Packaging has a strong impact on the customer’s impression of products. An extreme example is Apple, who enclose their products in a package that from a design sense, is as elegant as the product itself. And they have done this so successfully, that they hardly even need to put their name on it. My wife and I recently received a gift from Anna Rabinowicz, one of my favorite former teaching assistants who is the founder of Rablabs, and an associate professor of design at Parsons School of Design. It was a large and beautiful fruit bowl, and the packaging (for ground shipment) simply screamed “don’t even think of criticizing me. I am at least as important than you are”.
On the other extreme are the majority of products one buys. I am so fed up with most of them that I tend to lean toward products because the packages are minimal, easy to open, convenient to keep the product in after opening, and are not oversize advertising platforms for blaring advertising not only for the manufacturer, but for other people who clearly are willing to pay to be included. A couple of days ago, after an attempt to open a gallon of milk wth a new cap design, I wrote the following tweet: “Encountered new type of cap on our milk . Must be safer. Required water pump pliers to loosen. Pipe wrench would also have worked” But then I remembered the day that I encountered a package so resistant that I went to a mat knife, which slipped on the plastic and cut my hand, and wrote another tweet: “Hell just for packaging designers —all food is in sealed bubble packs and they have no scissors, knives, or other tools.”
Today’s encounter was the opening of a package of four padlocks, sealed at a number of points, with the two keys that opened them loose inside the package. I had no tools at hand. I found on attempting to pull them apart, that although the two sides were not totally sealed together, I could not. But I was out of doors at the time, and I did succeed in pulling them apart sufficiently that the keys fell out into a large pile of dried oak leaves. By the time I had sorted through the oak leaves to find the keys, and hunted down a scissors strong enough to cut through the plastic, I thought much less of both the locks and the maker of same.
Of course, the package did boast a large logo of the maker, and a small one for another company, (who apparently was in charge of rust-proofing them) and a good bit of pointing out the advantages of the product. And probably the packages were cheap and convenient to ship, run through self-checkout machines, and hang on hooks, and large enough to discourage shop lifters. But the customer does not benefit directly from such things.
But I have another annoyance that I cannot blame on the manufacturer. I recently ordered one hundred of a somewhat uncommon type of small machine screw over the internet. The good news wass that they arrived in a nice cardboard box that was easy to open and close and had the type and size of the screw plainly printed on the top. But when it arrived, that box of screws was contained in another box. The photo above shows the two.
The rather large space between the boxes was filled with the now familiar plastic bags of gas. The good news was that no peanuts were involved. And of course the larger box gave plenty of area for a large label containing my name, address, and other cryptic shipping and handling information, and undoubted decreased the sender’s inventory problem by allowing the use of fewer box sizes.
But jeez! When you receive such packages, don’t you wonder why a society as advanced as we think we are is shipping all of this cardboard and gas around? If the size of packages is not an issue because shipping is weight constrained, smaller packages would at least permit the use of smaller trucks that it did not take so long to pass each other on the highway.
And finally, I certainly do not consider myself an environment fanatic, but when I see the empty cardboard containers waiting for our recycling pickup each week, I do feel like going out and hugging a tree.