MENOMONY — Watching teams of University of Wisconsin-Stout students pitch packaging and graphic design ideas for an international client, Great Northern Corp. CEO John Davis felt like at home.
“It’s like that every day around here,” Davis said as he watched the scene from the top of a tiered classroom at Sorensen Hall.
All of this had to make Davis feel good. His company sponsors the Great Northern Corp. Collaboration Experience course. This spring, packaging, graphic design and interactive media students collaborated with one of Great Northern’s clients, London-based Revolution Beauty.
It was a win-win-win situation – the students gained valuable industry experience; Great Northern and Revolution saw innovative ideas that they might be able to use; and companies could benefit in the long run if graduates work for them.
Great Northern already employs 30 UW Stout graduates. Based in Appleton, the company manufactures packaging and retail displays and operates in five states, with Wisconsin locations in Appleton, Chippewa Falls and Racine. It has more than 1,700 employees.
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In 2020, the company committed $100,000 to the sponsored course to be held multiple times over a four-year period. The first course took place last fall. The course gift was coordinated by the Stout University Foundation.
“Our connection to Stout goes back decades. That was very valuable for us. We wanted to strengthen that connection,” Davis said, emphasizing the importance of adding a creative element to the graphic design aspect.
“The more closely we can connect with schools and the creative process, the better,” Davis said.
As in the course, Great Northern designs the physical packaging for clients but also provides graphic design solutions to improve product visibility at point of sale and product image.
When Davis saw packaging and graphic design students, two or more from each major, working as teams to come up with ideas for Revolution, he knew the course was working the way he had hoped.
“Building our culture is the foundation of everything we do as a company. How do we best help the customer?” said Davis.
The interdisciplinary course will be led by Robert Meisner, Director of the Packaging Program, and Nagesh Shinde, Professor of Graphic Design and Interactive Media. It is an advanced design selection for graphic design students and a graduation stone for packaging students.
“The course is having a tremendous impact on our faculty and also on our campus,” Shinde announced to the Davis and Great Northern and Revolution experts who listened to the students’ presentations. Some of the professionals were remote and some in person.
“This is a kind of pilot project for science, but also for industry. They have started something big and hopefully it will cascade and give us more visibility in the industry,” added Shinde.
“It was real stuff”
For the students, the course provided dual value – working with actual customers and with students from other majors to gain a better understanding of the processes they will encounter upon graduation.
“It was all real stuff,” said Ben Lindgren, a senior packaging major from Medford who was on one of five teams. “It felt like a very professional class, almost like you were actually doing the job.”
Packaging engineers and graphic designers from Great Northern visited the class as the projects were being developed to provide feedback. Revolutionary representatives also supported the students during the process.
Before the class, Lindgren didn’t realize “how much graphics influenced the packaging structure. Their design process is intense.”
He graduated in May and was hired as a packaging engineer at CTech Manufacturing in Weston.
The teams presented ideas for a new makeup line to Great Northern and Revolution, including the name, the concept behind the product, and the graphics and packaging for the point of sale.
Love Letter with a letterbox style display was the concept developed by Lindgren’s team. Her slogan was “Love is written in the stars for you”. A letter-sized box that opened like a letter contained the makeup and contained a letter to the customer.
The professional graphic designers and packaging engineers were impressed by both the Love Letter concept and other team concepts over two presentation days.
“Love Letter is such a powerful concept,” said Greg Cieri, Account Manager at Great Northern. “The shape of an envelope encourages people to open it. I love the combination of graphics and structure. It’s fabulous.”
Another team used a survey to develop a customer persona to determine a design and packaging approach. The team’s Divine makeup line aims to “make everyone feel like royalty in their own unique way” and instill a sense of “self-worth and inner beauty.” The graphics featured a cloud theme with vinyl overlays on the wrappers.
The vinyl editions were printed in UW-Stout’s Digital Process Lab. Packaging and product displays were created and tested in packaging laboratories.
Team member Lily Ness, a junior graphic design student from Mound, Minnesota, stated that she “really enjoys working with designers. I got a new perspective on a lot of technical stuff and as a designer how to make it (in packaging) easier.
“It felt like a very real environment — solving problems from two sides and having to meet in the middle,” she said. “I feel a lot more confident.”
Shannon Schultz, a senior packaging major from Watertown, appreciated the chance to work with another major. She said learning in the classroom can sometimes make students feel like they’re on an island.
“It was the most diverse project of my entire college career. They want to get out of class and know more, and I 100 percent feel like I did,” she said.
UW-Stout is the Polytechnic University of Wisconsin with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.