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The solution of packaging
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What can design do to solve the problem we presented in our previous post? A lot. Like we always say, design alone can just take small steps, we need companies (our clients) scientists and engineers (our colleagues) and specially consumers to make a real impactful change. Nevertheless, design has a strategic role which can show the way to the other actors in the scene.

Despite some theorists say that the three traditional eco-design strategies are an obsolete idea, the fact is that they are still a good starting point.

The first one is to reduce, with good design we can create packaging with the same functionality but using less material, while being equally or more attractive. Overpackaging is something that should make everyone angry and can even be considered unethical. To present something better in store is never a good enough reason to spend more material and resources than the strictly necessary. Companies should be creative, offering more and using less, and designers should tell them how to do it. Their economic results will appreciate it, and so will the environment and the client’s perception.

The second one is to reuse. With design, some single-use packaging can be substituted by a reusable one, reducing a lot the environmental impact that packaging provokes. A typical example are plastic bags at the grocery store. Do we really need to produce tonnes of virgin plastic bags that are only going to be used for 5 minutes, from the store to home? Of course not. Sadly, this can be applied to many other products and packagings, that can be replaced by reusable options in a very easy way.  Why is it that the evolution of this industry has resulted in the substitution of things that were already working - like refillable glass bottles - by others that are objectively worse?

The third one is to recycle, which involves the consumer, who has the responsibility to separate waste at home and dispose of each item according to the information provided by their waste management organization. Nevertheless, it also involves companies and designers, because they must create packs that are easily recycled, with a minimal number of different materials and choosing those that allow a complete re-introduction in the chain.

These are the three main strategies that have always been at the center of sustainable design, and in some ways, these are overpowered by others that have a more systemic approach. A step forward is to design packaging with a circular design approach where it can be re-introduced in the chain again without losing any value.

There are dozens more ideas that can improve the environmental impact of packaging and have an influence at different stages of the life cycle. It’s the job of the sustainability expert to find the one that best fits the product, the brand and its target. In order to choose wisely, designer and client need to perfectly understand the life cycle and the characteristics of the product they are offering.

Sadly, no strategy is ever going to work if consumers do not change some of the factors that are nowadays key decision-making aspects when purchasing a product. Consumers tend to be lazy and want easy and cheap things, but we need to understand that to buy something is as act of responsibility, and that to choose well benefits us all. Let’s then be smart and make the right choice.

The problem of packaging

We are not the first to say that in a global reality where there are increasingly more competitors, the image of a company is a key factor that must be controlled to send the right message in the intended tone. Consumers want to be identified with the brands they buy, so companies better care about how they present their products.

But packaging is not only a question of image, it is what protects what you want to sell, what the consumer sees in the store, what helps you to use the product in the right way and which completes its -generally short- life cycle by being recycled in the best of cases, or what ends up in a landfill or the sea being eaten by a fish or creating islands of waste in the worst of them.

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Using data from the Catalan Waste Agency last year we threw away almost 159.170 tonnes of light packaging in Catalonia (plastic and metal) plus more than 314.400 tonnes of paper and cardboard and 192.000 of glass. With Catalonia having 7.600.000 citizens, this means we are producing 87,59kg of packaging waste per person per year. The situation will only become more dramatic seeing how these numbers are going up after a few calmer years because of the economic crisis. We can find similar data in most of the developed countries.

In terms of volume, which is a very important aspect when speaking about waste management, the situation becomes even worse, because packaging tends to be something more or less lightweight but that occupies a lot of space. This fact results in very inefficient transport of waste with trucks that are not fully loaded in terms of weight although they are full, thus having to make more trips than necessary.

According to data from the OECD, in 2015 Spain recovered a 40% of the waste we produce, with a 30% recycling rate, but we are still far from the numbers of Belgium or Germany, that recover more than a 99% with a recycling percentage of 55% and 65% respectively. Maybe the European numbers look acceptable or in the right direction, but if we consider the huge amount of resources and energy needed to produce and later manage this packaging which almost instantly becomes waste, we can see that the solution is not only about whether they are recycled or not.

