Delanie West, Faber­Castell USA VP of Product Development, is All About Design

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Delanie WestDelanie West, Faber­Castell USA VP of Product Development, is leading product development and design teams for the company’s new product releases. West, who is responsible for leading a team responsible for ideating and launching of exciting new products, leads the company’s Creativity Center. This is the development, design, and creative services hub of Faber­Castell, USA, Design Memory Craft, Creative Studio, and Creativity for Kid’s brands.

West, whose work experience includes development of creative products for licensed brands such as Toys R Us, American Girl, Michael’s Recollections (Private Label), Martha Stewart Crafts, Disney, iHome and Sesame Street, to name a few, has had a major influence in the development of adult and children’s creative consumer products in retail chains such as Walmart, Target, Michael’s Crafts and Best Buy.

West has also worked closely with the co-founders of Black Girls RUN! to develop a design language and aesthetic to drive the brand in its growth.  She serves as Executive Director for Black Creatives and she writes a popular blog called Delanie West Design, which is touted as being a wealth of creative product development and design information.

The Faber­Castell product line offers products for premium writing, fine artists, educational crafts for children and art crafting for adults.

West shares her insight on branding and more with TNJ.com.

TNJ.com: What are the three first steps you would advise someone in expanding their brand?

Delanie West: #1 Housekeeping: It’s important to give a 360 comprehensive review of where your brand stands today. Eliminate or improve what’s not working. Don’t be emotional about getting rid of what’s not good. #2 Have a look at the adjacencies – consider high growth and low risk with these options. And #3 Do you have a strong consumer base? Are your customers ambassadors of the product and the experience? Be certain you have a strong connection with your customer culture and have the ability to tap into it for information.

TNJ.com: What are the top branding mistakes people make?

DW: Poor naming convention processes. Not thinking about the opportunity to extend a brand during the name selection process can be an expensive mistake, resulting in the requirement for multiple trademarking and branding efforts.

The other branding mistake is not allowing time for a slow, careful consideration of your logo. You’ve got to consider all of the places your brand and product might live, and not hiring a professional designer or firm to create your brand’s mark usually results in costly re-work later on.

TNJ.com: Why is packaging design so important for products?

DW: Packaging is often the singular opportunity you have to influence a customer’s purchasing decision. Online retail is having a tremendous impact on how brands are selling to consumers. 71 percent of purchase decisions begin with research conducted on a search engine. So not only are the aesthetics and footprint of your product important, but also important are the keywords used in item-naming convention and product description. A visually attractive packaging image might be the only interaction a customer has during an online shopping experience. In the retail environment, there are so many variables, but packaging is again the one opportunity that a brand can have control over. It often has to be a “silent salesman,” especially in box retailers where help and real knowledge about a product might not be available.

What’s in the box, what value for the dollar the customer can expect, your brand’s impression and brand promise are all important. And for some categories, size and volume impression influence decisions.

TNJ.com: Please explain your philosophy of having employees that can handle multiple responsibilities. What are the perks for the company?

DW: The Philosophy: Cross-training isn’t just for the gym. If there are two team members, focused on different tasks or parts of a larger project, each of them is thinking in parallel, at any decision point. You’ve got to assemble the two and combine the knowledge, findings, and research to take the next step.

The Perks: When you have employees who can manage multiple responsibilities and multiple parallel processes are combined, you have flexibility. Teams have greater synergy when there’s a better understanding of the goal of “the whole.” Employees crave to learn, grown and not be stagnant. Cross-training results in efficiency; there’s an appreciation for team work when it’s an “all hands on deck” situation and all the hands are capable.

TNJ.com: What has been the biggest business lesson you have learned?

DW: Genuine personal relationships trump the business of business. Usually, If you can get the first part right, the business relationship always wins.

As a designer and product developer in the creative consumer product industry, it took me years to master the art of balance between business and creative. Product developers are the bean and process counters, and designers are the dreamers who think not of the expense – the right and left brain at war.

TNJ.com: What have been some obstacles you have faced in business and how did you overcome them?

DW: By not taking it personal. As a creative, critique is part of the process. Not everyone has experience with giving feedback, or understanding the process of constructive critique, and many creatives receive critique poorly.

Once I realized that it was a standard of the process, and I began to separate the message from how emotionally attached I might have been to a project or decision it became easier for me to accept that what I might have found aesthetically pleasing, wasn’t the case for everyone. The mantra I quote at least once a week is “Everything is Subjective.”

TNJ.com: Did you face additional obstacles because you are a Black woman? If so, how?

DW: I believe those obstacles existed in my subconscious. I triple-checked my work. If I was making a presentation, I would spend more time than perhaps required to make certain it was perfect. I think, like many Black Women, we feel as if we have to be better-than-average.  I’ve not been faced with many obstacles in the creative industry; I’m so very fortunate to work with a liberal class of professionals.

TNJ.com: What do you enjoy the most about your current position?

DW: Working for a prestige brand raises the bar 1000 percent! You really have to bring it. No half-assed anything will do. You’re considering every concept, option, aspect, iterative thought in line with quality and ethical standards. I appreciate those hardline standards and guidelines. Often, creatives are asked to do things that aren’t ethical, or sometimes things that are illegal. That’s a non-issue for me. The gold standard extends to all aspects of business relationships: suppliers, artists and vendors. I, also, am lucky to have inherited an uber smart, insanely creative department of team members who are a sheer pleasure to work with.

TNJ.com: What are some of your goals for your team this year?

DW: I’m so very excited for what we have planned for this year: 1. Developing quality product and product experiences.  2. Continuing to invest time in creative and culturally immersive experiences. 3. Improving and sharpening our skill sets.  The last two goals are so very vital to nailing the first one!