• 18th November 2016

Judging high-end packaging awards - Toby Wilson, COO of MW Luxury Packaging.

We spoke with packaging expert Toby Wilson, COO of MW Luxury Packaging, to learn more about his involvement in the branding and packaging community, including his recent work as judge and panel member at The International Spirits Challenge and the Harpers Design Awards.

How did you become one of the judges? Was there a selection process?
Selection processes work differently for different events, but it’s often through recommendation and recognised experience within the industry. It’s common for event organisers to approach potential judges from a number of related sectors, so that the panel is made up of people from various backgrounds, with different experiences, and with different areas of expertise. At the Harpers Design Awards, I was chosen to represent the packaging industry, but there was also a Wine Director from a big restaurant chain, and a Senior Editor for a wine & spirits publication. It’s interesting, because it forces you to look at packaging from alternative perspectives, and there’s normally a bit of debate and banter – friendly, of course!

What made you decide to be a part of these events?
The International Spirits Challenge and the Harpers Design Awards are two of the biggest events in the packaging industry calendar, so it was a huge privilege to be asked to be a member of the panels, and something I was really excited to be a part of. Not only was it a chance for me to contribute towards and influence the future of packaging, but it was also a great opportunity to engage with the latest and most innovative packaging solutions on the market, and meet the names and faces behind these designs.

What were you looking for in the award entries?
There isn’t a single aspect that determines whether an entry will be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. I can’t speak for other judges, but for me personally, there has to be a range of aspects that all come together. I always start off with two basic criteria: whether an entry meets the category theme, and whether it’s in keeping with the vision of the brand. If we get the two ticks, I move onto more detailed, emotive, and subjective criteria, like whether I feel it achieves what it set out to do, whether it gets its message across, and so on. Because it’s such a subjective area, there’s always a lot of discussion and debate amongst the judges. It’s never an easy decision. In fact, there was one time an entry scored top marks from one judge, and bottom marks from another! Packaging is more complex than you may think, and having judges from a range of backgrounds, who can all offer a different perspective, helps to make sure we give a fair result.

Do you have any words of advice for 2017’s entrants?
Don’t just focus on the physical pack itself. I like to see everything come together as a whole, and see that entrants have put as much of themselves and their brand into the supporting aspects of the entry as they have into the the physical aspects. I’ve seen entries that have blown me away on initial impact, and really piqued my interest, but when I’ve read the supporting statement I’ve found no passion, no story, no edge – and it’s really disappointing when that happens. The supporting statement is one of the best ways to influence us, and show us why your packaging deserves the award, so don’t blow it! Use it as an opportunity to engage the judges and force them to rethink everything they thought they knew.

How long have you worked in the packaging industry?
I’ve been in packaging for 20 years now. I started out with branded packaging at a London design agencies before moving to MW 8 years ago, and I’m still here! MW provided me with a fantastic opportunity to hone my skills, and it’s been great to watch as the company has grown and developed over the years, securing contracts with some of the biggest spirits, cosmetics, and luxury brands all across the world. I feel very fortunate that my position enables me to be a part of huge events like the International Spirits Challenge and the Harpers Design Awards; it gives me an opportunity to meet some amazing people.

What do you expect from ‘luxury’ packaging?
‘Luxury’ is one of the most frustrating terms for me. So many brands use it, and so few deliver. In fact, I think there’s really only a handful of products, services, and experiences that can truly claim that they’re luxurious. In our industry, I’ve found that a lot of brands think that creating expensive-looking packaging gives them the right to claim the ‘luxury’ title, but it goes beyond that. For me, luxury means being aesthetically, functionally, and experientially superior, and that’s what we strive for here at MW.
The level of detail and attention that the MW team put into our packs is something that I think you really have to see to believe. For us, it’s about how the pack opens and closes, the textures and finishes, the layers of unexpected detail that draw you in, the quality of construction, and a whole host of other factors. And we have to focus on all of this while still maintaining the overall values and messages of the brand in question. For me, ‘luxury’ isn’t just a title; it’s a comprehensive, complex, and managed process that is the essential foundation of what we do, at every stage, right through from concept to consumer.

What packaging have you worked on that you’re most proud of?
I’m lucky enough to have worked with some of the most talented, inspiring, and creative people and brands in the world, so choosing just a single pack is impossible! However, I do have a bit of a soft spot for the packs we’ve manufactured for Johnnie Walker, as I’ve been working with the brand, in one capacity or another, for about 15 years now. One that stands out for me is the Johnnie Walker Blue 2015 Gift Pack that saw MW crowned International Manufacturer of the Year at the Luxury Packaging Awards. We created the packaging with the help of the incredibly talented designers over at Chic, and we're incredibly proud of that accolade.