Staff focus: Lisa Creighton

At Cepac we're incredibly proud of our people. This is one in a series of staff focus articles where we shine a light on the many faces who make up our team.

Can you describe your role at Cepac?

I’m a designer here at Darlington. I get enquires in from customers and typically handle them in one of two ways. Sometimes we have a tight brief and work to a specification. Or we’ll get a more relaxed brief where the client wants our creative input. We’re quite well known for our creative work so it’s not uncommon for us to get quite heavily involved creatively.

In terms of your brief, how different are the requirements from clients in terms of your involvement?

Some clients come to us at the very beginning of the process whilst others might have an existing product which they might want to replicate exactly or improve upon. Commonly we’ll get a sample of an existing pack to get an idea of where things stand. Some clients have their own in-house design teams or agency support so it’s not uncommon to receive artwork files to support this. It can vary hugely.

At the other end of the spectrum, and this is my favorite type of job, is when we get a design brief, or challenge, and it’s all on us to create something from scratch. A good example of that was when we created the Broadlands advent calendar which was a large hexagonal box housing 24 small wine bottles for the countdown to Christmas. That was a real challenge because the client knew what they wanted to achieve but were open to exploring how they might do it. We came up with loads of creative concepts and, with the clients blessing, even designed options that pushed what was possible within budget and production limitations. One of our ideas really wasn’t realistic, there was far too much hand finishing, but I gifted it to my daughter who loved it. Of course, it’s started something—I feel obliged to make her something every year now!

Although there was a lot of pressure to make it work it was also a pleasure to work closely with the client to get to where they wanted it. It was also an interesting job because we worked closely with the Cepac Rawcliffe site on elements of the pack, pulling in their expertise too. It’s always good to collaborate with the other sites and on this occasion, I took a trip to Broadlands to watch them packing the trial run, really getting a grip on how the pack would work. It was brilliant to spend a bit of time with the client too, making suggestions about how the packs were built and filled to ensure that process went smoothy too. There are a lot of projects where you might never need to meet with the client in person, this was a nice exception.

One huge benefit to that job was that the client gave us a realistic timeline to spend on creative. I think they approached us in November, and they requested that we could design and produce it for the following Christmas. This allowed us breathing space to ensure that the chosen concept was absolutely going to work end-to-end, and it allowed the client time to consider each of the options produced and really interrogate what would work for them.

What is the typical process from design to testing and production?

It really depends on the type of job we’re doing. With a really creative job we can find ourselves presenting ideas to the client before we’re at a stage when we can do any testing. That’s because there are a lot of factors that we have control of that might change depending on the final design. Things like the corrugated flute or the strength of the papers which can both be adjusted to suit the design.

Things like the advent calendar are sent to our Rotherham site for crush testing so we like to be quite a long way down the line before we do that. That example had to be sent to Rotherham because it was so strong that we couldn’t test it here at Darlington. Strength was an important factor there as the pack had to protect 24 bottles and withstand transportation over to America. Our design was easily capable of that.

Because there are so many factors which make up a successful product you must be open to the idea of change through the process. Each time we test something it opens up the potential for alteration to a design and you’ve kind of got to plan around that.

At the other end of the equation, where we’re recreating something existing, we know the form and the board grade, and we simply match that standard. There’s still a lot of testing involved but we know what to expect and that it’s possible.

How has your job changed over time?

Well, I started off in internal sales, so my job has changed quite significantly! Before working at Cepac I was employed by an aluminum window company and I didn’t go down the university route, instead learning on the job. I started out as a business administrator and the boss showed me how to do payroll so that dropped on to my desk. Then it was a bit of the accounts—all sorts. It was quite a small company, less than twenty people, which gave me the opportunity to develop. I’d taken an interest in the orders and the design side so my boss suggested that he train me up in it. That really caught my interest, I loved that side of the job.

I started at Cepac in sales and saw they were advertising for a trainee designer. I was really torn at the time because I enjoyed my previous role, and one of my colleagues was supportive but clearly didn’t want me to leave the team. I ended up applying for it very close to the deadline as I was so unsure. I feel it was the right decision though.

The kind of design we do here was very different to what I’d done before. The consequences of a design mistake are also very different with card boxes as to with windows. There’s a tolerance with windows which just doesn’t exist with board, so you’ve got to be particularly careful. That’s part of the reason we get so many people involved, constantly checking.

Because I’ve moved around a bit, and because I’m naturally curious, I think I know the business quite well. I understand how long particular processes take, and what’s involved, which helps me get work through the company.

So throughout all that change I’ve been very happy. This job can really give you a buzz so I’m happy where I am now. I also get on with everyone I work with here and think there’s a lot of respect which goes both ways.

I have done ILM (The Institute of Leadership & Management) training in management so it would be great if somewhere down the road I might put that into practice.

Can you tell me about any standout events or achievements at Cepac?

I remember one clearly from my early days. We designed a number of products for a client who wanted something really different. It was the first time I had been involved in doing something that was completely outside of what we would usually produce, and it did end up on the shelf which was very satisfying.

It was a wrap to hold trays of pet food but instead of displaying them square we made it up to display as a diamond. What we created was a wrap that came back over the top and the individual products peaked through the box which held them in place top and bottom. That was a learning curve for me and the folk out on the shop floor as well. They were quite intricate so there was a lot of work making sure we could glue them. A lot of trialing went into that, and the only shame was that it was a short campaign, so they weren’t out in the wild for very long. But it was an impactful campaign that rolled out in a variety of settings and on different in store displays so a lot of work went into that, and it worked well!

What do you think Cepac do particularly well?

I think it’s ensuring that the customer gets the kind of quality that they want. We hear back from our clients that they value us for the quality of our product. There have been occasions where we’ve lost clients on price only for them to return to us later because they weren’t getting the same standard of product from our competitors. Whilst that’s obviously a shame for the client I think it’s good to know for ourselves that we’re really up there.

We’ve recently invested in a new print process, cutting edge digital print. A lot of effort is going in to perfecting that process here at Darlington as well as establishing which projects and products are the right fit for that kind of print. So, it’s not just about quality, it’s about quality and innovation.

From the jobs I’ve seen on the digital press we are there with quality. We recently did an amazing job at an e-commerce pack which looks so vibrant and eye catching. Being able to offer that type of print is excellent.

We’re currently promoting the benefits of digital print with regular posts on LinkedIn and on the News section of the website. I think this is just the beginning of showcasing some of the amazing things it can do and there’s loads of potential for it in future.