by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay
1.0 Packaging: Nature as a model
as an extension of locally available materials
technology offers possibilities:
4.0 Bamboo-the natural material
5.0 Paper - the versatile material
6.0 Plastic - the synthetic option
7.0 Packaging - User Interaction Process
8.0 Attributes of Packaging
8.1 The act of carrying
8.2 The act of unwrapping
8.3 The violence
8.4 A feel for respect
8.5 Extension of
of nature/ tradition/ craftsmanship
consumption of packaging
8.9 The architecture of
The life after
paper is concerned with extolling the virtues of appropriate packaging,
which is normally just seen as an utilitarian interface between the product
and the user. In addition to serving its primary function of protecting,
communicating, transporting and marketing a product, the package in the
context of this paper, is also being seen as an extension of one's cultural
and emotional requirements, with emphasis on its connotative qualities.
This paper tries to find pointers that are felt to be of considerable importance
towards the design of packaging.
nature as a model:
innumerable examples of packaging exist out there, visibly or invisibly
for us to adopt, modify and make use of. We packages ourselves against modulations
of the environment by means of our clothing. In fact, our skin itself functions
as a living, breathing, regenerating package. Sea shells, seeds, the walnut,
tortoise coconuts, the promegrenate, etc., are all examples of nature's
ways of packaging. An egg is a veritable wonder of nature by the way it
is packaged. Its protective shell is very tough along its vertical axis.
But while the shell remains strong as a unit, it remains fragile for the
new born chick to just peck and break it from inside. Additionally the shell
is not spherical but elliptical so that, instead of rolling off if disturbed,
it merely rolls back to the same place.
implications of adopting examples of packaging from nature cannot be underestimated.
In the process of using such examples, one is typically attempting to
modify a concept or principle already inherent in nature to suit a different
situation or application. The advantage of such a methodology of simulating
nature's examples lies in the similarities of construction allow easier
and intuitive acceptance of an idea through a sense of familiarity.
Packaging: as an extension of locally available materials:
as an extension of locally available materials used to be the norm until
we started using technology to process raw materials, and transforming
these into mass producable packages. Although primarily meant to store
and transport food according to local needs, packaging has also served
the function of containing artifacts related to religious, cultural and
social needs. In this context, the factors that have influenced and shaped
packaging have been the available skills and tradition, as well as the
environment. The underlying approach being rooted in an innate concern
for the ecology, and this getting translated in the use of bio-degradable
materials for packaging. The traditional use of locally available materials
is still very much in vogue in our country: banana leaves for eating,
leaves for packing sweets, a cup of tea in an earthen pot and special
dishes steamed in wrappings of leaves. The distinct advantage of such
tradition lies in the pragmatic fact that natural materials are being
reused and recycled rather than being wasted; and an extended advantage
of this lies in the possibility of such materials imparting a natural
feel about them, consequently allowing a closeness with nature.
technology offers possibilities:
offers new possibilities. It finds ingenious, appropriate answers to many
practical difficulties. The concept of mass produced, uniform, quality-conscious
packaging has an advantage in terms of predictability, dependibilty, convenience,
etc. Regularity and standardization definitely help to impart a sense
of confidence in a product. New technologies for extruding, forming, shaping,
casting, decorating, printing offer alluring opportunities for developing
packaging of products with distinct personalities. And yet, often, factors
contributing towards the ease of manufacturing packaging have veritably
overshadowed those factors that go to make for user-friendly packaging.
Basically, this is a situation where technology has dedicated the from
rather than the convenience of the user. Advances in technology has facilitated
in integrating packaging with the product itself. The instant camera,
spray knives are examples where packaging is actually the product, or
almost the product.
relate to different materials from considerations of our familiarity drawn
from our past experiences, traditional conventions and their pragmatic
implications. Based on these factors we form opinions and attitudes about
the meaning of materials. Some of the semantic suggestions that the materials
connote are its value in terms of durability, costliness, sacredness,
dependability, beauty, etc. For instance, the material gold denotes security
because of its lasting economic value, earthen pot represents life as
its created from earth, copper connotes the feeling of being sacred from
its use in religion ceremonies. Choosing a proper material decides the
characteristics of packaging. Below are outlined three commonly used materials
Bamboo- the natural material:
has been used in many innovative ways as a packaging material in almost
all places where this material is available. Bamboo offers its hollow
pipe structure to serve as a container, its wide long leaves as a wrapping
material and its cut strips to be woven into a variety of carrying cases.
