The imitable Jack Nicholson uttered one of the great movie insults of all time in the 1997 film “As Good As It Gets” when he instructed an annoying neighbor to “Sell crazy someplace else; we’re all stocked up here.” Ascribing to the “so crazy it just might work” philosophy isn’t usually the ideal strategy when brainstorming and implementing new packaging design concepts, but in some cases the old adage holds true.
We’re certainly not advocating that designers throw out conventional markers of great design — functionality, elegance, clarity — and aim instead to create something that is loco for loco’s sake. Rather, some of the craziest concepts still result in elegant packaging designs, as long as form and function are in line with the out-of-the-box concept. Here are six wild designs that accomplished the multifaceted goals of being innovative, interesting, and memorable while also serving the product and making it fly off the shelves.
1. Sony’s “Bottled Walkman”
Imagine the design meeting when some young whippersnapper suggested this extremely literal take on conceptual product packaging for a waterproof MP3 player. The music storage and listening device comes fully submerged in a bottle of water and is sold in vending machines at exercise facilities and aquatic centers in New Zealand. The reason it works? It appeals directly to the target market — swimmers — by proving that it works while meeting its consumers on their home turfs. It’s selling well and does a lot to prove that highly conceptual designs and elegant packaging designs don’t have to be at cross-purposes.
2. Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head Vodka
This Ghostbuster is busting sales projections with his crazy crystalline craniums filled with what Aykroyd claims is a purer, less chemically enhanced version of the popular spirit. It’s a wild design: a clear glass skull filled with the additive-free version of vodka Aykroyd claims is made in a more traditional manner. It’s pretty overt — the message is “clear your head” — and it seems it’s working. From an initial order of 5,000 cases, sales quickly exceeded the $50 million mark in the venture’s first couple years.
3. Six Feet Under Box Set
When it comes to tongue-in-cheek packaging design concepts, the six-season collectors’ edition of HBO’s beloved series about a family funeral home business puts a whimsical twist on the macabre. This witty concept includes four sides portraying the eponymous “six feet” of dirt under which we all eventually come to rest and is topped with a grassy material and headstone marking the series’ lifespan: 2001-2005. It goes a long way to prove that elegant packaging designs can also be a little cuckoo. It’s also one of the best selling box sets on the market and was named to the UK’s Telegraph list of best box sets more than seven years after it “passed over” to television’s final resting place.
4. Bota Box
On the surface, it may not seem that zany, but in the highfalutin world of wine connoisseurs, Bota Box’s utilitarian and decidedly unfussy packaging could be considered totally nuts. In a market where elegance and refinement are the Holy Grail, this ergonomic, economic, and earth-friendly design is flying off shelves. It’s not your grandma’s Franzia; Bota Box produces quality wines that regularly win tasting awards and packages them in no-frills cardboard boxes that are equally at home in the backcountry, at the tailgate, or alongside a $300 cheese board. We love packaging design concepts that are both crazy and sensible — like 3000mL of South African Chardonnay in a sleek cardboard box for under $25.
5. PUMA’s Clever Little Bag
As far as tried-and-true packaging, there isn’t a more familiar and ubiquitous design than the old standard shoebox. However, PUMA, blew the roof off of the establishment with its definitely crazy but decidedly groundbreaking entry into the shoe packaging market. The “Clever Little Bag” incorporates a reusable shopping bag that wraps and gives structure to a one-piece cardboard insert. The cardboard folds into the shape of a traditional shoebox, protecting shoes while using 65 percent less paper and maintaining the shape to which we’ve become accustomed. It fits right in with traditional boxes but saves money, cuts down on waste, and comes ready-made with a lasting marketing imprint. PUMA hopes customers will tote the reusable bag around after unpacking the shoes, advertising the brand ad infinitum. Comprehensive packaging design concepts like this one keep working even after the consumer has purchased the product. That’s crazy!
So, if you think elegance and economy can’t coexist with cuckoo packaging concepts — think again. We applaud these companies for taking risks that reaped rewards. As designers, it’s our calling to literally think outside the box. When done well, that can mean a hot-seller in a wild package that consumers can’t possibly overlook.