Designs On

The Designs On semi-annual brochure is a much-anticipated event in the design world. Since 2008, the lauded design agency has published four themed and highly curated pamphlets that have focused on pressing topics, such as "Food," "Birth," and "Global Warming."

Designs On

"Packaging," the project’s latest iteration and the fifth in the series, launches today.

Designs On

The issues spotlights 18 designs that all tackle the theme in different or complementary ways. Above, "Mr. Carcass" is a clean and mess-free way to hand freshly butchered meats, with plastic gloves folded right into the packaging.

"Mr. Carcass"

The issues spotlights 18 designs that all tackle the theme in different or complementary ways. Above, "Mr. Carcass" is a clean and mess-free way to hand freshly butchered meats, with plastic gloves folded right into the packaging.

"Synthetic Biology"

Designs On founder Blaise Bertrand described each of the projects as "provocations" that push the limits of design. Synthetic Biology (pictured above) visualizes possibilities for design that aren’t yet technologically feasible.

"Synthetic Biology"

The design makes use of a particular bacteria that’s drawn to light. Using light bulbs and fixtures as molds, the bacteria forms a film over the light and hardens into a cup. When users drink out of it, the cup emits probiotics that alter fragrance and taste perceptions.

"Synthetic Biology"

A sketch for "Synthetic Biology."

"Vita Flower"

Eschewing the bulky and clumsily designed medication cases, "Vita Flower" presents a playful way to manage your over-the-counter pill-popping schedule.

"Vita Flower"

The pills are arranged in a pattern meant to look like sunflowers.


These aren’t your average takeout chopsticks. The designers specify that the bespoke set, which wraps the sticks in twig-like cocoons, would sell for $750.


The presentation and the high retail price are meant to illustrate how costly the production of wooden chopsticks--an industry that fells 25 million trees in China annually--really is.

"Lux Paper"

The design of this decorative case--meant to hold packs of toilet paper--recalls the patterned leather bags of Louis Vuitton and Prada.

"4G Tapes"

This project resurrects the mixtape as a personal, customizable affect, though here, the form is separate from the function. The cardboard shells recreate the shape of cassette tapes with the tape.

"4G Tapes"

Instead, the 4G mixtape was designed to be compatible with iTune and QR Code scanning.

"Sharing Scent"

The "Sharing Scent" candle features a small scented wax capsule suspended in its center. Its scent can only be fully appreciated once the outer shell has burned away.

"Sharing Scent"

The designers say the candle-within-a-candle is an exercise in waiting.


This project proposes a new kind of "doggy bag" to package leftovers. Information about the meal, such as the components of the dish, its price, and the name of the chef who prepared it, is displayed on the container, which the designers hope will make leftovers seem more appealing.


"Rice" aims to give the staple crop--one of the world’s most consumed foods--its proper due.


The design attempts to turn "bland," "industrial" methods for packaging rice and elevate it as a culinary "hero," while also making bags of the stuff a whole lot easier to carry.


A portable peephole, "Pique" is a small device that can be uploaded with images and video just for you--or your significant other.

"Cigg Seeds"

This project attempts to take a "nasty habit" like smoking and turn it into something natural. The cigarettes are fitted with a biodegradable filter that contains wildflower seeds. "Butts for blooms," declares the copy.

"Light My Ire"

Another smoking-themed design, this one features a puzzling cigarette case that is coaxed open with all the determination needed to solve a Rubik’s cube. It’s sure to dissuade you from reaching for that next smoke.


What if the expiration date of your medication were as easy to read as a ripened banana? "Expired" applies the analogy to medication bottles so that users can easily determine whether pills are still safe to consume.


One of Bertrand’s favorites in the collection, "Expired" features an augmented medication bottle that sprouts brown spots when the pills it holds have lost their efficacy.


Why does something so perfunctory as buying a condom need to be so embarrassing? CNDM eliminates the nervous glances and judgments associated with the act.


The design features a discrete, "pocket-friendly" pouch that will keep passersby and even the cashier guessing.


Ideo Imagines 18 Packaging Concepts For The Future

From a medication bottle that "ripens" with age to a 4G mixtape that hooks up to iTunes, these new designs push the limits of quotidian packaging.

Browse through any design monograph or website and you’re bound to come across such terms as "tinkering," "iterative thinking," and "prototyping." In the design world, it’s understood that great products tend to emerge from an inquisitive, let’s-see-what-happens attitude.

Ideo, the international design and ideas firm, knows the value of experimenting and so has set up an internal project, Designs On, to cultivate an open and active design culture.

