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Research methods

According to the Research in Art and Design by Christophes Frayling, ‘research' is a much less diffuse, much more convergent activity than the terms of the recent debate would suggest.

From the interview in 1923 with Pablo Picasso, he said, ‘the spirit of research has poisoned those who have not fully understood all the positive and conclusive elements in modern art and has made them attempt to paint the invisible and, therefore, the unpaintable.' Picasso refers to a gathering of reference material rather than research proper. However, is ‘Research' important for designer, especially for packaging designer? My work is about researching, analyzing and defining the ‘green' materials for product package.

To help me to do my research, here're three useful categories from Christophes Frayling, research into art and design, research through art and design and research for art and design. For my project, I will use methods of research into and through art and design.

Research into art and design is the most directly and simple way to do the research. It includes historical, aesthetic and perceptual research. Aesthetic and perceptual are the basic elements in art and design. Why is green packaging material so important nowadays? And what kind of packaging style will attract costumer's eyes? During the research into art and design will help me to solve the question.

Research through art and design is less visible and directly than Research into art and design. Material research, development work, and action research are elements that we have to focus on. It also will be the most important research method to use in my project.

Research for art and design is primarily communicable knowledge in the sense of visual or iconic or imagistic communication. (Frayling, 1993) There will be summarized from two research method above and helps me to create my final outcome.

Mapping & define my research question/ problem

When you defining a research problem you should have a clear definition of the design problem and understand this problem is paramount to the success of the design outcome. (Muratovski, 2016)

My research topic is the relationship between product package design and ‘green' materials.

One of the most crucial elements of a product is packaging design. Packaging is one of the most directly ways to attract costumer\'s eyes, also it is a way of advertising and promotion. The packaging should be appropriate to the product, and induce customers to buy it. Nowadays, more and more customers will consider the environmental problem or pollution issue when purchase a product or using package. Some product's packaging labeling them as environmentally friendly package materials. However, the packaging material is not actually as a ‘green' material. For example, there has some product's package labeled as ‘degradable material', after a long time, the package still can not be degraded into the soil. During my postgraduate study, I am going to research different kinds of product packaging materials. And design a product package with the environmental friendly material.

From the book Packaging Design by Bill Stewart, wood, paper, and board, glass, metals and plastics are the principal mainstream material types for the design of packaging. During my research program, I will focus on the form, feature, flexibility or environmental issues. For example, for plastic containers, there have so many different rigid types of plastic materials being used for difference containers, like HEPE (High-Density Polyethylene), LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) and PS (Polystyrene), etc. I will find out the similar and different point with them, and the advantage or disadvantage of using this kind of plastic material by books, interviews or the Internet. Combined with the research of package materials, I am going to use the wood and plastic workshop to explore more to find out the answer to my project question and take part in the product visualization on-screen workshop to developed and helps me to create the final outcome.


According to Stewart, B. (2007) define packaging is ‘the most fundamental level, contains, protects, and promotes products … packaging is also a technical activity, requiring the technical understanding of material and processes.'

Also, there has other clear definition by Ambrose, G and Harris, P in the book Packaging the Brand: Physical products require packaging to protect them from damage and to present both the product and its brand attractively to a target group of consumers.

As we can see packaging can make any kinds of materials to be used for promotion, transportation, containment, and protection. From the definition by 21th Century of New Word Dictionary, ‘packaging' is a noun, the first definition is ‘materials used to wrap or protect goods', ‘the business or process of packing goods' is the second definition. The last definition is 'a presentation of a person, product or action in a particular way'. The definition focuses on the most important parts that related to packaging are the function of packaging, the process of packaging and the material of packaging.

1.1. History of product packaging

In ancient civilizations, there had a basic form of packaging. For example, the paper created in China to wrapping loose tea leaf, glass and limestone in Egypt to contained honey and Chimaki, a species of reed and bamboo leaves in Japan to wrapped food.

