Dodecahedron-shaped box

I was given a modernistic, sputnik-type hanging light for my birthday a few years back. It was a “Star Light” designed in 1998 by Tom Dixon, made by the apparently now-defunct Eurolounge, purchased at Totem, a store in New York which also no longer exists as such.

It came in a brown corrugated dodecahedron-shaped box. A lover of polyhedra, I kept that box as a bedside table for a couple of years, before eventually laying it to rest in recycling. Now I’m sorry that I let it go. I could have taken a picture of it. (If anyone can find a picture of this box online, you are better at Google research than I…)

This box was the perfect size and shape for what it contained, but it was such an unusual thing to see. A lot of companies would have just put this product in a rectangular box with some inserts. Why? I’m not certain that I understand the economics of it. Is it prohibitively expensive to make dodecahedral boxes? Or is it just a failure of imagination? I know there were some dodecahedron-shaped speakers on the market… Anyone know of other products that come in a box this shape?

(one more photo after the jump)

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Men’s Bitter Chocolate Pocky

PockymensSaturday morning we went to Fairway in Red Hook for some groceries. This Pocky “Men’s Bitter Chocolate” caught my eye. I like the colors and their graphic use of the product photo (wrapping around to the side). A little bit reminiscent of candy cigarettes—(shape of the product, construction of the box)— But why is it “Men’s Bitter Chocolate?” I wondered, was there also a Woman’s chocolate? With that idea in mind I found myself buying 2 other Pocky products, just in case it turned out that the red package or the pink Strawberry Pocky package might turn out to be the feminine product—so that at least I would have a matching set! 

I was not fully attuned to the Pocky phenomenon, but my 15 year old son was clearly unimpressed with my purchases. (He regards Pocky as a bad-tasting affectation of classmates who should, by now, have outgrown their misguided enthusiasm for all things anime/manga.)

(more photos after the jump)

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Clare Graham’s Post-Consumer Decorative Objects

TincantopsLeft hand photo by Raeanne Giovanni-Inoue for The New York Times. Right hand photo & photos below are from Clare Graham’s web site

This photo on the left is from today’s New York Times article about this year’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House. The wall panel, made from the tops of tin cans is by Clare Graham. He specializes in making things out of other things which I like. And a lot of the things that he makes are made out of packaging, which I really like.

Love how the wall panel looks like raindrops on a lake. He make other objects with the same technique—(detail of a table on the right).


He also makes seating and flooring out of soda cans and decorative vessels out of soda can pull tabs. Makes me wish I had the financial wherewithal to become a collector. I’d be a post-consumer connoisseur.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Earth Day

FullerearthBuckminster Fuller’s dymaxion map was about creating a less distorted map of a flattened out earth. (Not about packaging) Fold it up and you get an icosahedron-shaped globe. (Not a package)

And as much as this map reminds me of a diecut, folding carton, I’ll focus instead on Fuller’s philosophy:

The grandson of a Unitarian minister… Buckminster Fuller was an early environmental activist. He was very aware of the finite resources the planet has to offer, and promoted a principle that he termed “ephemeralization”— which… Fuller coined to mean “doing more with less.” Resources and waste material from cruder products could be recycled into making higher value products, increasing the efficiency of the entire process.

…Fuller was concerned about sustainability and about human survival under the existing socio-economic system, yet optimistic about humanity’s future. Defining wealth in terms of knowledge, as the “technological ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life”, his analysis of the condition of “Spaceship Earth” led him to conclude that at a certain time in the 1970s, humanity had crossed an unprecedented watershed. Fuller was convinced that the accumulation of relevant knowledge, combined with the quantities of key recyclable resources that had already been extracted from the earth, had reached a critical level, such that competition for necessities was no longer necessary. Cooperation had become the optimum survival strategy. “Selfishness”, he declared, “is unnecessary and…unrationalizable…War is obsolete…”


Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

(Dyamxion earth map animation by Chris Rywalt) Dymaxion_2003_animation_small1

Alternative Exterminating & Graphics

Alternative2We’re intrigued by this business on Route 47 in Cape May Courthouse, NJ. A heretofore unsuspected connection between pest control and graphic design? (See my post about Victor mouse traps). Or does the existence of such a business only serve to illustrate the importance of diversification?

Also curious about the name. Why “Alternative?” Alternative lifestyle? Alternative rock? (A secret reference to the rat-related lyric in Smashing Pumpkins’ Bullet with Butterfly Wings?)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Newman’s Own Shrink Sleeve Label

NewmansdistortI bought this bottle of Newman’s Own Natural salad Mist at Stop & Shop. Graphics for “shrink sleeve labels” must be designed to anticipate and compensate for distortion when stretched around a bottle shape. Paul Newman’s face may have been correctly pre-distorted, but if the printed wrap is not applied to this flat bottle in the correct position what do you get? Like Cool Hand Luke’s belly after eating 50 eggs, you get Paul Newman’s face all stretched out and distorted. 

