September 24, 2013

Package Design: Thinking Outside the Carton

Package Design: Thinking Outside the Carton

“Those darned egg cartons,” you may have shouted at some point, “when will someone design an egg transport device whose dimensions allow for the packaging of differently sized eggs, while simultaneously giving the consumer the option of seeing the product without opening – or even handling – the package?”

Well, if you’ve had those feelings and failed to lift a finger to modify the tried and true egg carton design, then you richly deserve to remain in the cracked egg purgatory in which you live. Others, however, have done something about it. In Hungary, a design student named Eva Valicsek reconfigured egg cartons to allow the purchaser to instantly see all of the eggs in the package, while at the same time providing lateral security for the individual eggs and offering a secure packing method for eggs of different sizes.

There might be those of you who have never considered the myriad problems of contemporary egg packaging, which may lead you to ask: (1) how do you even begin to think of design improvements for totally basic, ubiquitous items and (2) “how can I get in on the Big Agriculture packaging restructuring racket?” We’ll use the remainder of this article to answer question one; as for question two, you can start by sending your congressperson a check for $5 million and an edible bouquet – effective legislation appointing you lord of dairy product package redesign will surely follow.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Basically, you have to be the sort of person who is willing to stare, trance-like, at different packages searching desperately for improvements. The successful inventors find and correct package deficiencies that the public actually finds problematic. For example, numerous milk cartons now have little screw-top spouts at the top, so that the consumer can open and reseal the carton with ease – gone are the days when we ineffectually prized open the milk carton with our nails, shredding the spout and making it difficult to close again. A small adjustment, but still something that has caught on nevertheless.

Package redesign shouldn’t be arbitrary. If your goal is to reimagine basic consumer packaging, find a practical improvement rather than a mere aesthetic change. Your new design may be prettier, but if there isn’t a method to the madness, you’ll never convince a product manufacturer – let alone the public – to embrace it. It’s not about changing things just to change them, or to simply follow a trend, it has to have a purpose.

Don’t Be Afraid to Steal

Not from other designers, of course (we’ll just pretend that it doesn’t happen constantly), but from other unrelated types of packages, architectural designs and science in general. What other package structures could be useful in different and, possibly, wildly divergent applications?

A few years ago, a manufacturer of baking products stumbled upon the milk carton package design for its brand of finely milled sugar. The previous packages for sugar were basically paper bags that couldn’t be resealed and tended to leak even in the store. The new milk carton design gives the user the comfort and convenience of a sturdy package that allows for tidy access of the product – you simply pour it from the spout, rather than awkwardly dip a measuring cup into the sack.

Relax Your Brain

Remember when we said that you have to become the sort of introverted genius who sits in a room staring at product packages, measuring dimensions, making calculations, drawing sketches and just generally turning into a greasy, glassy-eyed mad scientist? Well, that’s still true, but we also recommend occasionally going to the gym.

Creativity is born in a multitude of environments; museums, parks, supermarkets, spinning classes, etc. Take a break and go for a stroll. After you spend countless hours occupying your mind on a single task, giving yourself a rest by refocusing on something else can often stimulate a flurry of excellent ideas.

So, what have we learned today? We learned that traditional egg cartons are more flawed than we ever would have imagined. We learned that creativity in package design (as in life) is produced by grueling periods of study followed by frolicking on a beach (or a park or a Best Buy). Most importantly, we learned that package designs can often be multipurpose, so there’s no reason to assume that a package for instant coffee wouldn’t also work as a package for a mini tumble dryer. Ahh… see? We’ve just thrown away our genius idea. Steal away. You’re welcome.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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