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Bridge the Valley of Death

By R. Andrew Hurley, Ph.D.

July 24, 2019

Sam, a senior graphic design student—from a school I’m not affiliated with—came to our office the other day asking for support on his capstone project. The task was to create a branded package, so he came with a visual design for a paperboard packaging concept that he created on a digital art file. While guiding him through the process of creating a physical printed and converted sample, we learned the following about this soon-to-be-employed college senior:

  • He was unaware of how to organize design elements within their appropriate layers or how to properly construct a dieline.
  • He lacked a working vocabulary of packaging production terminology (score, crease, registration, etc.).
  • He was confused about how the 2D design ultimately converted to a 3D package. His confusion began at the digital level and extended through the physical blank crafted on a sample table.

Sam graduated a week later from an accredited program with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He was a smart kid and, based on our interaction with him, a good designer, but he had no practical, physical knowledge of packaging design or prototyping. This story may sound familiar to you; you have a need for a new entry-level designer (graphic and/or structural), so you hire someone out of a design-focused program, only to quickly find they are not prepared to hit the ground running within your packaging workflow.

It’s not that this designer was a slacker in the classroom—quite the contrary. It is not unusual for super smart folks to find it difficult to translate theory or great ideas into real applications without applied training—a paradox commonly referred to as the “Valley of Death.” Many companies face these obstacles within their own internal development processes, and it is the case for much of corporate research and development—theory is clearly understood on paper, but the bridge doesn’t always exist when it’s time to apply it in practice.

Sam, upon wrapping up four years of design theory, found himself in that Valley of Death, not having the applied technical training or experience required to bridge his classroom lessons into what is required at the office. So, the team at Package InSight and the Packaging School took it upon itself to give him a few last lessons before he headed out into the big world. In just a few hours, we taught him how to create production-ready digital files, how to communicate his needs to a local printer, the difference between paperboard types, how those same digital files translated to a sampling table, and how to convert his flat cut-and-creased dieline into a 3D package. They were steps in the process that he literally didn’t even know existed.

At, we create onboarding education for new employees like Sam, showing them how to translate theories into practical packaging applications and providing them with the confidence to be effective and powerful employees for you right out of the gate. We have more than 2,000 lectures that can be curated to create minicourses, and we work with many AICC members to develop training and onboarding customized to their internal processes.

It’s not just new hires who find themselves on the wrong side of the valley. Our courses will give your current employees a step up in their knowledge, allowing them to rise to the challenges dynamic companies face each day. For you, that may mean incorporating updated technology and new operations into their day-to-day workflow or giving them the creative means to brush up on existing processes and policies to ensure consistent achievement for your business.

Is it time to rejuvenate your training program? already offers an extensive library of courses guaranteed to bridge the knowledge gap for new employees and seasoned veterans. Or, if you’re ready to invest in customized training, our Ph.D.-guided team of experts and creatives excels in designing courses that empower company growth and tackle ever-expanding industry demands. They stand ready to visit your facility and film your crews in action in order to create the best custom-designed training lessons and courses available. Get in touch today for a consultation, and we’ll work with you to instruct the best path forward.

Editors’ note: AICC partners with The Packaging School to offer online education, a free benefit to AICC members.

width=150Andrew Hurley, Ph.D., is an associate professor of packaging science at Clemson University. He can be reached at