Also have to say something about that background… After some discussion around the dinner table, we came to the conclusion that the splotchy, opaque background was supposed to represent a green salad coated with brown, balsamic dressing. An appetizing execution. Not.

Still, with $220 million donated to charity, every product sold with a Paul Newman face is for a good cause. (Even this carny-funhouse-mirror version.)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Wacky Pack Anecdote

WackypackI went into a stationery store on Amsterdam Avenue last week to buy some #10 envelopes. Waiting in line, I spotted a counter display of Wacky Packages. I was not into these when I was a kid, but seeing as how Topps has started selling them again (and having just blogged about them last month), I figured I’d let the POP display work its magic on me and I succumbed to an impulse purchase.

The teenage girl who was manning the the cash register: “Oh… getting a Wacky Pack, sir?”

Me (laughing): “Yes. Yes, I am!

(It’s strange how, when you hit a certain age, everyone starts calling you “Sir.” Hearing it in the the same sentence with the words "Wacky Pack” it sounds even stranger than usual.)

Me: “Do these sell well?”

Teenage girl: “They always sell out.”

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Reverend Billy on Packaging

RevbillymorepacksWhat Would Jesus Buy?“, the documentary film produced by Morgan Spurlock and directed by Rob VanAlkemade, comes out on DVD May 20

Seems like an appropriate time to share my interview with Reverend Billy. (This being Sunday and all.) Following the thread of my earlier Dieline post about package designers striving to be good, Reverend Billy and his “Church of Stop Shopping” should be of interest to any package designer aspiring to an ethical “higher ground.”

For the uninitiated, Reverend Billy and his congregation stage “retail interventions” in which they enter major retail stores posing as average consumers, only to commit some humorous act of anti-consumerist agitprop: exhibiting tragic symptoms of mass buyer’s remorse, exorcizing cash registers, etc. Box vox attended last Sunday’s Fabulous Worship Service at Saint Mark’s Church where the Stop Shopping Choir performed their rousing, gospel-tinged, anti-consumer-culture anthems and the good Reverend Billy made some compelling points about the insidious way that “shopping” becomes something sacrosanct in this country:

How can we forget after 9/11 Bush/Cheney/Giuliani sang in 3 part harmony: “If you love your country you will go out and shop.” Consumerism says ALL of American life is best run by the market. Security, parks, transportation, emergency response, garbage removal, education… things that we owned and controlled together in our democracy—are in private, for-profit hands. We keep it going by consuming it.

Reverend Billy

I asked Reverend Billy 4 questions about packaging:

box vox:  What your feelings are about retail product packaging?

Reverend Billy: We like pleasing design, of course. The pleasure of life is the pleasure of beauty and that can happen anywhere. It happens that packaging now is a key indicator, tied to shipping, advertising and waste—even the word “package” has become a signifier of the Evil Monoculture!

So it is not the people who design who deserve a scolding—it is all of us—for creating this avalanche of plastic, this hypnosis of advertising that flow from the framing, packaging, carrying and shipping of products. We are the consumers and we have allowed this to get out of hand. It comes down on citizens as unclean manufacturing, as fossil fuel shipping, and after the purchase—as waste. It has become extreme, that’s all.

There is another economy available to us where the packaging is human hands… Farmer’s markets, thrift and barter and swap economies like Craig’s List—there is a growing more home-made economy that doesn’t have to be vacu-packed…

(more photos and Reverend Billy answers 3 more questions after the jump)

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Droste Effect Packaging

At my grocery store I could only find three examples: Land O’Lakes Butter, Morton Salt and Cracker Jacks. These packages each include a picture of the package itself and are often cited by writers discussing such pop-math-arcana as recursion, strange loops, self-similarity, and fractals.

This particular phenomenon, known as the “Droste effect,” is named after a 1904 package of Droste brand cocoa. The mathematical interest in these packaging illustrations is their implied infinity. If the resolution of the printing process—(and the determination and eyesight of the illustrator)—were not limiting factors, it would go on forever. A package within a package within a package… Like Russian dolls.

Left: the front panel of Cocao package for which the “Droste effect” is named. Right: An old Royal Baking Powder package which also illustrates the effect.

Since so many products are nearly indistinguishable from their packaging—(a tube of ChapStick, a can of Coke)—I figured that there would be lots of examples. My brief supermarket survey showed me otherwise. It’s quite rare. You can easily find packaging that includes packaging pictures, but it’s almost always a picture of the inner packaging—(the outside of the box shows the packets contained within)—or else it’s a cross-marketing campaign where pictures of other packages in the product line are shown—usually on the back.

(more photos after the jump) 

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Packaging Goodness


Can package design ever really be good?—not “good” in the sense of being a good design, but “good” in the sense of being virtuous—like a “good person.” Critical comments on The Dieline & other blogs, magazine articles and books… all seem to take package designers to task for their participation in the marketing of objectionable products. The idea that what we do for “work” should also be work for the “greater good” seems to be gaining more currency.

