Unsung heroes: Paper engineers

Sculpture by Mark Langan

Sculpture by Mark Langan

My new 27″ ultra-high-def monitor arrived from Amazon last week. It came in the usual corrugated Amazon box with loose paper stuffed around the edges, cushioning the jewel within.

But I’m not talking about the monitor itself. I’m talking about the box in which Dell packs the monitor.

In the old days, delicate electronics shipped with custom-molded styrofoam inserts. Many still do. It’s strong, light – and pretty awful for the environment. So companies have experimented with alternatives such as rigid plastic and molded paper pulp inserts (think egg cartons) that can be recycled or, even better, composted like the kind our client Be Green Packaging makes.

As long as two decades ago, that innovator Apple Computer shipped its G3 Powerbook laptops suspended in the box by interlocking air-filled sacs. An amazing unboxing experience if there ever was one.

Wanting to top that, our firm worked with a packaging engineer to create the box for the Qbe, an early tablet computer. It was held in a sandwich of very tough, clear elastic film that suspended the product inside the box, holding it away from the sides and functioning as a shock absorber during shipment. Also cool.

My new Dell monitor, however, used corrugated cardboard to protect itself on its way to me. Pretty old school. But the fascinatingly intricate die-cuts create locking tabs that hold together the necessary shapes with no glue, no tape. They pop into slots and create powerful, rigid support elements that you could drive over with a tank. I discovered this as I was breaking the box down for recycling. Whole sections of the structure simple unhook, unroll, and turn back into flat sheets. It really is a magnificently executed solution.

Design thinking applies to almost anything, but certainly to the problem of creating strong, light shipping materials that don’t destroy the planet. I wonder what’s next?

Tom Davie bottles food

tom davie exposes what we really eat with bottled food

I haven’t posted in SO long! I guess blogging (at least for me) seems to come in waves. Maybe this is the start of a swell.

In any case, here’s a great concept that shows how packaging controls your perception. (Bleagh!)

Thanks once again to the ever-enlightening Designboom.

tom davie exposes what we really eat with bottled food.

Google Chromebook goes green

A big huzzah for our client Be Green Packaging. They’ll be manufacturing packaging for Google’s Chromebook, the amazing $279 laptop.

Be Green’s innovative technology, which allows them to create near-vertical draft angles in a molded natural fiber container, makes them a perfect choice for crisp, high-tech products like this. One more company doing one more thing to keep global warming at bay, and reduce the Texas-sized slurry of plastic particles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by at least a bit.

Curious to read the whole story? Check it out here:

Google Chromebook Goes Green: New Laptop Packaging Made From Blend of Sustainable Plant Fibers | Be Green Packaging LLC.

Small quantity cost with big quantity impact

In an internet-driven world, the need for printed material isn’t always clear. Sometimes a PDF will do. But sometimes you need that “thunk” factor…the credibility that an actual brochure creates when it lands on your customer’s desk. A physical piece has a different emotional impact than a digital one. And Be Green Packaging wanted a piece that set them apart.

They also needed the flexibility of a set of inserts that could be customized for a specific prospect or project. That required a pocket in the back to hold them all, and that meant die-cutting and gluing. So, for the graphic elements on the cover, we decided to use blind-embossing and foil stamping — all similar processes that could be done by the same vendor. And all this meant that the quantity had to be large enough to amortize the cost of dies and set-up.

But here’s the problem. Be Green just doesn’t need thousands of brochures. For them, a digitally-printed solution makes sense. They can run 50 or 100 at once, keep them up to date, and only print what they can use (which is environmentally sound, too).

The solution? Give them the best of both worlds. Produce a larger supply of covers with pockets. Then print and bind the body of the brochure as needed, in small quantities. The result is a piece that makes a wonderful impression, but is flexible and cost-effective, and can be brought up to date easily and inexpensively.

New Be Green Packaging website is live!

Be Green home pageBe Green  is an innovative manufacturer of tree-free, compostable packaging. If you’re a CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) that statement will perk you right up, because you’re charged with finding new solutions to reduce the amount of gunk your company puts into our atmosphere, our water and our landfills. And you’re one of the target audiences for the new site.

When Be Green began just a few years ago, they had a down-home visual style. Birkenstock ads would have felt right at home on their website. But as they grew, they found themselves competing in a corporate world against giant packaging producers for huge consumer product accounts. They needed to look as professional, competent and state-of-art as, in fact, they are. It was actually a natural (pardon me) stage of their development: they had outgrown their old positioning.

Our job was to reimagine their brand without losing continuity. We developed a campaign based around the idea that “sometimes the best packaging ideas are right in front of us.” Then we created a fresh new grid-based style that says “we’re pros” without losing the genuine concern, the humanity and the tactile qualities that characterize their operation.

The site still has a few missing bits and pieces that will be filled in as Ron and Robert, the incredibly busy partners (and their staff), have a little more time to focus on this kind of stuff and add to it. But they’re out changing the world, working with monster brands like Gillette, and opening a brand new plant in South Carolina, so their attention is on lots and lots of exciting developments beside their website. And that’s great news, too.

Take a look. We hope you enjoy learning a little about sustainable packaging. We sure did!

Neurometric soup labels

Campbell’s Soup spent two years doing biometric studies of consumers’ reactions to gauge their physical responses to Campbell’s packaging. They monitored “skin moisture, heart rate, depth and pace of breathing, and posture.” Then they redesigned their labels to maximize emotional response.


Testing package design can be a dicey business because focus group researchers too often let consumer subjects play art director instead of paying attention to the way they’re affected by a particular design. But this biometric technique at least seems to monitor how consumers feel about what they’re buying (or not buying) instead of asking them to decide if a logo should be red or orange.

A really smart man (the designer/consultant Dave Goodman) once told me a story about the best way to test packaging. Let’s say you’re deciding between two concepts for a milk carton. You fill both cartons with the same milk. You pour the consumer a glass from each carton. And you ask her which one tastes fresher.

Now that’s great reasearch,

Here’s the whole Campbell’s article in the Wall Street Journal.


Consumers buy products, not packaging…maybe.

Plain brown boxIn the slug-fest that is retailing during a recession (coupled with an interest in green packaging) some of our clients are thinking a lot about their brand identity in the store.

Me, too.

But in a few commoditized categories, there’s an underlying doubt at work. For these manufacturers, research indicates that consumers don’t pick a product on the basis of who makes it. Instead, they are swayed almost entirely by the design of the product itself. Who made the sheets on your bed, for example? The towels in your bathroom? Your socks? Many people have no idea. They just liked the pattern or the color or the feel of the fabric.

If that’s true, why spend money and energy on branding in those categories? Here’s why: Because there are other decisions you can affect and other audiences you’re communicating with that matter. A lot. Continue reading