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6 new directions in packaging materials and design

Article-6 new directions in packaging materials and design

6 new directions in packaging materials and design
Edible Food Nests transform tomatoes, potatoes and grains into culinary containers. What other edible packaging is in the wings?

From ancient clay pots and wooden vessels to modern “engineered” films and multilayered bottles, packaging materials have come a long way in the last 3,000 years. Here are some of the latest innovations designed to elevate the consumer’s experience.

“Packaging design is everything we love and everything we loathe,” writes fuseproject founder Yves Behar in the introduction to "Material Innovation: Packaging" (Thames & Hudson). Defying expectations and finding opportunities to reconcile the delight of a new purchase with the regret of disposal, these six innovative packaging designs—from the conceptual and culinary to the hi-tech and hand-assembled—point to new directions for the practice, revealing design’s capacity to raise awareness and lead with creativity, often from the least likely of sources.

1. Packaging that’s good enough to eat

Edible Food Nests (see image above) by Dr. Diane Leclair Bisson and Vito Gionatan Lassandro:

Gastronomy and material science converge to spectacular effect in edible containers crafted from food. Responding to the proliferation of disposable foam and plastic, as well as general over packaging, Montreal-based designer Diane Leclair Bisson cleverly merges cultural research and material exploration through the concept of Edible Food Nests, transforming tomatoes, potatoes and grains into culinary containers and tableware.

Elegant shapes defined by crisp angles or swooping layered curves, each sculptural “nest” offers a captivating option for the reduction of waste, underscoring the designer’s role in the acceleration of new ideas toward a better future.

Eating with hands, rather than utensils, is common in many areas of the world, including parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. While the details differ from place to place, rice or flatbreads have long been used to ferry food to the mouth, acting as an edible scoop. Similarly, as with the foods they convey, Bisson’s edible nests are developed through cooking methods, with prep work, molding processes, pigmentation and thermal performance all taken into account and adjusted depending on the material and the desired texture.

As Bisson explains, “The edible containers call for a new aesthetic that invites people to discover and explore sustainable eating practices.”   

Next: A better box

2. A better box

Rapid Packing Container by Christopher Curro and Henry Wang:

A tight focus rather than a panoramic lens can often be the path to something new and fresh. While undergraduate students in the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at The Cooper Union, Christopher Curro and Henry Wang collaborated on the invention of a better paperboard box; leading to a solution that is less wasteful, easier to assemble and reusable.

Through close examination they concluded that traditional boxes not only use too much material but are hard to open and difficult to pack. Accustomed to working in an environment where rapid prototyping informed by comparative evaluations between one solution and another are dominant skills, they quickly moved from sketching to modeling various alternatives in AutoCAD.

Working with a laser cutter, they produced multiple versions of a flat, unfolded box, which was then assembled, tested and continually refined until it yielded a sufficiently sturdy design that could be opened by hand without any tools for cutting.

The difference is in the details. Involving 15% to 20% less board than traditional paperboard packaging—and no glue—the precision-cut form is faster to assemble and take apart, with a jig used for quick formation into a box. Even better, the box is reversible, able to be turned inside out, reassembled and reused with a clean exterior.

The concept is readily adaptable to other materials, opening up further possibilities from ongoing exploration.

Next: Cellulose packaging that grows on you

3. Cellulose packaging that grows on you

BACS by Mareike Frensemeier:

Under the watchful eye of researcher Mareike Frensemeier, biomimetics, industrial design and advanced material science join forces to produce super-fine, super-tough cellulose fibers for use as packaging.

The catalyst is bacteria. Acetic acid bacterium prompts the conversion of glucose into fibers able to grow into varying thicknesses and shapes, even encasing a coated object in a biodegradable shell.

It’s a creative use of bacterial action that offers a solution to concerns about packaging waste. Acetobacter xylinum grows quickly at room temperature to create a network of tiny, strong fibers that can be cultivated into any shape or directly on a surface, resulting in a lightweight, paper-like foam that is electrically and thermally insulating, and completely biodegradable.

