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Blog posts tagged as 'packaging'

Infinite Zoom into Milk

In 1977 Charles and Ray Eames made a documentary film called Powers of Ten. The second half of the film includes a slow zoom into a man’s hand, right the way through cells and molecules all the way down to an atomic structure. It’s extraordinarily engaging, beginning at a familiar human context, and visualising something desperately distant and unknowable.

About a year ago James King brought a book to my attention from a series called Analysis of the Massproduct Design by Japanese product designer Taku Sato.

Analysis of the Massproduct Design is just like the Eames Powers of Ten video but for everyday products.

Taku Sato book covers

Each book takes a manufactured product and breaks down the content, graphics, construction and packaging page by page. The books are like infinite zooms into fabrication and history.

There are four, in turn looking at Xylitol Lime Mint chewing gum, a Fujifilm disposable camera, ‘Licca the fashion dress up doll by Takara Co.’ and a litre of milk from the Meiji Dairies Corporation. The blurb reads:

…we will take up and focus on one mass-produced product seen everywhere in our daily life without special attention paid to and from the point of view of design we try to take a closer look at and analytically examine it to find what kinds of ideas, efforts, ingenuities have been put in to it.

Each book begins with an overview and in some cases a history. This is from the book on the Fujifilm disposable camera.

Fujifilm overview

As the book progresses, spreads examine the product in greater and greater detail. Near the end of the Fujifilm book, there’s a photographic one micrometer cross section of the film stock.

fujifilm book film detail

One of my favourites spreads is from the book examining Xylitol chewing gum and is titled ‘The Feeling on the Teeth When Chewed.’ It’s about the material qualities of tablets versus sticks of gum. A quote:

The firmness of a chewing gum changes gradually with the passing of the time of its being chewed. In order to make this change of the chewing feeling close to an ideal one, the elements that should make up of the chewing gum are controlled… The figure shows the strength of the chewing exerted in the mouth measured with an analyzing device called RheoMeter. These graphs will tell you how different the chewing feelings are between ordinary sheet-type chewing gum and sugar coated chewing gum.

An ideal chewing feeling! A RheoMeter! They’ve got a machine for testing the chewiness of gum.

chewiness spread

I think Taku Sato actually designed the packaging for the milk carton he analyses. One of the spreads shows what each of the indents on the base of the cartons are for. Ambiguity in the translation adds to the mystery in some cases:

…(image a) is a little dented. This is for securing the stability of the carton when placed straight on a table… The number (image c) is the filling machine’s column index. The embossed information works for cause of the trouble to be clarified when it happens.

Taku Sato milk base

The books feel like imaginary manuals. They offer the seductive illusion that with this book the object can be completely known, all secrets unravelled. They somehow imply that if all was lost, objects like these could be reconstructed with this knowledge alone.

A while back I came across the term ‘Spime’ in Bruce Sterling‘s book Shaping Things. He uses the word to characterise smart objects which talk about their histories, how they were made, where they were sourced, where they’ve been, etc. Spimes might be a cars which announce their locations, or a packaged beef steak which shows the cow it comes from and where that cow was raised.

Sato’s books are raw Spime porn. Objects showing off their shiny interiors, construction and their ancestors. The celebrity biographies of mass produced objects.

Three more enjoyable ways to open packaging

Since the comments on the Experience Hooks post were on unboxing, I thought I’d post about my current favourite packaging.

The following video shows a CD case then a cigarette packet, both opening in an unusual way. You also get to see my neck, and my Norwegian fishing jumper.

The CD, Peeping Tom (collaborations with Mike Patton), is just very cool. The action is unexpected, and the way the keyhole image changes is engaging. It’s the kind of thing you show your friends.

I’m more enamoured with the Benson & Hedges Silver Slide special edition pack. (I don’t smoke–I found this, empty, on a table in a pub.)

B&W Silver Slide

The pack understands that a large component of smoking cigarettes is gifting them to other people. There’s a lot of reciprocity wrapped up in that act: It can be used to develop an aura of generosity, or cashed-in immediately to get a hard-won conversation. See also: Teens and text messages in Alex Taylor’s paper The gift of the gab [PDF].

Silver Slide develops a story around that potent experience hook. Offering the cigarette, overlooked usually but now prominent because of novelty, becomes part of the experience. Really, you don’t need any remaining cigarettes.

My favourite touch: When you slide open the pack, there’s a space to write messages on the inner draw. That’s exactly what social smoking, especially with strangers, is about.

Ketchup bottle top

Taking something much more everyday, I’m also a fan of the squeezable Heinz Ketchup bottle (scroll down) launched a few years ago. Once upon a time, the ketchup bottle was a vehicle for carrying the product–that is, the sauce. Although the glass bottle was used in adverts as a feature, it was pretty tedious to use. The sauce came out slowly, and the rim of the bottle would get grubby. It was hard to clean. The move to a squeezy bottle recognised that the experience of consuming the ketchup was part of the product itself.

The squeezy bottle allows for quick and accurate application of sauce, and – the best feature – the bottle-top has no rim. It has a large, flat top, slightly curved. It’s extremely easy to clean, with a fluid wipe-round action. Because it’s easy, it’s done more often, and my overall experience of living with ketchup has become considerably less grubby. I’m sure grubbiness wasn’t something with which Heinz wanted to be associated.

A previously unpleasant uncatered-for activity intrinsic to the delivery of ketchup has become part of the design. Who knows whether ease-of-cleaning was a factor in the squeezy bottle shift… I’d like to think it was.

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