While watching teams of UW-Stout students present packaging and graphic design ideas for an international client, CEO John Davis of Great Northern Corp. felt right at home.
“This is what it looks like around our place every day,” Davis said as he observed the scene from the top of a tiered classroom in Sorensen Hall.
All of which had to make Davis feel good. His company is sponsoring the Great Northern Corp. Collaboration Experience course. This spring, packaging and graphic design and interactive media students worked with one of Great Northern’s clients, Revolution Beauty of London.
It was a win-win-win situation — students gained valuable industry experience; Great Northern and Revolution saw innovative ideas that they may be able to use; and the companies could benefit in the long run if graduates come to work for them.
Great Northern already employs 30 UW-Stout alumni. The Appleton-based company manufactures packaging and retail displays and has operations in ﬁve states, with Wisconsin locations in Appleton, Chippewa Falls and Racine. It has more than 1,700 employees.
In 2020, the company committed $100,000 in funding toward the sponsored course, to be held multiple times over four years. The first course was held last fall. The gift for the course was coordinated through Stout University Foundation.
“Our connection with Stout goes back decades. That has been very valuable for us. We wanted to make that connection stronger,” Davis said, citing the importance of adding a creative element with the graphic design aspect.
“The more closely we can connect with schools and the creative process the better,” Davis said.
Like in the course, Great Northern designs the physical packaging for clients but also provides graphic design solutions to enhance product visibility at the point of sale and for product image.
So when Davis saw packaging and graphic design students, two or more from each major, working as teams to develop ideas for Revolution, he knew the course was working as he had hoped.
“Building our culture is the foundation of everything we do as a company. How do we best help the customer?” Davis said.
The cross-disciplinary course is led by packaging Program Director Robert Meisner and graphic design and interactive media Professor Nagesh Shinde. It is an advanced design selective for graphic design students and a senior capstone for packaging students.
“The course has made a tremendous impact in our department and on our campus too,” Shinde announced to Davis and Great Northern and Revolution professionals who listened to the students’ presentations. Some of the professionals were remote and some in person.
“This is kind of a pilot for academia but also for the industry. You’ve started something big, and hopefully it will cascade and bring us more visibility in the industry,” Shinde added.
‘It was real-life stuff’
For the students, the course’s value was twofold — working with actual clients and with students from another major to gain a better understanding of the processes they’ll encounter when they graduate.
“It was all real-life 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 really doing the job.”
Great Northern packaging engineers and graphic designers visited the class as the projects were being developed to provide feedback. Revolution representatives also provided support to students during the process.
Lindgren didn’t realize before the class “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.
Teams presented ideas to Great Northern and Revolution for a new sub-brand of cosmetics, including the name, concept behind the product, and graphics and packaging for the point of sale.
Love Letter, featuring a mailbox-style display, was the concept created by Lindgren’s team. Their slogan was “Love is written in the stars for you.” A letter-size box, which opened like a letter, contained the makeup and included a letter to the customer.
The professional graphic designers and packaging engineers were impressed with the Love Letter concept as well as other team concepts over two days of presentations.
“Love Letter is such a strong concept,” said Greg Cieri, an account manager for Great Northern. “Being in the shape of an envelope, it encourages people to open it. I love the marriage of graphics and structure. It’s fabulous.”
Another team developed a customer persona through a survey to help determine a design and packaging approach. The team’s Divine line of cosmetics aims to “make everyone feel regal in their own unique way” and convey a sense of “self-worth and inner beauty.” The graphics included a cloud theme with vinyl overlays on the packages.
The vinyl overlays were printed in UW-Stout’s Digital Process Lab. Packaging and product displays were created and tested in packaging labs.
Team member Lily Ness, a junior graphic design major from Mound, Minn., found that she “really liked working with structural people. I gained a new perspective on a lot of technical things and as a designer how I can make it easier on (the packaging) end.
“It felt like a very real life setting — problem-solving from two ends 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 collaboratively with another major. She said classroom-only learning at times can make students feel like they’re on an island.
“It was the most well-rounded project of my entire college career. You want to leave class knowing more, and I 100 percent feel like I did,” she said.