Elf Commander: Design

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Paul van den Berg used to wince at the cereal boxes on his breakfast table when he was a kid. Even then, he had an eye for design, which, conveniently, is the name of the new Chicago-based firm, i4design, which he oversees as creative director with managing director Greg Warren. The specialty shop is part of umbrella company Capps Digital (a full-service premedia company in the Publicis Groupe) but also offers direct-to-client services.

Van den Berg never did shake his cereal box hangups, a good thing since the work at i4 will be geared to package design, branding and corporate identity, which he'd also devoted years to at shops like Pearl Fisher, DJPA and Dupuis in his native South Africa, the U.K. and the States. "The three-dimensional aspect of packaging, its being the face of the brand, is what really intrigues me," he says. "Where the brand comes alive is on the shelf. Everything we buy gets consumed at a fast rate. To appeal to a consumer, you only have a split second. That's the fascinating aspect, as well as getting by on the thought that, ultimately, whatever we create ends up in the trash. Great design isn't born on a conference room wall. It needs to be touched, felt, handled. We don't want to judge design in its abstract but only as it really lives. The environmental aspect is important."

Throughout his career, Van den Berg has created packaging both whimsical and sophisticated, for clients like United Biscuit, Grolsch and Allied Domecq spirits. At i4, he's overseen chic collateral for Chicago nonprofit Dance for Life but he's also spent a lot of time in the company of the Keebler Elves, originally on a freelance basis. The Keebler client, with whom van den Berg had worked at Dupuis, recently consolidated all its packaging design with i4. So are the Elves tough cookies to work around? "There's a lovely mythology to the Elves, they're what makes the consumer feel special. They have a strong equity that we're trying to leverage and maximize. For example, we get them to interact on the front-panel packaging, producing cookies. But brand truth is better than myth. We're also trying to innovate thee brand identities and make them a lot more distinctive. There's a lot of innovation in terms of their cookies, how they're made, if they co-brand. Innovative products demands innovative branding."

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