Many a times bamboo has been used in such a way as to add on to the flavour
and taste of the eatable that it has packaged. In Japan, for example,
jam is traditionally wrapped on different sides of bamboo leaves so as
to impart two different flavours. Bamboo as packaging material can be
used in a way to highlight its properties of freshness, emphasize its
natural textures, make use of its structure and explore its form.
the versatile material:
that easily make paper a favourite material for packaging are its ability
to fold, its adaptability in terms of forming cardboard or corrugated
sheets, its versatility to print images, text and graphics on it, and
its suitability for mass manufacturing. Paper board, cartons, wrapping
sheets, envelopes, corrugated containers are all variations available
in paper. Additionally, paper presents for itself a certain merit of naturalness
in the manner, for example, in which it can be held and felt. In the context
of our culture, paper is treated with respect and reverence, as it represents
a vehicle for diffusion of knowledge. Incidentally, although paper is
derived form bamboo and other organic materials, it reflects none of the
natural properties that are inherent in these original materials.
wrapping - the synthetic option:
flexible material seems increasingly to be replacing paper apart from
pervading many other forms of packaging. Its ability to be speedily mass
manufactured, its properties of being sterile and clean, its capability
for transparency and its ability to be air and water proof seem to be
some of the reasons for which this material is preferred. Many ingenious
ways of wrapping up a product are being discovered with respect to plastics.
Plastics can be formed into varied shapes to impart distinct identities
towards packaging. However, plastic is essentially synthetic to the sense
of touch and has a feel about it of being artificial. Pragmatic aspects
of its short usable life span and it being used in the context of a throw-away
consumer culture make the relationship of the user to this material uncaring,
frivolous and negligent. The factor of its non-bio-degradability and the
fact that it makes use of scarce natural resources, are questions that
need to be seriously considered while designing a package with this material.
Packaging: User-interaction process:
have been concerned till now about the connotative aspects of packaging
from the viewpoint of the materials that go to make the package. We shall
change our viewpoint and look at packaging from its relationship with
the consumer. Its being submitted here that there is an entire world within
the contexts of sensory, visual, communicative and psychological factors
that give packaging a dimension worth researching, outside its definitive
domain of serving an utilitarian function alone. In our opinion, these
sets of factors seem to communicate the meaning of what the package stands
for through their connotative associations. Essentially the interaction
between the packaging and the user here is being seen at an emotive and
behavioural pane. Some of the main interaction points along the packaging-user
interaction matrix have been identified below and their respective emphasis
8.0 Attributes of
- tactile - textural
- olefactory - fragrance
- Visual - attractive
- Expressive / passive
- Traditional / modern
- Aesthetic / formal
- To identify
- To instruct -To persuade
The act of carrying a package:
user interacts with a package by holding it with or without the means
of a handle, by strapping it on to his back or by just carrying it with
his hands or on his shoulders or in some instances by carrying it on the
head. Questions that need to be addressed here are whether a package is
to be carried, held, worn on, strapped on, pushed on or pulled at and
consequently whether to include handles, straps, wheels, and such other
devices on to a package. The physical manifestations of the package in
terms of its dimensions, its form and weight could determine the way it
is to be handled. The way a user interacts with the package in terms of
its portability is normally seen from the viewpoint of convenience. If
protability is considered from a behavioural point of view, it might be
contended here that social habits, convention, cultural factors and traditional
factors influence the way things are to be carried. For example, it is
quite common to see women folk carrying quite a bit of load on their back
in hilly terrains, such as in the mountains of Bengal or Uttar Pradesh
or in Nepal. A plastic shopping bag would seem terribly incongruous when
carried alongside a formal dress. A backpack simply refuses to fit in
with the conventions of the office space and yet look quite adequate and
natural in a campus atmosphere. The behavioural patterns that dictate
the carrying of a package in a certain manner by users must, therefore,
be considered as a significant pre-requisite in the design of packaging.