The word of ‘package' or ‘packaging' started used in mid-16th-century. Combined the origin word ‘pack' and ‘-age' or ‘-aing' to form new words, as a noun denoting the action of packing products (Huang, 2006). However, the word ‘packaging' started to use frequently around the 1950s to 1960s.

For this reason, we will focus on looking at the history between the 1950s and 2000s. During the period of 1945s to the early 1950s, the end of Second World War was a struggling period of economic in the world, people tried to rebuild the economic and the manufacture, also it represented a new start point or a new world of packaging. In the end of 1950s, European and the USA had a rapid increased in self-service shopping system, and broadcast television was put to use in people's life. They caused a new way of shopping and product promotion. Even more and more changes in people's life, there were still weak in creative design and marketing. However, in the 1960s, people started to consider the brand and the product. More and more new material started to apply into packaging design. The first PET bottles were produce in 1979. After 20 years, the manufacturer raised awareness of brand and goods, packaging became important to a brand or a company. Environmental issue was a new and serious problem in the 21st century, the idea of environmentally friendly packaging design was promoted in 2005.

1.2. Packaging materials

The book Packaging Essentials by Roncarelli, S and Ellicott, C mentioned: Well-chosen package materials add to the visual experience, provide tactile interest, reduce (or increase) cost, and increase (or decrease) environment impact. As the development of technology, an increasing number of different kinds of products were promoted. Therefore, there had a range of materials to be used for packaging. As a consequence, in the following sections, there have an introduction of a range of basic and common package materials.

• Paper and Cardboard

They are the most common packaging materials in our daily life. It is fine and low cost rather than other materials. Also, it is biodegradable it is composting well without polluting the soil or water. However, the disadvantage is fewer barriers properties, for example, it can't against gasses, moisture, and water.

• Plastic

Plastic is the most variety material compared with others. Plastic also has good protection, can block water, gasses, and moisture, etc. However, this kind of material can't biodegradable and might be clog the waterway and forest. There has a range of plastic material can use for packaging, For example, HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene), LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene), PS (Polystyrene), and so on. Also it can extend to flexible packaging materials, like films.

• Metal

Metal is one of the most popular materials used in foods and drinks packaging. Metal is 100 percent blocks gasses, liquids, even UV light. Therefore, the product has longer shelf life. Stainless steel and aluminum are the main material used in packaging design now, they can protect foods and drinks and keep a longer shelf life.

During my project, I am focusing on using paper, paperboard, wood, and fabric as my product packaging materials. Those are not only able to biodegradable, also can reducing the pollution or damage the environment. When I choose the basic packaging material, I will start to think about how to combined graphic elements and material together, and achieved to a high standard level.


The green packaging also called sustainable packaging. It is the most popular material applies to packaging design today. Sustainable packaging means the material or design is able to reduce the effect of environment, ecological footprint and life cycle, the product packaging should not waste too much energy. Sustainable packaging not only focuses on recycling, it also considering other environmental impacts, for example, the effect to water, energy efficiency, landfill etc.

2.1. Why ‘Green' means recycle?

Green is a colour mix by yellow and blue, the colour representing plants, also it's a word defined sustainable packaging. The word ‘green' comes from the Middle English and Anglo-Saxon word - ‘Grene',

For many people, the colour green makes them associated with nature, plant, health, relax, spring and hope. In the different culture, the colour has different explanations. For example, in the Islam, this colour associated with heaven, also the flag of Saudi Arabia is green. However, in Western culture, green means sickness, death, and envy, even devil sometimes.

In the late 19th century, the environmental movement was impact a range of company, organisation, and government. The movement focused on different kinds of social issues, one of them is the environmental problem. In the 1970s, green politics was set up. They want to create an ecologically sustainable society, green known as the colour representing environmental movement and green politics, an expression that is still in use today.

