In recent years, there has been a large effort to improve the quality of food packaging to help consumers understand more about what they are putting into their bodies to fit their daily nutrient requirement. The GDA label [Fig2] introduced in 1998 as well as the ‘traffic light’ system [Fig 1] that features on food labels to give an indication on how ‘healthy’ a certain product is.
Fig 1 an example of a traffic light label c.2013 Fig 2 An example of a modern GDA label c.2013
More recently, packaging is being developed that has been dubbed ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’ as it is active in showing the freshness of its content. It does this by analysing the volume of oxygen in the package and the indicator dye changes colour as a result, helping to warn the consumer. Similarly, the amount of ammonia in meat packaging helps to suggests its freshness. This certainly gets rid of the awful ‘sniff test’ ritual that people endure on a regular basis, if not daily being a student. Scottish company ‘Insignia’ has been working on existing ‘smart pigment’ technologies’ to change the way consumers, producers and packagers work around packaging.
With UK households throwing away over 560 tonnes of food waste per year, smart packaging would be a clear benefit in removing the confusion surrounding sell by dates, making it easier for the consumer to use and potentially reduce the amount of food waste produced in the UK. This is a major concern, especially to designers in the industry such as Steven Heller; “Paper production and printing are among the largest polluting industries in the world, affecting not only trees and land use but alos air quality and water resources”.
In the medical and pharmaceutical world ‘smart packaging’ is being developed to help not only extending the shelf life of many products, but ensuring safer use by consumers as the printed pigments change colour as they near going out of date.
Fig 3 An example of active prescription packaging Fig 4 an example of ‘smart syringes’
Both the behavior changing syringes [Fig4] being developed as well as self-expiring packaging [Fig3]. This would certainly help in leaps and bounds and have far reaching impacts globally in which consumers would not have to guess whether their medicine is safe to use or not.
But what does this all mean for graphic designers? Packaging has indeed become more simpler, attempting to appeal to target audiences. This can be seen by the kinds of value ranges from different supermarkets aiming for simple packaging connoting a lower price compared to other products. For graphic designers, there would be the obvious challenge of keeping packaging exciting and attention grabbing for consumers, based around the changes of pigments used for printing.
Designers like Ko Yang and design company TO-GENKYO have worked to show two very different approaches the the graphic design conundrum designers may face in the near future. TO-GENKYO use the idea of an hourglass, a symbol of time to reflect when the food is no longer edible, according to the changes in the dye [Fig 5-7] . Similalry Ko Yang, takes a more vibrant approach showing a milk carton turning from a liquid to a solid through a very ‘cheesy’ looking design [Fig 8]
Fig 5-7 TO-GENKYO’s smart labels c.2008
Fig 8 Ko Yangs self expiring milk packaging c.2008
Fig 5- 7 Screenshots from TO-GENKYO’s website http://www.to-genkyo.com/
HELLER,S. and VIENNE, V. 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design. Lawrence King Publishing: London (2012) PP.136- 137