- Hold, grip, lift
- Strap, tie, push, pull
act of unwrapping:
process of opening a package can be an exciting, memorable and beautiful
experience. By concealing the product, the package creates enough curiosity
of mystery to evoke a desire to open, uncover and discover the object
that is inside the package; the need to satiate one's curiosity is an
inevitable concomitant of the act of unwrapping a package. There is also
a certain sensuality involved in this act of unwrapping. A package could
end up revealing a surprise or continue to remain a puzzle until one has
accessed the inner object. Packaging can also be thought of in layers
that are made up of different materials, with surprises vested at each
level. So when opened, the package reveals its inner layers, each with
a different kind of material or surface, with attendant discoveries at
each level making it a wonderful experience that cumulatively progresses
on with unwrapping until the actual object which it has housed has been
revealed. Even simple concepts like packaging in paper that has varied
patterns or textures on the inner and outer sides could create considerable
interest in the act of opening up a package.
- Create interest
- Open, unfold
- Break, tear
- Unscrew, untie.
8.3 The violence of packaging:
shifting emphasis to the process of manufacture rather than the 'convenience
of use' by the consumer, many modern packages have violence inherently
imbedded in the act of opening them up. There are entire type of plastic
packaging that endorse violent behaviour. In the instances of these packages
more often than not one has to tear off a packet to open it, and this
could require force. Plastic wrappings usually have a propensity for being
crushed at. Unconsciously this might be a reflection of the society in
which we live, perhaps this could be reflection of the pace of modern
living, undoubtedly, however, reinforcing certain behavioural patterns
that take an indifferent or aggressive attitude towards materials. Further,
many of the technology - oriented packaging have a certain violence attached
to them - for example, one cuts open a tin, one pierces a can, all of
which could be quite different from the act of turning on a lid or removing
a cap. There definitely are gentle ways of unpacking.
feel for respect and gratitude:
feel for respect and gratitude towards a product could get reflected in
the way it is wrapped. Package design must be addressed not at the narrow
act of merely covering a piece of physical matter with some material but
must be conceived with a broader view to 'house' the 'being' present therein.
How much importance and care one fixes to the object inside can be gauged
by the care gone into packaging. The package can even take on a symbolic
value. For example, the package could be envisaged as layers of envelopes
one inside another so as to express different aspects and to create levels
of importance, in terms of values. Some of these factors become quite
relevant and significant if the product is meant to be a gift. An emotional
extension of one's feelings is then translated into the intrinsic value
of the product and in this, the packaging as the initial interface plays
an important role.
of personal space:
When one touches a package, it is the texture, the surface, the feel of
the material and such factors that are being experienced by the user.
Touch is also the most personally experienced of all the sensations. A
packaging meant for containing items such as cosmetics or jewellary is
essentially housing a set of artifacts that eventually comes in physical
contact with the user's body. Hence the need to be concerned with parameters
that are tactile sensitive. The desire to express ones personality within
this space is very strong. The design of packaging meant for personal
use in a personal space can also be made to be visually expressive so
as to reflect the identity and the personality of the user. With the exception
of packaging meant for big industrial products which are primarily packaged
for the purpose of transportation, most other packaging needs to be physically
handled by the user and interacts mainly within the domain of one's personal
- Care and detail
- Touch, feel
- Hold, lift.
Packaging needs to be designed with a feel for the natural material as
well as for the consumer who intends to use it. Visual features like the
form, the shape, the colour and the texture of the package has to be designed
so as to be honest and appropriate to the product it contains. Attention
to these details could help to playfully excite one's sense of touch,
sight and even smell. One regrets having to throw a good work of packaging.
