Meet Guest Judge Jeremy Harger

Jeremy is design director at Loot Crate and guest judge for PPA’s 2018 Student Design Challenge.

Jeremy’s over 20 years of paperboard packaging design experience includes work for Nike, Cole Haan, Coach and Lucky Brand. At Loot Crate—a leader in the pop culture fandom mystery subscription box space—he divides his time between helping design and curate the products and packaging that goes into the crates as well as creating some of the unique box transformations the company has become known for.
PPA: What attracted you to the paperboard packaging industry?
JH: I discovered early on in my graphic design career that packaging projects could be some of the most fun, challenging and ultimately rewarding projects. I have always enjoyed the tactual nature of print graphic design vs. digital design, but packaging takes it to another level in terms of conceptual and experiential opportunities.
Packaging design requires you to think way beyond what is printed on the paper and answer questions like, "what impact will the size have on dimensional weight?" and "will this shape compromise the structural integrity of the box?" It's as if you are designing a separate product unto itself. Ultimately, the decisions you make will have a significant impact on the customer experience and hopefully contribute to the success of the overall product.
PPA: What does your typical work day look like?
JH: At my current job as design director at Loot Crate, we operate at an extremely fast pace. Our largest crate lines require a refresh every month, so we have 20 working days to get everything done—from concept through delivery. We do work on several crates at a time and almost a year in advance in order to have time to concept; get licensor approval; manufacture; and market our crates.
Every day, I work on new product concepts and the elements to support those products, including the packaging, collateral support, and product review meetings. We design hundreds of new products every year, which requires a lot of product photography, so I also spend a lot of time at photoshoots capturing compelling images for use in collateral and marketing projects. I also attend product curation meetings where we discuss what products work best together to create a strong assortment of products to go into the crates. Lastly, I spend time reviewing and signing off on factory prototypes and printer proofs.
It's a lot of work, but I love what I do and truly believe in the service we are providing to our customers.
PPA: Why do you prefer to work with paperboard?
JH: It comes down to the customer experience and the ability to provide a more impactful design. Paperboard provides more creative options and flexibility that can lead to a more meaningful and positive customer experience.
PPA: What stands out to you when you look at packaging?
JH: First and foremost, I look for good design and a strong concept—the two should be married. Then upon closer inspection, I notice the material quality, accessibility and reusability. 
PPA: What is your favorite package you designed for a product and why?
JH: A recent Loot Crate shipping box I designed really made an impact on our customers and set the bar high for unique and functional transformations. The theme was "Origins" and our crate included a reprint of Action Comics #1, aka the origin of Superman.
When our customers received the box in the mail, it appeared to look like any other Loot Crate box, but when they opened it up, the interior was filled with colorful vintage Superman graphics. After following simple instructions, the crate transformed into a functional comic book holder capable of storing some 30 comics. The comic book holder featured graphics on each panel that paid tribute to the origin of Superman.
What really made this project special was the support we received from DC Comics. They went out of their way to provide high-quality digital art from the original Action Comics issue to ensure the packaging was as true to the original as possible. We have since gone on to make several more creative crate transformations, but this one really stood out due to its highly functional reusability.
PPA: What do you hope to see from this year’s Student Design Challenge entries?
JH: Besides excellent design and strong customer-focused concepts, I will be looking for packaging that takes into consideration conserving resources and really pushes the envelope in terms of functional reusability. There is nothing worse than overly packaged products whose boxes are simply discarded. Sometimes they’re not even recyclable due to the elements used to make them.
PPA: What do you hope to see in the future of paperboard packaging? And what are the most essential skills new designers need to bring into the industry?
JH: I hope to see meaningful technology integration that really enhances and supports the product experience.
As far as skills necessary for new packaging designers, a strong understanding of the Adobe Suite (Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign) will go a long way.
I also encourage young designers to go beyond the classroom and get an internship to help develop an understanding of how the real world of packaging design works. By my junior year of college, I thought I had learned a lot about graphic design and the processes involved, but then I got an internship at a small design studio and it was very eye opening. I literally had to re-learn a lot of processes that I thought I had known!
Lastly, I would encourage new designers to practice the skill of listening. There are a lot of packaging designers in the industry today who have 20-30 years of experience using the same digital platforms and processes that are currently being taught in schools. Do not discount the advice and knowledge of these individuals as you may learn some valuable skills from them!