2.2. Three-Tiered waste hierarchy

Green packaging known as sustainable packaging is reducing the environmental impact. Compared with other packaging materials, what is the feature or function of green packaging material? The Designer should follow the principles of three-tiered waste hierarchy: reduce, reuse and recycle.

• Reduce, to reduce the use of material

• Reuse, reuse the product packaging on another way.

• Recycle, using recycling materials can significantly reduce the waste of raw materials.

During my project, I will combined material and packaging design to create a range of product packaging following this three-tiered waste hierarchy principles.

2.3. What kind of material is ‘Green' material?

The advantage of using sustainable packaging is able to reduce the harm of water, soil, and atmosphere, and create less pollution. Also, the packaging material can biodegradable or recyclable. When we talk about sustainable packaging, what kind of materials identify as green materials? Here are some of the materials used in green packaging:

• Biodegradable plastics

• Plant-based plastics

• Recycled products

• Alternative energy sources

• Post-consumer recycled polyethylene

Plastic is the most popular packaging material today. However, polyethylene is harmful to our planet. This kind of plastic made by non-renewable petroleum or fossil-based resources. As the development of technique, producer or packaging manufacturer started to minimalist packaging or use recycled material, they tried to use biodegradable plastics or plant-based plastics to replace that replace polyethylene.

Following strengthen of environmental awareness, fewer people use the plastic bag. And packaging manufacturer tried to use sustainable packaging material to replace the traditional plastic bag material. They use Post-Consumer Recycled Polyethylene, this material made from recycled waste. It is easy to break down in a short term and able to biodegradable.


Green packaging is important to our environment. There has a large amount of energy are used in producing traditional packaging, for example, plastic bags, and other product packagings. When the process of producing packaging, we have to use energy such as fossil fuels to make plastic and it will emissions amount of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Also, the packaging thrown into landfill or ocean lead to the polluting for water and soil.

Polyvinylchloride as knows PVC, it's the plastic apply to drink bottles and shampoo bottles. PVC is able to recycle and safety burnt. However, in the most of developing country, most of PVC can not be collect and always burned on open fires, its lead to the environment polluting and damage to human health. According to EPA's reported in 2009, there were only 31% plastic bottle had been recycled. And there were over 100 billion pounds of plastic been produced and around 20% of plastic ends up in the ocean and comes to the beach. And 80% comes from the land and through the waterway flows into the sea.

Nowadays, packaging waste is a more and more serous problem. In the United Kingdom, more people against burns over the plastic packaging to cause environment issue and health problem, most of the plastic will be recycled.

The advantage of use sustainable packaging is reducing the pollution of water, soil, and air. When we reducing the packaging content, design a recyclable or biodegradable packaging, using wind energy, solar energy, and biofuels to replace traditional sources. It can highly reduce the pollution of out planet.


The relationship between product packaging design and green material is the main project that I want to explore during my postgraduate study. Environment issue becomes a more and more serious problem in the future, the manufacturer of packaging will influence directly. People will look for a new and feasible design of the packaging. I am trying to create a new design way of environmentally friendly product packaging follow by the ‘3R' principle – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Paper, wood, and fabric are basic materials that I will use in my project. Because of all of the material able to recycle or reuse, also they are lower cost rather than other materials.

I am trying to design a range of tea packaging for a tea company called Birchall. They request a new, attractive and creative packaging for their new selection tea products. When I started my project, I did a research of product packaging and material, made a survey for target audient to know deeply about what they like and what they want. It helps me to clear my design and project direction. In the midterm, we had a design project is select an idea, concept, theory or theme from an external source which is highly influential to our works. My theory comes from the label design by Gary Anderson - Recycle Symbol, this theory is my basic idea and concept that I want to apply in my work. It connects with my SAP004's study, the textile workshop. I used the floral illustration drawn by myself and combined it with the recycle symbol, printed it in green. Green is the colour makes people associate with nature and plants, I hope when people see the T-shirt, they will directly associate to green product or recycling packaging.