If we consider the principle that everything could and should be aesthetic,
then even packaging can be conceived of as an art form by itself. For
example, there are certain perfume bottles that are supposed to appeal
to a sense of beauty; this has been achieved by exploiting the visual
potentials of glass, which veritably adds on to the charm of the bottle.
Nina Ricci's perfume bottle with a glass cork that appears in the shape
of a winged bird definitely makes the whole thing ethereal - the bottle,
the perfume, as well as the final getup.
- Harmony, Contrast
- Balance, Proportion
- Structure, Symmetry
- Shape, colour
of nature/ tradition/ craftsmanship:
In the context of a mechanical, mass produced, consumer oriented, urban
society one never fails to appreciate the soft chord that touches one's
senses to be able to be near nature, or to be able to value tradition
and appreciate craftsmanship. Hence objects of rituals, social functions,
etc., have these aspects built into them. For example, there are products
such as wines and pearls that enhance in value with age. Packaging of
such products can take on a dimension of its own. Also packaging of products
with strong associations with tradition, culture and history, would perforce
require the above factors to be taken into account. The package for a
bottle of saki uses natural materials to announce its freshness. Beedi
packaging still remains quite traditional, and it almost feels as if the
beedies would loose their flavour if packed in a cardboard case. It could
come as a relief to be able to use natural materials for packaging meant
for occasions such as a get-together, because a get-together evokes a
sense of cosiness, just as materials like bamboo help transmute a sense
of warmth and naturalness into the given environment.
enhance value :
consumption of packaging :
has a language that sets moods, triggers impulses, satisfies hungers and
can emotionally move a person. Marketability is sometimes the prime mover
and motivation in the design of a package. Packages are meant to entice
and persuade the consumers to consume it. Communications help to advertise
about the product and draw the attention of the user towards the product.
The graphics on the packaging would aid in its responsibility and create
an identity of its own. To be able to differentiate a product from the
others it is essential to create a distinct personality for the given
product. The consumer has to discriminate, identity and select from among
many the appropriate product to suit his own requirement. Once the confidence
of the consumer is built-up for the product, it mostly leads to a loyalty
towards that particular brand. This is a very important criteria in the
context of the busy consumer oriented society, because this loyalty to
a particular brand relives him from the burden of having to make decisions
from innumerable possible alternatives. Conformity in the user develops
because of repeated habit and the added security it connotes. These aspects
have to be considered as essential in the design of packaging.
8.9 The architecture
of enclosed space:
construction of the package is primarily meant to protect and transport
an object in transit; but outside the utilitarian mechanistic confines
of packaging must serve the function of a wider hyper-bole, for example,
one of sheltering and housing an object in such a way that the house itself
reflects the character has been packaged. The construction of the packaging
can incorporate the detailed intricacies of form that make the package
formally exciting and appropriately functional. The package must attempt
to reflect the intrinsic value of the product, the personality of it.
In the extreme case, the package could even serve the function of value
addition, that ends up enhancing the original value of the given product.
In other words, the package must speak a language of its own that makes
the whole of the package greater than the sum of its parts. It is also
important to consider packaging design from an architectural viewpoint
as referring to the design in totality and not merely treatment of the
The life after
The life of a package is entended when it allows other functional uses
after its primary function as packaging has been served. Examples of such
extension are cardboard boxes that can be converted into toys for children.
Or the use of visually interesting bottles that could end up as show pieces,
or empty bottles as jars in the kitchen to store other things. This concern
towards packaging design also helps in developing an attitude against
the throw-away culture. Conservation, reuse and preservation instead of
wastage existing in economies characterized by conspicuous consumption
could then contribute towards an ecologically sound goal.
find another use
is hoped that many of the concerns expressed above in this paper can bee
seen as pointers towards design of user-friendly packaging. Comtemporary
design has to recognize these semantic factors as offering opportunities
for further design explorations. Packaging conceived in this direction
is expected to further enrich the kinesthetic interaction between the
user and the packaging.
The author would like to thank Dr. Ajanta Sen for her suggestions and
other assistance with this paper.
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Industrial design Centre,
Indian Institute of Technology,
Powai, Mumbai 400076