Since 2008, Ideo has produced limited-edition runs of semi-annual themed pamphlets (they’re on their fifth iteration) that spotlight 15+ takes on loaded topics such as food, birth, and global warming. This year’s motif, packaging, may seem less urgent. But it’s a "potent theme," underscores Ideo, with consequences uniquely its own.

The publications take on themes that are meme-like in length—simultaneously concise and open-ended. The ambiguity is intentional, says Designs On Director Blaise Bertrand. "What we know as designers," he tells Co. Design, "is that as the world becomes more complex, we have to deal with that complexity and distill it into messages that explain things in simple, yet sensitive, ways." The purpose of the project, he explains, is to visualize that ambiguity in a tangible way that can affect people’s lives.

To a large extent, packaging mediates our experience with the world, probably more than any of us realize. This year’s charrette elicited a vast array of ideas that explore how packaging design can assume more participatory or guiding roles in a product’s or object’s consumption. Bertrand and co. guided teams to develop ideas around two categories: Relationships and Tensions.

"Relationships" targets designs that concern themselves with how a user interfaces with a product as well as how that product reflexively imparts impressions of places, things, and sensations back to the user. "City Scent," for example, constructs a tabletop skyline of souvenirs that store "olfactory profiles" of different metropoles. "Rice" gives the staple crop its due and champions it with universalist and easy-to-carry packaging. "Hygiene" is an elaborate container that conceals bulk purchases of toilet paper rolls.

"Tensions" targets the opposite. It includes concepts that identify a disconnect between the user, the object, and their material context. These designs manifest points of decay or waste—and then locate the consumer’s role in that process. "Chopsticks" very literally puts a high price on the resources expended to manufacture the globe’s supply of disposable wooden chopsticks. "Mr. Carcass" accommodates the queasy cook who’d prefer to handle freshly butchered meat with gloved hands. "Light My Ire" does the opposite: It makes it nearly impossible for a smoker to indulge in his or her "nasty habit."

On the Designs On site, it says packaging as a design field is "crowded" and "arguably over-designed." While the topic might be overplayed, Bertrand says his team made sure to tackle the theme in an unorthodox manner, using a three-prong strategy to guide the design process. First, designers—working in teams of two or three from their home studios—were asked to select an ordinary, everyday object as a starting point for their individual projects. Second, they had to choose a verb that may or may not correspond to that object. Finally, they were asked to imbue the project with a specific emotion that illustrated their intention for the design.

What might seem like an overly fussy procedure becomes fairly simple when you plug all the variables in. The "leftovers" prototype featured in the pamphlet details a meal’s components, price, and the signature of the chef who prepared it right on the "doggy bag" packaging itself. The object, verb, and emotion? A takeway vessel (the object) contains leftover food that will probably be wasted, indicating a level of privilege (the verb—yeah, not actually a verb) and also shame (emotion) on the part of the consumer. Even more straightforwardly, the "CNDM project reimagines condom packaging (object) as a discrete and "pocket-friendly" affair that won’t cause you any embarrassment (emotion) when you stir up the courage to approach the checkout counter to make your purchase (verb).

Eighteen designs made the cut, all of which are featured in the new brochure on the website. The top prototypes—the Designs On team calls them "provocations"—are compiled in thematic ways that tell a visual story. And while some deal with serious subject matter, such as global waste or world hunger, all of the projects have a playful, humorous tone. For Bertrand, both storytelling and humor are pillars of the experiment: Storytelling works by synthesizing complexity into a compelling and digestible format, and humor helps us humanize content that is abstract or alienating.

Of all the designs, which stand out most? Bertrand immediately points out "Expired," a colorful idea to repackage medication bottles that "ripen" with brown spots, indicating, just like a banana, whether the pills are still safe to consume. He also appreciates "Cigg Seeds," which makes use of the hundreds of billions of discarded cigarettes regularly flicked to the ground; the key is a modified biodegradable cigarette butt that’s embedded with wildflower seeds that bloom into lush meadows—"from butts to blooms," reads the copy.

But Bertrand saves his most excited talk for "Synthetic Biology," a visionary project that theorizes biology’s role in design (and vice versa). The prototype leverages a kind of bacteria that is drawn to a light source but which also reacts to it; once gathered across the light bulb, the substance solidifies into a cup. As the user drinks from the cup, the bacteria emits probiotics that amplify your senses of smell and taste.

"It’s clearly a provocation," Bertrand says, "because we’re not there yet." But that willingness to see into the future of design and visualize its possibilities is what Designs On is all about.

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  • Miguel Peixe

    The problem with the banana influenced "expired bottle" is that this look is not expired banana, is the sweetest and best moment to eat them. Can't wait too long, though.

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