Azita Shahidi is the Design Development Manager at Godiva Chocolatier. Her team is responsible for designing the stunning seasonal wrappings of some of the world’s finest chocolates. We sat down with her for a conversation about creativity, her journey in the design world and her learnings along the way.
About Godiva Chocolatier
Godiva Chocolatier makes premium, artisan chocolates that can be found in over 100 countries worldwide. The global packaging design team at Godiva uses Canto to organize seasonal promotional collateral and other time sensitive design materials. Read their story here.
Thanks for joining us for this interview, Azita. Let’s start by talking about your beginnings in the creative world. When did you know you wanted to get into design, and what kind of design do you get most excited about?
I actually started my education in Chemistry. At the time, I loved being in the lab and mixing things, but as I moved towards more in-depth chemistry, I realized I didn’t like that part very much. So I sought a more creative outlet, and completely changed route and went into design. I chose to study industrial design in particular at Pratt, but my passion was always twofold: graphic design and industrial design. I worked in graphic design for many years, and later I went into packaging design and started working at Godiva. Packaging design is great because it allows me to marry the two interests.
With packaging design, you get to work with both the visual aspect and the tangible part of the design process. Are there any parallels between that process and what you enjoyed most about chemistry?
I think the process of creativity is the same. Lately I’ve been focused on working out some finances for our department, and even that can be seen in the same way; you begin by imagining all the possibilities, evaluating things at a macro-level, and then slowly bringing it in so you’re laser focused. At least that’s how it works for me. I apply this approach to everything, whether it’s the process of actual design on packaging or looking at the finances and thinking about what we can do to make the most of the budget that we have.
We had a chance to meet with the Godiva team in New York City to learn about how they utilize Canto day in and day out.
It’s interesting that you would link finance to creativity – that seems to be the thing most people associate the least with being creative.
It’s really about perspective. I’ve worked in many different jobs, and people sometimes ask ‘don’t you find that boring?’ I think finding something boring is for the most part either a choice or a lack of knowledge. Things seem boring when you don’t know enough about them – like when you’re a kid, for example, the opera might seem boring. But when someone teaches you about it with passion, it becomes very sophisticated and quite interesting. So it really depends on your point of view.
So in a way, you would say creativity and curiosity are very closely related? With that mindset you can probably look at anything and find something to be amazed and inspired by.
Yes. I definitely believe that’s how creativity works. It starts with an insatiable curiosity and the willingness to just go for it. With that perspective you can also marry many interests that don’t seem directly related and find amazing things through them. We put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of [Godiva packaging] because it’s not just about the chocolate…We think about every detail: how does the paper feel when you touch it? Does it evoke a sense of luxury? Does it mirror the layers and sophistication of the chocolate notes?
What are the elements that go into packaging design for Godiva chocolates?
The packaging design begins with the graphic and visual element of what is on the package, and then the structural component depending on what the product is, and then the presentation component. It intersects with many different departments from procurement and packaging engineering to marketing and regulatory. It’s not just the face of the packaging but the entire thing.
Godiva stands out as a chocolate that people love to gift, and unwrapping it really is an experience. What kind of aesthetic do you try to achieve and what feelings do you hope that experience evokes?
We want it to be multisensory. We put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of it because it’s not just about the chocolate. You want to have an experience when you’re opening a box of Godiva. We think about detail: how does the paper feel when you touch it? Does it evoke a sense of luxury? Does it mirror the layers and sophistication of the chocolate notes? With each seasonal packaging it can be different, and we try to evoke different things.
It sounds a little like a jewelry box for chocolate: It might be elegant and convey luxury, but it’s not really about the box. The box just gives you the experience.
Yes, exactly – I remember one of my teachers in college used to say ‘when you’re standing in front of a painting, do you taste the painting?’ When I was younger I didn’t completely understand, but now I get it. It’s about what emotion it evokes in you and what expectation it sets.
What keeps you curious and inspired when you’re working on a new project?
I try to take in as much as I can – I look at everything, I read as much as possible, and listen to everything. I’ve found that inspiration comes to me more easily that way. Some people just look at design content, and they know a lot about design but nothing else. For me at least, I feel like I need more. From avant-garde art to food and drug packaging, I go for everything I can get my hands on.
What advice would you give your younger self, or someone who wants to build a career in design?
I think unfortunately most art and design schools don’t teach enough about business. I’ve seen many talented creatives struggle to find success because they don’t know how to promote themselves or make things work in a business environment. As soon as you get out of school, it’s a huge part of what you need to know. So that’s the best advice I would give my younger self: Get deeper into business, understand how it works, and learn about marketing. It took me years and years to learn that on the job.
That’s interesting because often creatives feel limited by the business side. So you’re saying you can’t have the freedom of creativity if you don’t understand how the business works?
Yes, you’ll always be a slave to it. When you’re looking at a creative brief, for example, if you don’t know the limitations, you won’t know how far you can push and where to stop. Knowledge is always freedom. Once you know, then you can change it. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to do that.