The new world of packaging design: green, communicative, tailored

A new book, Material Innovation: Packaging Design, written by a material science consultant and a design consultant, explores the ways that packaging is being changed by innovations in retail, materials, design, and marketing.

Wired's Margaret Rhodes reviewed the book today, and I'd ordered my copy before I'd finished her article. The authors have organized the book around thematic case studies: "Functional Forms," "Dispensing Systems," and "Interactive," and use these to illuminate the way that online shopping, environmental consciousness and new emphasis on design are changing packaging from something you throw away to something that you admire, re-use, or that literally vanishes during the product's normal use.

Even though much of what we buy today comes straight from a warehouse to our mailbox, "unboxing" videos still thrive, and packaging has taken on a new intimacy. Combine that with questions about sustainability and the environment and the whole matter becomes urgent as well.

Take Veuve Cliquot. The French company has been making champagne since 1772. It's both a luxury and a heritage brand, owned by LVMH, the same people who own Louis Vuitton and Dior. Two years ago, the champagne house started selling something peculiar for a brand of its refined stature: a portable bottle case made from old potatoes. The white cooler, which keeps a bottle of champagne chilled for up to two hours, is among the many examples cataloged in Material Innovation: Packaging Design from Thames & Hudson ($30, here).

The case checks a lot of boxes for modern package design standards: It is environmentally conscious, because the potato starch and recycled paper that make up the container are compostable. It's communicative, in that the smooth white look mimics the exterior of portable coolers, and the arced handle evokes a fountain of champagne. You can even drop it, and the bottle within won't shatter. The packaging is protective, biodegradable, and tailored to its contents—a lot like a banana peel.

Material Innovation: Packaging Design [Andrew H. Dent and Leslie Sherr/Thames and Hudson]

New Book Material Innovation Goes Inside the Surprisingly Clever World of Package Design [Margaret Rhodes/Wired]