Frensemeier’s ongoing exploration points to textural variations of nanocellulose that can be adapted to different product needs. An innate protection to ultraviolet (UV) light, for example, the material is well suited to packaging light-sensitive products, such as film and photo papers but also health and beauty aids.

Next: Egg-cellent on-the-go cooker

4. Egg-cellent on-the-go cooker

Gogol Mogol by KIAN Branding Agency:

How to boil a perfect egg every time? The secret, it turns out, is not to boil it at all. Now, for the ultimate egg-on-the-run, you don’t even need to touch water.

Gogol Mogol’s lively green packaging innovation, designed by the Russian branding agency KIAN, provides a convenient container for storing, transporting and cooking an egg—faster than is possible on a stovetop.

Inside a recycled, outer shell, which resembles traditional egg cartons, multiple layers do the job with the mere pull of a tab.

Beneath the pulped paper container, an insulating layer ensures an even cooking temperature and minimal energy loss. Water and calcium oxide are divided in the next “smart” layers, ready to be activated by a strip that, when pulled, combines them to produce an exothermic reaction that ultimately cooks the egg. A final, highly conductive, inner layer transfers the heat that is generated to the surface of the eggshell. The entire process is completely sealed inside the stackable packaging, from which the egg can then be consumed.

Next: A shade of brilliance

5. A shade of brilliance

Filter Light by Bijl Architecture:

One thread of today’s packaging ingenuity involves pushing the field in new directions by upending the traditional relationship between contents and container.

The designer of the Filter light, Melonie Bayl-Smith, is an architect, exemplifying how practitioners from all fields now address design needs beyond the typical parameters of their discipline. The design for the Filter light emerged from an investigation into “the way we interact with packaging, with products and with the life cycle of the things we consume,” explains Bayl-Smith.

Since objects that can be easily assembled often demand fewer materials and are more efficient to ship, she focused on a flat-pack design, translating the benefits of prefab architecture into product packaging. Through the use of advanced modeling techniques, she developed a flat-pack lamp whose shade is constructed from its packaging, a zero-waste paperboard and acrylic pendant design that can also be executed as a floor lamp in wood and metal.

Precision-cutting of the paperboard shapes and the use of pre-cut tabs result in minimal assemble with no need for glues or mechanical fixtures. The result is a clean, geometric design that can be customized to adjust the quantity of the illumination.

Next: Bag also brews gourmet coffee 

6. Bag also brews gourmet coffee

Grower’s Cup by Ulrik Skovgaard Rasmussen and Mareks Melecis:

An innovation-driven company intent on changing the way people brew coffee and tea, Grower’s Cup advocates what is widely recognized among connoisseurs as the ideal method for showcasing different flavors of coffees—the pour-over. A thin, continuous stream of hot water that is slowly delivered, rather than a full dousing, allows the grounds to “bloom” and the optimal taste to be achieved.

Recognizing, however, that not everyone can afford the patience involved in the slow pour method, the Danish company developed a disposable coffee brewer for portable consumption.

Following numerous prototypes, the final design overcomes several of the challenges associated with filtering and pouring a hot beverage. A printable, waterproof, polyethylene-coated Kraft paper exterior surrounds an inner filter made from food-safe low-density polyethylene mesh. The interior pouch is filled to the optimal measure with ground beans from one of 10 different single-estate coffee farms or co-ops located around the world, and can withstand hot water temperatures without losing the necessary rigidity.

Lightweight and slim, the entire construction is heat-sealed to ensure optimal contact between the water and the grounds for brewing and pouring. And a tab along the collar keep fingers cool while dispensing the steaming contents.

Leslie Sherr is a writer, editor and brand strategy consultant in New York City focusing on architecture, design and innovation. She is the co-author with Dr. Andrew Dent of Material ConneXion of the forthcoming book “Material Innovation: Packaging” (Thames & Hudson).

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