Today I’m going to give my point of view of the whole Zoella £50 advent calendar debacle. If you’re out of the loop on this essentially Zoella teamed up with Boots to create an advent calendar which was priced at £50 and it made quite a lot of people understandable angry. First because of the price and also because of the items you get in inside the calendar.
Zoella commented on this in a recent video and one of the things she mentioned was that it took a year to make the calendar. I’ve seen a number of people pick up on this point, thinking that it shouldn’t take a year to make an advent calendar. I’m a designer and thought I would share the sort of design process that the people at Boots would go through while making a product like this. It may be “cheap tat” but I’m really not surprised it took a year to make.
I do not know Zoella, I do not work for Boots or for a design agency, I am writing this based on my knowledge of the design process.
First of all what you have to understand is that this advent calendar is just one part of the whole Zoella Christmas range. So there was more than just the calendar which had to be designed. There is also a desk calendar (£20), stationery box (£12.50), travel mug set (£18), candle set (£18) and much more. Just from looking at the photo you can see that the overall design matches.
Before even starting to work on separate products they would have had to create a brand. The Zoella 2017 Christmas brand if you will. Boots would have started off by going to a design agency and saying ‘hey, we want to partner with Zoella and make a range of Christmas products, design them for us’.
So the team would have gone away and looked at other Christmas brands. They would need to get an idea of the sort of gift sets people would buy as presents. At this point as well they would probably have started thinking about how much these things would be priced. They would get an idea of that from who would actually be buying these items. As you may be able to tell from the calendar they didn’t go a good job at this.
Possibly around this point they might have decided they wanted to create high-end products. Something that the customer would be willing to pay a little more for. They decide this right at the very start of the project because that goes on to influence the design of a product.
So either an internal design department or an external agency (I couldn’t find out which worked on this) would have started with creating the 2017 Christmas brand. They wouldn’t have just come out with the final thing product you see in stores.
They would have started out with a number of concepts. Designers will always take three concepts to the client. Maybe they did one with the traditional red and white colours of Christmas. And maybe they did one with silver and dark blue. The route they have chosen is this rose gold style with a green palm leaf pattern.
Now that they have the beginnings of concept the design team needs to build on that and refine it. This means a lots of experimenting with colour, type and patterns. There is a palm leaf pattern so that would have to be created. Again remember that the original idea probably wouldn’t have looked anything like what ended up on the packaging. The designers would have done multiple versions of everything before getting to a design that the client liked.
The thing people don’t realise about design is that everything, even the really tiny details are important. Take the confetti for example. As far as advent calendar gifts go it’s a slap in the face. But you can tell from looking at it that someone has designed that packaging. The script typeface matches the ceramic mug. The little envelope looks like it was custom-made. There is a small gold ‘Z’ sticker holding the envelope closed. A designer has taken the time and thought about the experience of opening this package. Even the confetti matches the colour scheme of the brand. Yeah it’s a crap gift. But someone spent a lot of time thinking about that gift.
When the designers had approval from the client for the final designs they can start applying it to products. The designers will take the visual elements, the type and patterns and apply them to products. So everything from the advent calendar to the stationery box would have gone through another series of development and refining. This is so they get the right design elements on the right products.
They would also be working on the items in the advent calendar. Figuring out what would be included. Even something as simple as the layout of windows have to be designed.
The designers would also be working on the packaging. There is no use creating a nice product and putting no thought into the packaging. Those original visual elements would be applied to the packaging in some fashion.
The designers would then have to think of the finishes. The thickness of the card for the packaging. What type of travel mug, what kind of fabric for the hat, what type of foiling should be used. They would then need to find a printer to create the packaging. Somewhere to manufacture all the products.
This process is quite important when it comes to creating a high-end product. Things like the weight of a product or the thickness of the packaging can enhance the idea that something is worth spending more for.
MEETINGS & MARKETING
All the way through this process the designers would be asking the client for feedback. Constantly changing the designs based on what the client wants. They would also be showing the work to Zoella for her input. The designers would also be working closely with a marketing agency. All these products need to be sold. They would be creating imagery for the products and using that to made advertising campaigns. Meetings alone can add a huge amount of time to a project.
I think it’s also important to note we don’t really know how much input Zoella had on these products. Yes Boots called it a collaboration, and she obviously made some design choices. She does mention that she likes the palm fronds. Tropical designs have been in trend this year though I wouldn’t exactly call it Christmassy. But it’s impossible to tell just how much she influenced the overall design.
The problem is it’s quite easy to assume designing something like this advent calendar involves no more work than popping into Tesco and picking up a few cheap gifts. The content of the calendar doesn’t help because it does look like a collection of items you could feasibly find in Tesco. This is the reason why you find so many people shouting ‘but why is it £50?!?’.
The thing with most high-end brands is that the cost of the product is far higher than the cost to make the product. If you don’t believe me take a look at these Dolce and Gabbana t-shirts. People will pay £50 for this because it has Zoella’s name on it. It has been designed to look like it is worth that price. But mostly it is that price because some people will pay it.
I think the thing everyone is forgetting is that high end advent calendars aren’t inherently bad. A lot of stores are selling them this year. Yankee Candle has one, Next is selling a calendar for £40. The only difference (apart from them having 24 gifts) is that these calendars aren’t being advertised to young teenagers who probably don’t have that sort of money lying around.
If you still think a year sounds like a long time for this process take a read of this article from Creative Review. It’s from 2012 and is about the redesign of the No7 packaging which took 4 years to complete.