but also tell stories that give meaning and significance to the branding universe.

What role does typography play? And the color?
As we mentioned previously, typography, color and finishes are just some of the tools a designer has at their disposal. Sometimes color is the most crucial in a design, other times it is less important. The same thing happens with paper and finishes, sometimes the choice of paper is essential, while other times such special paper is not necessary. Each project, each design and each client is different and, as pack designers, we have to combine this mix of tools well so that the design achieves its objective.

Some of his creations almost look like works of art, such as the Dr Hahnz packaging. Is art a source of inspiration?
I think that most designers have some experience in art (in its broadest sense) but, above all, they have a love for art.
Steve Jobs defined creativity as the process of connecting things. In the creative process, everything can be a source of inspiration: history, literature, art in its broadest sense... but we are also inspired by banal events in our daily lives.
For example, for the Ainé white wine project, by Adega Conde de Albarei, the conceptual reference we used is mythology: the goddess Ainé, Celtic goddess of the sky and fertility. For the animal food project by Dr Hahnz that you mention, the inspiration came from the Doctor Dolitle film, in which the protagonist appears surrounded by animals.
But, as we have mentioned, for us design is not art. Art tries to communicate artists' emotions, opinions or feelings... and our work tries to fulfill an objective and solve problems or meet needs.
However, like many other designers, we are passionate about art and that is why every Christmas we dare to produce a nativity scene that we share with our friends and clients... this project is self-initiated, without commission, without clients... and in this specific case, we do consider that this is art (or our attempt to make art), not design.

They work mainly for the food and beverage sector. Do you think you are the most open to creativity?
We think that all sectors are open to creativity and immersed in a process of constant change. The question is how far you can take that creativity, what are its limits. And the answer is almost always marked by the conditions of the order and the perceptual limitations of the client and consumer.
Let's think, without going any further, about how the world of wine, to speak of a sector in which we are experts, has changed its codes of representation in recent decades. First with the arrival of the so-called “wines of the new world” (Australia, Argentina, USA...), whose designs did not have the cultural restrictions and the traditional anchorage of European wines and, later, with the incorporation of new generations of consumers. , with a vision more open to new experiences and very different from what wine is as a product, which has had a direct reflection on the design of these labels.
Breaking the codes is very difficult, so sometimes, generational changes within clients are what open a door to new creative codes, but we do not think that this only affects the food and beverage sector, it is something general. If the client wants to risk breaking/changing established creative codes, regardless of what sector he comes from, he will do it (there is greater risk, but also the possibility of greater rewards).

Have you carried out projects for other sectors?
Yes, although most of our work is in the food and beverage sector (mass consumption), we are lucky to work and have worked in other sectors such as DIY, hygiene, parapharmacy, etc. It is normal to focus on certain sectors because when a client sees our work it is because they are looking for someone to solve specific communication problems in a certain way, and they usually look at products similar to theirs. In addition, many of our new clients come recommended by others in the same field of activity. But, luckily, other clients from other sectors also notice us. We are fortunate to be able to work on very diverse projects and sectors.

Tell us about two of your works.
It's hard to choose just two! As designers, our favorite project is the one we are working on at the moment. One of our latest projects has been for Néboda, a young vertical farming company from Galicia. They contacted us to help them launch their brand and their first product (fresh basil). After meeting the team, we were impressed with their passion and energy, and we tried to reflect this in our pack design and show the people and philosophy behind the project, while also informing consumers about the concept of vertical farming. Our solution was to create a “family” of fun characters who dedicate themselves to the daily task of growing their produce “vertically.”
Another project that we are very fond of is “La Picona”. As in Néboda, it is a design that uses illustration and humor. We are very passionate about injecting humor, whenever possible, into our designs. La Picona is a range of traditional Spanish bravas sauces (mild, spicy and "make my eyes burn"). We created an illustration based on Spanish playing cards, with hidden elements on the label that would tell a little about the product and its origin (devils, the flag of Madrid, etc.), and making small changes to the main illustration to help communicate the spiciness level. The label includes gold finishes and silkscreen varnishes to communicate that it is a premium product.

What do you think are the trends in packaging design currently?
It is difficult to answer this question because we live in a world of constant cultural hybridizations, although some point out certain trends. There are agencies with a marked retro style, others with a more minimalist style. Some make illustration and manual lettering their leitmotiv, others use photography as the central element of their designs...
Keeping an eye on how design trends evolve is fine, but sometimes we feel that packaging design is focusing too much on these trends instead of on the customers or the problem that needs a solution. And, sometimes, brands update themselves too much, losing all their history, to keep up with new times and fit with current trends (blanding).
For us, the most important thing and what should take precedence over the evolution and trends of design is that it tells the client's story (if they have one), and helps them convey their message in the best way.

Where is the design sector evolving?
This is a question that no one can answer with certainty, but we hope that the evolution begins with returning to a customer-centric attitude, and we realize that design is not only about making the packs attractive but They must meet a need.

Do you think new technologies such as AI will have a decisive role in the future?
Definitely. AI is here and it is here to stay… There are basic problems related to copyright, production problems, lack of individuality… but we think that AI can help in the design process.
AI, like all technologies that have emerged in the past, is changing not only the way we work but also the way we think, just as the introduction of the Macintosh did in its day, which changed the design landscape, formally and conceptually.
The important thing is to treat AI like any other design tool, just as we would treat Photoshop, Illustrator, or even a pencil.
From our point of view, the problem with AI is that it allows “non-designers” to create beautiful things… however, design has to go beyond aesthetics. We are at a crossroads in the design industry, if we only focus on appearance we risk extinction; In a few years anyone will be able to create attractive packaging, but only a designer can think outside the box, tell a story and help a brand stand out. Therein lies our great challenge.

What are your next projects?
Luckily, right now, our studio is very, very busy!
We continue to open our spectrum of clients, having increased our number of international clients in recent years, mainly for several reasons. It is a sign of the globalization process in which we are immersed. Not only goods move from one side of the planet to the other, but also ideas.
Secondly, online meetings, enhanced by the pandemic, have allowed relocation and being able to work with clients from different countries from anywhere in the world.
And thirdly, we speak English well!
We have in hand, among others, packaging projects for wines, fragrances and food. The studio is full of interesting projects that we hope to soon share with readers of News Packaging.

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