Several weeks have passed since I had the great honour of being chairwoman of the jury of the NAPA Baltic Awards. However, my impression of the experience remains intense and lively - from many different points of view.

Vilnius, the hometown of NAPA, is an extremely welcoming, pleasant and beautiful city with a great modern spirit (By the way, it’s a true beer metropolis - so many brands, craft beers, original labels..!). The people I had the pleasure to meet were as nice as they were professional, and equally as enthusiastic about packaging design. And last but not least, I witnessed a great number of works with a very high standard of creativity, taste and execution (sometimes a combination of all, and sometimes outstanding in at least one of these criteria).

Frankly speaking – I practically was not expecting anything at all. The fact is, I assumed the design industry in this region was very small. Or at least, that’s what I thought. The truth is that after seeing the submissions, I realised that several works I was already familiar with were, in fact, Made in Lithuana slash Latvia slash Estonia. These works (to mention a few: The Smart hit vitamins, works for Kalev confectionary and the limited edition of Crafters gin) had already gained attention on professional sites and social media before they won their NAPA Awards, both well deserved! But the competition was very high, so it was definitely not a sure victory. The Eau de Vie de Bierre, Park Tonic, The Coffee Address… all are very good pieces of work that have left an (even slightly envious) trace of inspiration in my mind. See the winners here.

From the first steps I took in the evaluation process, I knew the fact that I was “outside of the Baltics” gave me a fair advantage. Not knowing how big or small the client was, how big or small the designer or studio was, how highly or lowly-promoted the work was in its home country were all even more advantageous to evaluating with a healthy balance of objective and subjective, yet independent judgement.

For your better imagination, this is how it all happened:

Beginning of October. I am approached by NAPA to be the chairwoman of the jury. Wow. Very much honoured, though a little horrored, I say yes.

Mid October, still a nicely warm autumn in the city of Prague. It is getting dark past the windows of the Cocoon office while a computer screen lights my focused face through the late evenings. I am browsing dozens of submissions in different categories to help create a shortlist – all by point ranking and considering criteria like creativity, execution, saleability, sustainability, innovation, and more. All of the works have detailed descriptions to help me understand their stories. Of course, knowing the context is as critical for my judgment as seeing the actual design. “Is this an award winner?”, I keep asking myself. Are there any realizations popping into my mind at this stage? Well, the first is that a high-quality presentation is a really important part of the design work. We all know that.

But please designers, do not overdo it! In some cases I almost have to search for the actual product camouflaged in graphic elements like a black and white zebra in front of an Escher painting. My second realization – we still have a long way to go with innovation and sustainability, which is appealing to designers and clients alike. If there is one piece of work I am sorry that did not win gold it is the Strong spray, exactly because of the reason mentioned above.

End of October. The shortlist is announced. “Oooh, cool. I was hoping this one would be shortlisted!” “Ahhh, this one got so many points? I can’t wait to discuss with the jury members and understand their reasoning.”

Beginning of November. A freezing day in Vilnius. A really nice welcome from the NAPA Awards organisers totally warms me up. The fun yet serious part begins - fun, because we have the chance to hold, touch and explore every work from the shortlist. Some exceed expectations while some seem to be a disappointment to all of us. Fun, because a huge amount of fruitful and live discussion is created over each of the works. Fun, because the “magnificent 7” – the jury – is assembled from a nicely balanced combination of designers, creatives, marketers and strategists. But serious too, because everyone is aware of the responsibility. The result of our several hour lock-down in one room can (and must be) a valuable motivation and reward for those who try to do their best in cracking their big or small design tasks. A hundred times we have heard “Who thinks that gold/silver/bronze should go to……?” The raising of hands was sometimes fast as a flash, sometimes very hesitant, and sometimes a repeated voting had to be performed after another round of discussion. Any special realization from this part of the evaluation? Yes. No matter how cliché this may sound, creative design (and from my position I must point out the word creative) is a complex discipline. And that is exactly what is the most beautiful challenge about it.

And the ceremony evening in the end. I will directly go into the “realizing” sentence here: Awards make sense. They make sense for those who believe that an honest or envious clap from competitors and “hard-proof” appreciation of quality from professionals is what gives meaning to our work and helps us gain business and new opportunities. I believe. I just wonder why those who entered the awards did not enter the ceremony room to pick up their prizes... But, Cocooners, what will we enter next after our dual November success?!

It’s nearly the end of the story…for me. Definitely not for the NAPA Awards. I have seen great ambition, passion and professionalism from the NAPA Awards crew (Algirdas Orantas, Sigita Ilgauskaitė - thumbs up, rest of the team. Sorry if I do not know all the names.). They started at a national level and expanded to regional this year with persistent work on promotion and conference talks. They did a great job, which can only lead to a bigger reputation in the next annuals.

You are all aiming high. This totally resonates with the DNA of Cocoon. This was such a great honour for Cocoon, whom I tried to represent as best I could.

Personally, the inspiration and experience as well as meeting great talents in the jury and expanding my horizons were all the best awards for me. So thank you for having me -  and fingers crossed to all the fellow designers in the Baltic region as well.

(And last but not least: Zhenya and Martynas, Cocoon’s beloved Design Directors. Thanks for being such great companions on this adventure by exploring the city, and the Lithuanian shelves too! Cocoon attacked Vilnius, that’s for sure!)

By Karolína Bělohlávková, CD of Cocoon Prague.

Photos by Joana Suslavičiūtė published with permission of NAPA

tags: packaging design creative director
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