Stephen Shortland, MD

 14 May 2013

After many years of working in the packaging design industry, Stephen set up New Vision Packaging. His work involves liaising between designers and clients, and overseeing the business and its development.

Stephen was able to learn about packaging design on the job, rather than through courses.
Stephen was able to learn about packaging design on the job, rather than through courses.


I grew up in Rushden, Northamptonshire, and I now live in Kettering.

What job do you do?

I'm managing director of packaging design company New Vision Packaging. It's a fairly small company, with three full-time employees and one subcontractor.

How did you get started in design?

When I was 16 I saw a vacancy for an apprenticeship with a printing company, Creative Printers, in my local careers office. They said I was too feeble to take the the position! Instead I was offered a place on their training scheme as a structural designer.

The company had some problems, which meant I was made redundant after a year. But they got back on their feet eventually and took me on board again – this time as a junior designer, with specific briefs to work on.

After 18 months, a client, Kinnerton Confectionary, opened an in-house studio in London and I was invited to work with them. 

"London was a bear pit compared to the cosy bubble back home – but full of opportunities."

Working with Kinnerton was valuable in many ways. I was able to learn about what happened to packaging post-design, including at the retail stage. It broadened my horizons to be working in London, which was a bear pit compared to the cosy bubble back home – but full of opportunities. 

I moved jobs within the industry for a few more years, and set up New Vision Packaging in 2006.

What qualifications do you have?

I have nine GCSEs. All my learning was done on the job. If I had taken the qualifications route into product design, it may even have put me on the back foot.

Creative Printers was using technologies, such as CAD, at a time when they were still being ignored on training programmes and courses. I was lucky to be using computers very early on, when most people didn't have the know-how.

What do you do at work?

As the managing director, it's a mixed bag. I'm responsible for sales, so I deal with clients, interpreting what they want and communicating it back to the designers.

This can go in extremes – sometimes clients want you to do the undoable, while other times their demands are a bit 'square', so I try to convince them to be more ambitious. 

"If you want to design a box of chocolates, you need to go to the high street and examine the designs."

I also buy all the materials from suppliers, which involves negotiation to get a good deal.

I run the accounts and oversee business development. A big business development issue cropped up a few years ago when I got some consultants in. They found that, although our clients were pleased, they didn't always feel we were looking to the next new thing.

I took this on board, and looked further afield to source packaging in order to save money. Now 70 per cent of what we source is from Poland, which has helped cut company costs.

What's the best thing about your job?

Working for myself. Nobody tells me what to do – apart from the clients of course. Seeing your own work on the shelf is also a great source of pride.

And the worst thing about the job?

Again, I work for myself! This means long hours and not being able to go on holiday unless I can get Wi-Fi.

How do I get into design?

1. Go out and look at products

Your course will teach you the basics, but if you want to design a box of chocolates for example, you need to go to the high street and examine the designs already out there. Spend hours in shops – there's so much on offer, so knowing your market will take time and investigation. 

2. Get in it for the long haul

If you want to end up running your own design business, you need to stay with it and not get disheartened. Nothing happens instantly. 

3. Look to those who are more experienced

Sometimes it can feel as though people are in your way, and that older colleagues are dinosaurs! Remember that they're there for a reason and they have plenty of experience.

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