Oct 11, 2021

“Design automation is about creating new jobs”: A conversation with CHILI publish

The robots, it would seem, are taking over. Over the past few years, countless op-eds and comment pieces have been published on the subject of automation, and the effect that this trend might have on traditionally manual occupations. Fin Slater spoke to Kevin Goeminne, CEO and co-founder of CHILI Publish, about the challenges and opportunities this shift could present for print software.
Fin Slater

Could you give our readers an overview on the current state of the print software market and also explain its history?

I think what has happened is that, over the past few years, a way of producing that was very conservative in terms of regulation and procedures has evolved a lot. In the past, I think the production of packaging was a very manual process, with a lot of certification and checklists before going to the actual production process. We believe that it doesn’t make sense any more to try to manually create all the different artwork that is needed for this process.

The reason for this is that the world has completely changed in the past ten years. In the past, I was maybe communicating in one language, in one market in which my brand was popular. Today, we’re in a globalised world where you need to create so many variations for the marketing on your packaging, because keeping it the same for one or two years just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Look at what’s happening with tobacco producers, for example. They need to be a lot more reactive to their competitors, in terms of things like colours, messaging, and feel. That’s where we see a big need for products like CHILI publisher, and solutions in general, that can help companies to avoid manual labour in packaging production.

For people who might be unaware, could you explain how your technology works?

Simply put, we simplify and automate graphics production. When we say graphics, we mean three things: packaging, print, and digital. There are two types of people who use our technology – brand owners, who buy our solution and integrate it with third party software like Esko Webcentre, and agencies who want to acquire the technology to build an application, like a tool that can automatically produce labels or a brand management platform.

That’s how our customers and partners utilise our technology today: they create solutions that optimise internal processes.

To put CHILI’s technology into context, could you give us an example of how it might work in practice? For example, how might a company that wants to produce collateral for a conference use CHILI publisher?

A good example of a company that does this exactly is Phillips. They would think about the materials they need to go to a trade show. These materials would then be “templateised”, which is what we call converting and adding intelligence to an InDesign or Illustrator file. That template then knows how to respond to certain inputs – things like text, product choices, and certain selections. This will automatically create a press-quality PDF that can go to production.

Projects like producing print collateral are clearly in CHILI publish’s wheelhouse, but are there any jobs that the technology is less suited to?

What CHILI publisher doesn’t solve is creativity. Creativity is something that a lot of our partners manage – it’s their added value. When we’re talking about structural design or designing a new type of packaging, that’s not what you use CHILI publisher for. After you’ve decided all of that and had a creative person define the colours, look, feel, and messaging, that’s when we’re going to create a smart template in CHILI publisher. Because, what usually happens when jobs finish is these assets need to be resized, translated into a different language, or produced for a different market. All of these things, in a regular production context, would use manual labour.

That’s where CHILI publisher brings its smart template in – to help companies avoid doing the same repetitive jobs over and over. But you’re absolutely right, we only start once the creative and structural packaging design sides are complete – these are not things that we do or aim to do.

From what I’ve read about CHILI, you seem to be passionate about “democratizing” the printing process – in other words, ensuring that people with little or no graphic design experience can use the software effectively. What’s the importance of this, and can we expect this trend to develop more widely within the printing industry in the future?

I like to say “free the designer”. What we’re trying to do is create a community where a greater number of less professionally skilled users can come and consume smart templates. So, you’re absolutely right – we want to democratise things on that front, we want users within organisations to be able to come and generate complex artwork with a couple of clicks.

But, on the other side of that community story, we have our partners because, just like any good computer, somebody needs to program it. The same goes for CHILI publisher – somebody needs to build those smart templates. That’s where our partners and agencies come in – they have the knowledge on how to create these smart templates.

So yes, democratizing on the one side – for the consumer – should be done without any need of training. But, on the administration side, we should still count on experts in packaging to be able to configure smart templates in the right way, so that whenever we need to go to production, we know that they can do the advanced things.

Another central offering of this technology is the claim that it can save businesses money by reducing “manual design waste”. Could you explain this concept to us please?

So, this of course depends on which side you look at it from. Let’s be honest, if we look at any industry today, they’re all going through some form of revolution. If I’m a brand owner, I don’t want to keep paying my agency to do the same manual touch-ups over and over again. That’s where we do see an opportunity, that’s where there’s a lot of ROI, that’s where there is design waste happening because, typically, you have a designer who is very skilled at creating packaging spending their time doing the same modifications repeatedly in desktop applications.

Things like pricing applications and small retouches can be completely automated and democratized, like you said.

"Design automation is about creating new jobs"

If this practice were to become more widespread, and work was further transferred from manual to digital means, is there a sense that we might lose an essential creative, human component?

Absolutely. Like I said, we are not trying to replace any form of creativity – the thing that we are counting on our partners and customers to deliver for organisations. But, on the other hand, we also have to be honest – updating a title or a price is far from creativity. Automating this process makes a lot of sense and I think we’re being blind if we try to fight against it. Creativity will always be needed – especially in packaging design where brands want to stand out.  

Design automation is about creating new jobs. We believe that we are going to upgrade the designer to a smart template-builder, and this is not about rendering existing ones obsolete.

Looking forward, what can we expect from CHILI in the next five years? Could you also place this into the wider context of the future of print software in general?

To give you an example, Heidelberg recently created a web-to-pack design platform which it calls “boxuni”. It’s a combination of a couple of technologies, of which CHILI publisher is one. The idea is that you’re actually going to templatise everything – things like structural design and the design that goes on top of your boxes. So, Heidelberg has put a product on the market that brings packaging designers and printers together on one platform. It’s all about bringing those two worlds together. We look at ourselves as the glue that sticks the design and brand owner communities together – we sit right in the middle as a smart templating engine that can facilitate those different streams.

Fin Slater

Writer and editor with a professional background in the creative space
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