We’re proud of what we do here at Rare Design. Our Organic Ideation process puts us in pole position where designing for innovation is concerned.
But we can also admit when we’re totally outdone, and when it comes to product packaging, nature has already provided the ultimate innovation.
We’re not joking.
Nobody likes ripping open a package and discovering something’s not quite right. Bananas are trustworthy in exactly the way that eggs aren’t – you look at the skin and you can tell if the banana’s bruised and where, as well as making a reasonable guess at whether it’s still good.
It’s important that customers know what exactly what they’ve buying. Visible indicators of status and quality build consumer trust. Some innovations in this area are technical, such as anti-fogging plastic film which retains moisture and transparency at the same time. Others are more trendy – the rise and rise of transparent windows in food packaging indicates that the use-by date is no longer enough.
But nothing quite beats the simple, effective beauty of the banana.
The basic role of packaging is to protect what’s inside from what’s outside. Seems obvious, but after you’ve handled a paper food bag that disintegrates from the heat, grease or simple weight of its contents, you may realise how often the obvious is overlooked. Sometimes we’re so concerned about protecting the contents of our packaging that we go overboard, individually shrinkwrapping each component and giving each bag its own custom-cut space in the box and then padding the box…
Much like the banana, Rockpocket is flexible, tough, and secure. It’s also versatile – though not quite in the same as the banana skin. While the banana skin shields a layer of phloem that nourishes the tasty inside bit, Rockpocket adopts the shape of whatever’s put inside, sealing tight around the contents.
Bananas lag a little behind apples, pears and other fruits with edible skins on this one, but their natural packaging is tougher, and at least it’s fully biodegradable. Packaging walks a fine line between practical necessity and ecological responsibility: if your product doesn’t produce its own packaging, you have some difficult choices to make.
Japanese design group AMAM’s Agar Plasticity project is an attempt to eliminate those choices. It’s plastic, but instead of oil, it’s made from agar that’s sourced from living seaweed. Unlike oil-based plastics, it’s sustainably sourced and biodegradable. It’s not edible – but neither is the banana skin. Nothing’s perfect.
Colours are important. Yellow, for instance, represents optimism, light and warmth – and it’s the first colour the human eye picks up from its surroundings. The banana cleverly broadcasts brand values and it indicates what’s inside to the point that you don’t even need to see a brand name. Subtle and effective. All of these designs do the same thing – but the banana does a whole lot more.
Packaging that’s built into its product – or products that are built into their packaging – are great for eliminating waste. Manufacturers don’t have to sink money into something that’s just there to keep something else safe, and customers don’t have to fill their bins with shrinkwrap, styrofoam and plastic tags.
Obviously, fruit has something of a leg up here, but designers are starting to take the banana’s example seriously. Soap boxes that dissolve in the shower, plastic bags that peel from the centre of a roll (so there’s no end that needs wrapping up, i.e. no need for packaging) and detergent sachets in perforated strips (i.e. not boxes) are all theoretically possible. They’re just waiting for someone to ask for them.
Banana skins are evidence of the ultimate iterative Organic Ideation process – evolution. Evolution produces innovation. The process is sustainable, not to mention sustained, and the iterations of designs eventually develop into the perfect solution to a problem.