Re-envision packaging

This is a short essay about packages. I hope it challenges even one designer to re-envision packaging design as a less environmentally destructive practice than it presently is. Kaj Franck, a Finnish designer, once asked ‘.. of what use for man stand on Earth and reach for the stars if he is standing up his navel in garbage?

Considering John Thackara’s statement that ‘eighty per cent of environment impact of the products, services and infrastructure around us is determined at the design stage’, designers are not as helpless in the area of chance and client influence as they often think. (Boylston Scott 2009, 28)

Bigger is not better, it is how you do it

While packages primary function is to protect product, they also provide us with greater opportunity to tell stories and express values. “Package is protecting skin, decorative clothes, personality of structures, and expression of our thoughts – diversity mix of materials, shapes, moods and attributes” as designers in industry like to present it.

Marketing people’s vision is distinct, they see package like actor on the stage. The more ‘shouting’, archiving ‘shelf pop’, point of difference, unique selling proposition, or what else you want to call it, is better – packages must stand from the crow in that split-second of decision than consumers walk a away from the shelf with your product in their hand or not.” (Boylston Scott 2009, 22)

The actor analogy is however, somewhat simplistic, because it neglects to consider that while real actors work in concert with each other, packages must compete with other ‘actors’ right next to them, and each of these actors posses as much motivation to connect with audience as they do. (Boylston Scott 2009, 22) The potential connection between this ‘stage player’ and the audience will only occur if the stage player is discovered.

Generally the ‘shouting’ in stage when it is neglecting resource depletion, energy consumption and toxic by-products is always at some level an act of violence – violence and rudeness, egoism and fulfillment. Package has many ways to break through the retail clutter, and unsustainability should not be the one – in this sophisticated modern world it will finally resonate disadvantageously to the marketing and to consumer.

Computer program packages
Image 1
Computer programs are usually encased larger boxes than is needed to archiving ‘shelf pop’. Most recent trend is wrap numeric installation codes to packages e.g. Microsoft Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade shrink-wrapped retail boxes sell a numeric key and Apple’s boxed paper and air is a subscription-based collection of online services.

Squeezed from gently handpicked oranges

For the past few years I have tried to eliminate everything meaningless from graphic design, things without any character. I have learned that such things are promises without any meanings and designs without any values, personality or moods to stand up. One of the most irritating thing is ‘hoax’ selling propositions, like definitions ’environmental friendly’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘nature friendly’, (almost everything with friendly), ‘deluxe’, ’pure’, and ‘premium’ without any reality to act so.

Image 2:
Cereals boxes are more or less look-a-likes with visuality and healthy promises – which are not always pace with product.

In many cases these selling propositions are added to package because they increase sale and shelter visibility. It is hard to pop-up from shelter with peaceful hum when everyone else is out bursting big words with the huge amount of visual impacts. Many times the visual battle isn’t even necessary. Good decent package design could give a product the best possible chance of success against the huge number of ‘yodelers’.

When everybody yells, reasonable speaker could catch the attention – or whisperer. Like in a dinner table. “Have you ever been at a table and someone leans over to whisper your neighbor a secret? What do you typically do? You stop. You pay attention. You naturally want to know what the secret is. If you’re close enough, you may try to find out what it was. You completely grab one’s attention if you whisper, and in a world of loud mouths and yodelers, people crave the intimate and personalized delivery of a whisper.” (Brett Evans 2009).

Commercial world where everybody out bursting big words a quiet moment between impacts is notable, like silence in symphony concert. “Music contains many extremely powerful examples of the power of silence. Two notes marking the beginning and the end of a silence, usually the most powerful moment of many symphonies, a quiet moment between two notes. The wait for the next outburst, you can almost feel the time, anticipation. Silence gets a meaning, a length, energy, life.” (Vesa Honkonen 2009)

In any case, it is refreshing to do once in a while everything different than has been done earlier – plagiarism has not much dimensions for our senses. At least it is educational, like architecht Vesa Honkonen stated in “In order to see light, study darkness, in order to hear sound, study silence.” (Vesa Honkonen 2009)

Origin of origin

A package design is always part of total communication and has therefore to be in line with the product and its expectations. The violent twisting against the product values and function in package design is always against the product. Designers who create previsions in their mind, and not listening to the quiet sound telling and singing what are the true origins for the product, are hearing but don’t listening – and that could lead to a communication problem.

Designers have to understand that the state of being, the origin – the shelf appealing, is different from shelf visibility. The other part of the pair is presents the force, outburst, the visuality that a package provides, and the other part the connection with target audience. Finally, ‘shelf communication’ refers to the accuracy between visibility and connection – the product expectations and actual product performance.” (Boylston Scott 2009, 25)

New vs old light bulb package
Image 3:
Some of the new energy saving light bulbs packages are wrapped with less environmentally on plastic than the old paper ones.

Package is overrated

Innovative packaging design can minimize the environmental impact of packaging itself, but it still wastes materials, and most of it ends up in our already overburdened landfill systems. That is why the designers first question should be is the package even necessary? Even a wrong statement can wake up a positive new wave, flow of reactions, to work as a catalyst to the ‘needs’ of the product to be packaged. (Boylston Scott 2009, 24)

To achieve a change towards more sustainable world, it’s not just the packaging that requires alterations but also our lifestyles and habits of consumption. Most modern consumers have grown in packaged world and in the case of supermarket fruit and vegetables prefer to buy the more heavily packaged items as they are perceived to be “cleaner” than the unpackaged ones. (Overpacking 2011)

Image 4:
Federal drinking water regulation requires that tap water is tested throughout the whole process: at the source, at the plant and throughout distribution. Testing happens as much as 10, 000 times per year or 100, 000 times per year for some cities. However, bottled water is inspected much less frequently. Moreover, unlike tap water, where you get an annual report with testing results, the public cannot find out what happened with bottled water inspections (Jocelyne Rankin).


Boylston Scott (2009). Designing Sustainable Packaging. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Evans Brett (2009). Cantaloupe blog: The whisper approach to online video marketing. [online]. Indianapolis, USA. [Read 13.3.2011]

Vesa Honkonen (2009). Vesa Honkonen Architects. Short introduction to design philosophy, General notes from larger series of writings. [online]. Helsinki, Finland. [Read 13.3.2011]

Jocelyne Rankin. Ecology Action Centre: Think bottled water is harmless? Not so. [online].
Nova Scotia, Canada. [Read 13.3.2011]

Lars Wallentin (2010). Packaging sense blog: 10 ways to improve your package design. [online]. Switzerland. [Read 15.3.2011]

Overpacking (2011). [online]. United Kingdom. [Read 30.10.2011]