24 May 2011

Graphic design students inspired by Plastikos exhibition

Stuart Dickinson
The Plastikos exhibition's plastic dragon.

On the first day of term, the second and third-year graphic design students from the Ruth Prowse School of Art visited the Aquarium’s Plastikos exhibition as part of a two-week course on sustainable graphic design.

The aim of the course was to make them aware of the environmental impact of a graphic designer’s work, whether through material and production choices, or through messages that help to raise awareness.

Plastikos, produced by Simon Max Bannister, focuses on perpetual plastic waste, and lecturer Laskarina Yiannakaris wanted her students to question a designer’s contribution to this problem. A lot of plastic and landfill waste is made up of packaging, and the exhibition explores the fact that unsustainable packaging designs are polluting our world.

As part of the course, the students were given a challenging design brief. They had to redesign the packaging of common household products so that the packaging became more sustainable. The products were: Twinsaver Facial Tissues; Radiant Lighting CFL light bulbs; Sunlight dishwashing tablets and Black Label beer.

These are products that we interact with often, but do we ever question the packaging?

Are they packaged in the most efficient and environmental friendly way possible? Does the packaging supply the consumer with all the important information about the product? Do consumers know what to do with the package once its contents have been removed?

The students had to answer these questions before starting to think of a design solution. They did this by researching everything there was to know about the product, the brand and the packaging.

When it came to conceptualising the design solution, the students had to consider the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Also part of the packaging redesign brief, the students had to create a “green” sub-brand for the products’ main brand. They needed to design the logo for this sub-brand and apply it onto the new packaging. This was a great exploration of the complexity of sustainability, and of how we can use design as a tool for educating consumers about important environmental issues.

During the course, the students learnt that designing a more sustainable packaging solution can be achieved in several ways, for example: by better material choices; reducing the amount of packaging; reducing the amount of ink coverage and, more interestingly, through strong messaging and awareness creation.

The students were very inspired by Plastikos, and said they will definitely be more mindful of the environment when approaching their next design brief.

Three of the more successful design solutions are featured here. Read the students’ creative rationales to get an understanding of what made their packaging solutions more sustainable.

Natures Little Helper – Kirsten Krige

Natures Little Helper (NHL) is a new brand of eco-friendly tissues. The idea behind NLH is that there should be a move towards becoming more “green” and sustainable, and hopefully fun and educational!

Firstly, I decided to manufacture two-ply tissues, which are 100% recycled, while the NLH tissue box is made from 100% recycled cardboard (40% pre-consumer waste and 60% post-consumer waste), and can thus be recycled.

I really wanted people to interact with the product. The design of the box at first appears to be very plain as it is a natural colour with brown images and text (this reduces the amount of ink used).

It is aimed at children and acts as an educational/colouring-in box. The box tells children the story of bees, trees, the eco-systems and the ocean. It invites them to learn and to create their own artwork, and then either recycle the box or to use it as a stationery box afterwards!

The story is simple and short, in the hope that it educates children and sparks their curiosity, so that perhaps they will ask their parents, friends, teachers and even themselves the question: “What can I do to become a little helper of nature?”

Black Label Snow – Astrid Schwarz

These days, a lot of emphasis is placed on recycling, but being able to reuse a product is just as important in reducing waste. In my design, I have addressed this issue, as well as the importance of being more responsible when it comes to what we can do with a product to expand its lifespan.

Black Label Snow is a sub-brand of Black Label, targeting women. By replacing the standard plastic packaging beer often arrives in, I am presenting the consumer with a reusable canvas bag. The bag is divided into compartments to keep each bottle of beer in place. In doing this, I am giving the consumer the option of reusing the bag, whether when purchasing their next pack of beer or for storing other items.

To communicate my message, I’ve created a logo with elements that are easily associated with reuse, such as the arrows used in the “O” in Snow. I have then repeated this throughout the design, using the “O” along with tips on how to be more responsible, as well as using the same element on the bottle cap to reiterate my message.

The snowflake represents softness and femininity, which relates well to the blue tones used. This creates feelings of freshness and coolness that complement the product.

Black Label Snow is about being open to sustainability, and not being afraid to acknowledge that design, even for beer, can be done in a way that is responsible and respectful to the Earth. I no longer design without asking myself, “Where will my design end up, and how can I extend its life span in a positive way?”

Link energy-saver light bulb

We know that a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) uses less electricity compared to the ordinary light bulb, but what about the packaging? What is the point of trying to save energy when the resources used for the packaging are far greater compared to the old bulb and are more likely to end up on the ever-growing waste dump? Also, are people fully informed about the CFL? Do they know how to properly dispose of it?

With this in mind, the concept for the new packaging design was first to reduce the materials used for the current packaging and second, to provide more information about the product on the packaging. What sparked the sub-brand name “Link” was the fact that there are results linked to the usage of a CFL. This is in turn what inspired the illustrative storyline on the packaging about CFL use.

Although it is true that an individual would not save a huge fortune by using a CFL (the house with the shining bulb inside), it still uses less electricity, which reduces the electricity bill (able to save some money in the piggy bank). However, more importantly, if more people started to use energy-efficient light bulbs, the demand for electricity would be reduced and this would lead to less pollution (in turn, helping to save the world).

Due to the potential hazard of the CFL, the packaging design is focused on making the purchaser aware, and encourages proper recycling or disposal. This is as opposed to the packaging having a constructed second life. It takes into consideration that accidents do happen and if the CFL were to break while still inside the packaging, it could be safely handled.

With the understanding that the packaging would be disposed of, the minimal amount of material has been used while at the same time, it provides the necessary information about and protection for the product. A single piece of thin, unpolished, recycled cardboard has been rolled tightly around the lamp. This greatly reduced the material required, and provides a more solid image platform that allows for a more natural and less hindered flow of the packaging imagery. Instead of using glue, folding tabs and flaps on the top and bottom keep it together.

As for ink, only two colours made from a soy-base dye have been used and printed directly onto the cardboard surface, thus reducing ink usage, as well making the packaging easier to recycle. Normally packaging is opened from the top or bottom, but the problem with this for the CFL is that it is discouraged to handle the bulb by the glass tube to prevent possible damage.

This new packaging is intended to be opened from the side instead, not only for safe handling, but also to utilise the packaging more effectively as an information pamphlet, thus adding an immediate secondary use (or second life). The storyline continues on the inside with more technical information about the product, as well as how to go about proper disposal.

In conclusion, it was quite a challenge to redesign packaging that has been used so many times not only from the technical aspect, but also in terms of providing the message in a different way to spark the purchaser’s interest. Also, it has to be kept in mind that even though you want to encourage recycling, some products needs proper handling, or cannot be included with the average recycle products due to their composition.

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