Campbell’s Snacks Exec on Marrying Strategy with Creativity

By Lilly Milman |  June 10, 2021

For the past 6 years, Audrey Smith has worked to unify corporate strategy with creative design. Smith is the Director of Visual Equity and Design for Campbell’s Snacks — the snacking division of the consumer-packaged-goods giant that includes brands like Goldfish crackers, Milano cookies, Kettle Brand potato chips, and more. She leads a team of 11 designers. 

Audrey Smith, Campbell’s Snacks

“I have always viewed ‘visual equity’ as the physical expression of the strategic position of our brands,” she says. “It’s those visual elements, tangible and intangible, that have the power to create desire, and — when coupled with the product — help forge a distinct and ownable connection with our consumers.” 

In a recent email interview with InnoLead, Smith shared insights on the challenges of working as a designer, the power of a designer’s mindset, and more. 

PA design logo footer


Can you walk us through how a design gets from a drawing or idea to the shelves in the supermarket? 

At Campbell’s Snacks, our design process is very collaborative. Every project, no matter how big or small, starts with a conversation with our brand partners. Clarifying what the opportunity or challenge [is] that design needs to address, and how this fits into the overarching strategic ambitions for the brand, is always job number one. With this information, we develop a tight creative brief and formulate our approach for creative development and potential consumer research. From there, my design management team and I guide creative development and orchestrate a range of internal and external partnerships to successfully commercialize each design program.   

How have you tested new designs and packaging during the past few months? 

As someone who had disappointing experiences with online qualitative research in the past, I was surprised and pleased to see how much it has improved over the past year. I think the more effective virtual tools that are now available, as well as the growing ease with which consumers utilize these platforms, have helped to make online qualitative sessions nearly as robust as offline has typically been. We’ve been able to utilize this format several times over the past year, and it has allowed us to gain input from a broader array of individuals across more regions than we might have otherwise been able to.  

What is the relationship between design and innovation at Campbell’s Snacks?

Design and innovation go hand-in-hand at Campbell’s Snacks. The partnership and the communication between teams — marketing, R&D, package engineering, insights, visual equity and design, sales, etc. — is very integrated as we craft our food, positioning, packaging, and design. This allows us to adopt an iterative approach that results in stronger, more comprehensive offerings that truly connect with our customers.

What is the most difficult part of the job of a designer?

Clarifying objectives is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the work we do. Whether at the start of a project or within the course of design development, ensuring that we are crystal clear on what we need to communicate — and not how we’ll do it — is key. In the world of CPG, there is definitely a bias towards, and need for, action. As a result, it’s seductive for our partners to either want to rush forward without a clear definition of what design needs to accomplish or to become prescriptive when providing feedback. The ambiguity of the former can lead to unfocused work, re-work, longer timelines, and greater costs — [which] handcuffs creativity. 

The best way to address this is through driving conversation: speaking up to talk through the issues facing the brand or business, challenging preconceived notions and expectations, and consistently asking the questions “what” and “why” to get to the heart of what needs to be achieved.  

Why is the design mindset valuable, and how can non-designers use it in their everyday work?

To me, the design mindset is all about using creativity to solve problems. Many non-designers think they need to be born with an innate artistic talent, but maintaining a constant sense of curiosity and imagination is the key to having a design mindset. Whether the challenge is how to bring to life the spirit of a brand’s positioning or [how to] define new ways to deal with supply chain disruption, it’s critical to have an open mind that allows for exploration of possibilities… Giving people within your team and organization the space to approach challenges this way and imagine the future differently can ensure that you drive for truly incremental growth.

What is some advice that you have for other innovators when it comes to effectively designing and releasing new products? 

Think big picture… Being clear on how an innovation or new product fits into the larger vision for your company or brand is essential for determining the right strategic approach for design…not just for the immediate future but for the long-term.