Design Muse creates a sustainable packaging design for Sennheiser CX 300 earphones. The packaging is made from cardboard and it is 100% recyclable. Use recyclable material to replace plastic and other non-recyclable material is what I want to do in my project. During the postgraduate study, I will develop my design techniques, and explore different skill and materials. Also I will learn the software called Maya to helps me to build up the packaging modle. I want to design a range of product packaging following the ‘3R' principle – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, create a new packaging way by using basic green or recyclable materials. Even designers had been created the packaging according to de ‘3R' principle, not all of them are combined it together (only focus on one of it, for example, only for recycle). My aim is design a range of product packaging is combine 3R principle together. Product packaging is one of the most important elements of promotion, however, how to reduce the effect to the environment? This is the question that I want to answer by my final outcome.

Appendix 1 - Glossary

Biodegradable - ability of material to break down through biological activity to naturally occurring end products

Material - the thing is able to made or composed of a new product or substance

Package - the physical object use to contain items or products

Packaging - the act of wrapping or containing items or products

Paperboard - a general term for the material, commonly used to describe cardboard.

Plastic - the origin of the word comes from Latin Plasticus, and the Greek Plasitkos meaning to form, to mold, or the shape matter.

Pollution - substances or products are harmful to the environment

Product - the goods or services that use to service or purchase by consumer

Target Audient - a product or service is marketed toward.

Three-Tiered Waste Hierarchy - indicates an order for reduce, reuse, recycle and manage waste

Appendix 2 - Visual Audit

Figure 01.

The sembei (rice crackers) in this sturdy bag of handmade paper come from the town of Kuwana in Mie Perfecture and go by the trade name of Tagane. The texture of paper makes the design simple and elegant.

Figure 02.

The rice cracker packaging was design by Akaoni. It is a similar design with the sembei (rice crackers). There had some development of rice packaging design, the material changes, the design changes and the different technique of packaging rice. In those two images, we can see the change and the development of Japanese packaging design industry.

Figure 03.

The packaging for earphone is made from cardboard and is 100% recyclable - no nasty plastic clam shell to clog up land fills.

Figure 04.

The hyper-functional packaging has the basic requirements for packaging: contains, protects and transportations. This packaging is able to reuse as a wine stand. Reuse is one of the main design function in my project.

Figure 05.

Paper Water Bottle® - The Paper Water Bottle pulp material is made from sustainable combinations of plant-based fibers. It is clean and efficient biodegradability.


Figure 06.

Japanese callipgraphy designer Saori Kunihiro creates a range of jewelry by using calligraphy. The idea of using calligraphy as a part of design is inspires me. Can I apply the calligraphy to presented a culture or a kind of tea?

Figure 07.

The packaging was design by Gyro. The material is water-soluble, nontoxic, biodegradable soap paper. Even the ink used is 100% washable and child-safe.


Figure 08.

The jewels packaging is design by Selva Balasinham. The new material is compressed wood pulp and starch. The hard and durable material remains fully biodegradable and recyclable even while having a unique surface. The boxes can be preserved, or simply recycled.


Figure 09.

Designer Audrey Blouin developed this simple one sheet of cardboard package that resist to shock and have a minimal impact on the environment since this paper was and will be recycled. Sometime, the packaging for lamp is over-packaging and using plastic to over protect the product.

Figure 10.

Chocolate connoisseur Pierre Marcolini designed a new chocolate collection.  The packaging design is playful, creative and visual storytelling. The luxury chocolate box evokes the alluring charm of the French capital.

Figure 11.

The packaging design by Ciclus, a Spanish design company. The packaging is turning waste into resources. Their delivered concept was wine packaging that also doubled as a lamp.


Figure 12.

Joolz give the packaging a second life by printing instructions to assemble the cardboard into various other items. While having the instructions on the box saves paper, it's also more visible for those who don't usually follow those how-to sheets.

Figure 11.

The visual audit is about one day in Leicester with De Montford University's architecture student.

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