So many products that have been featured on The Dieline actively tout their own virtues (goodness, truth, honesty, kindness, innocence, etc.) and even when the brand name does not name a virtue, good deeds and charity are among the product claims. (sustainable packaging, profits contributed to charities, etc.) Is all this a manifestation of the “new sincerity”?

Last summer on David Airey’s blog, he posed the question: How ethical are your design practices? Not whether you treated your clients ethically—but whether you were morally comfortable with your client list. The 33 comments he received demonstrated that—although there is not a lot of consensus about what it means to be a good person—the idea that graphic designers can (and should) make moral judgments about the jobs they are offered (or given), is very prevalent now.

In the 1960’s, media-savvy young people became skeptical of advertising and packaging claims. They laughed at marketing and prided themselves on “not buying it.” (See my post on Wacky Packages).

This new sincere trend (if it is a trend) seems to suggest that, today, we are more willing to accept product claims, especially when they reassure us that some greater good will come of each small purchase we make. Would it perhaps be healthier to retain some skepticism? Do we wholly accept at face value, Google’s “Don’t be evil” corporate motto? They took some flack for letting China censor their search results. Did they start out sincere and loose their way? Or was the lesser of two evils a good thing, in this case?

In a 2002 piece for Metropolis Magazine, Milton Glaser wrote,

In regard to professional ethics, acknowledging what it is we do is a beginning. It is clear that in the profession of graphic design the question of misrepresenting the truth arises almost immediately. So much of what we do can be seen as a distortion of the truth.

He then goes on to present his “12 Steps on the Graphic Designer’s Road to Hell” starting with “1. Designing a package to look bigger on the
shelf.” and ending with “12. Designing an ad for a product whose frequent use could result in the user’s death.”

The title of Steven Heller’s book “Citizen Designer” comes from Glaser’s aphorism “Good design is good citizenship.”  On the topic of Paul
Rand’s guilt-by-association for having designed Enron’s logo, Heller writes:

…even if large corporations are sometimes suspect, why should he or any designer refuse to work for Enron or any similar establishment? A designer cannot afford to hire investigators to compile dossiers about whether a business is savory or not. Yet certain benchmarks must apply, such as knowing what, in fact, a company does and how it does it. And if a designer has any doubts, plenty of public records exist that provide for informed decisions. However, each designer must address this aspect of good citizenship as he or she sees fit.

(be a good person and continue reading after the jump…)

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Plasma Pinched Pepsi

Coming after my previous post about using cans for target practice, you might think I have some axe to grind about packaging abuse. (First Dr. Pepper, and now Pepsi!) All I can say is that—like Lester Freamon in the last and final season of The Wire—“I’m just following the thread.”

In researching “plinking” I learned about “plasma pinching.” How does a can of Pepsi come to be plasma pinched, you ask? Well, I’d tell you, but we really don’t have enough room here for the full technical explanation

Suffice to say, that certain creative and scientifically-capable people have re-imagined the soda can with a cinched waistline and designed a special apparatus to make it happen.

Like something Nikola Tesla might have come up with—if he had been a packaging designer.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Target Packaging

WomangunPhoto from Guns & Ammo Magazine website

No, not packaging for Target —packaging as target!  Like in the olden days when cowboys worked on their marksmanship by setting an empty liquor bottle or a tin can on a fence post for target practice. Just one more example of how Americans have been re-purposing used product packaging for some time now. Mind you, I’m not proposing this as an alternative to recycling. It wouldn’t do much to stem the tide of soda cans in the waste stream. (Not enough of us have guns for that.)

Turns out there’s a name for this practice of shooting at food and beverage packaging: plinking—an onomonopoetic word based on the sound that a bullet makes hitting a tin can. Aficionados of the sport have definite packaging preferences…

The plinking game can still be played today with the same basic materials from yesteryear: Tin cans. Corn, beans and other vegetables are still delivered in heavy cans, and a favorite beverage of modern weight-conscious adults—Slim Fast—comes in containers made from the same thick metal.

I’m not talking about flimsy aluminum soda cans, or pressurized aerosol containers. Pop cans too easily fly apart and make a mess, and pressurized cans are simply dangerous because I’ve seen them explode when hit by a high-speed bullet.

The empty tin can is a work of art for shooters, and I am reasonably certain that the original designers from the 19th century probably never had it in mind that their tins would be used by everyone from parents to pistoleros to hone their, and their children’s, gun skills. Many a cowboy turned an old tin can into a makeshift coffee cup, candle holder or water “glass,” but generations of cowboy—and gunslinger-wannabes who first grew up on dime novels, then Tom Mix westerns, and finally Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and Shane, gave empty tins a higher calling.

Dave Workman, Woman and Guns

(more about “plinking” and packaging after the jump)

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