Once we are aware of the environmental problem we are creating, that is finally appearing in the news almost every day, someone might think that we are in the right path to solving it, and this cannot be less true. The United Nations’ Global Sustainable Development Goals establish that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by a 30% by 2030. This will prove complicated seeing how every year we produce more tonnes of waste than the previous year instead of reducing them.

Consumers are lazy by definition. The number of products packaged in individual portions is increasing, while buying in bulk has become something from the past despite some interesting projects that are appearing in our cities (or some others that never disappeared in smaller towns).

Take-away food and food delivery is a reality that is here to stay. Markets like the American have decades of advantage here, but it is now a fast-growing business in Europe.  Once again, the amount of waste we create every time we order food is completely insane. Online shopping is another reality that is a part of our everyday lives, and expectedly, the distribution to our homes results in added boxes or bags.

It is important to remember that when we are at a store, we want to buy detergent, wine or cereal, not packaging. Therefore, all the actors in the value chain should ensure their products are packed as efficiently as possible without losing image or functionality, and consumers need to be much more responsible when choosing between them.

Design 2049
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If you follow us you probably know that since our beginning in 2009 we have always been very interested in design teaching and theory. One of our favourite sports is to grab a coffee/beer/wine and to spend a couple of hours solving the world, from the design point of view of course, but not only! We have years of experience giving lectures, workshops, classes and writing articles about design, sustainability and more in many different scenarios. We strongly believe that before acting you always have to think, but not too much, balance is the key!

A couple of months ago we had to write a critical article about our vision about the design sector and the design teaching in the following years for an university of Italy, and we want to share with you the parts that were not specifically written for them! Without going as far as the 2049, because things happen every day faster, we want to show you our vision about the close future of our profession. We hope you take it as an open opinion, that it stimulates yours and of course that you share with us what you think about it!    


The tradition of design talks mostly about four disciplines: graphic, product, interiors, and fashion, but this division is nowadays obsolete like the offer of grades and postgraduates of most of the design schools abroad demonstrates: food design, retail design, jewelry, art management, packaging design, sustainable design, coolhunting and trends, brand management, and the list can continue forever! Today design is something much more complex and has evolved to many more shapes than the traditional four categories, that of course are still alive. 

In our opinion this is what describes better the situation of design now, there are no boundaries, and every one can decide specifically where to point his/her career mixing disciplines.

There are designers who have learnt to program, and their work is something in between product design and robotics, or even art, others work in restaurants collaborating with chefs or with scientists or doctors in a laboratory... Graphic designers use every day more 3D, photography and also programming to develop things that are much more dynamic (apps, videos, animation, etc.) than the graphic design of 30 years ago. It happened the same with fashion, new textiles and technologies are making possible the development of wearables, smart clothes that have many more functionalities than the traditional ones, and fashion designers have a lot to say there. 

The integration of technology in almost every aspect of our lives is one of the main trends that any design learning program should include, but sustainability and social responsibility are probably even more important. They are actually having an enormous influence in consumer behaviour, and this situation will grow. This is said in the most renowned trend/design reports like Nelly Rodi or David Carsson report and you can see the influence even in sectors as automotive, fashion or packaging. It's a big change, and designers -in collaboration with environmentalists, engineers, etc.- are the ones who can apply these criteria in a more natural and integrated way. 

The third tool that we think every designer should have nowadays besides the traditional design skills is business. There are lots of designers/makers selling directly their creations in collaboration of artisans or little suppliers, something that has traditionally happened in fashion but maybe not as much in product or in graphic design. This makes more necessary to have a business vision that it's also helpful in case you are part of a bigger organisation. Design is now inside the management boards of the most innovative companies in the world -the typical example is Apple, but even companies that offer services are using design and designers as a decision tool-, and has become something strategic and never more something only just aesthetic or superficial, that in our opinion it never was! 

The consolidation of design thinking does nothing more than to demonstrate that design helps in strategic decision making.

In our opinion, all of these facts are the ultimate demonstration that to design has never been to master a series of tools like non-designers often think. Design is a problem solving methodology, and as it happened before the best designers will always be the ones that have the criteria and the vision to offer the best answers for what the users, the consumers and the clients need, despite the changes that the profession and the world has suffered and will suffer even more in the next years!