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Folding Outside The Box

5 minutes

One of my passions outside of graphic design is origami and the art of paper folding. It’s a nice way to pass the time, challenge my brain, and the resulting product (if you’ve followed the folding instructions correctly) can turn into a nice little decoration for your home, or even just a small gift for someone else as a friendly gesture. Just this year, I have finally been struck with the idea to integrate graphic design and origami together. The discovery of bringing these two passions of mine together was prompted by a package design class I took this year and has turned into a rewarding way to channel my efforts to do good in the world. It’s my way of becoming an eco-friendly graphic designer.

Applying my paper folding interest to creating well structured, sustainable packaging for school projects wasn’t exactly an easy or a smooth translation from one to the other. I had found myself going from merely following origami instruction booklets, to inventing my own “instructions,” dielines, and fold-lines for packaging projects. With lots of persistence, dozens of packaging prototypes, several Exacto knife wounds, and paper cuts later, I started to get the hang of the process. Although creating some super well thought out, never-been-seen-before dieline wasn’t exactly required for passing the class, I made it required for myself to learn, or at least try. It was not only important to me that I did well, what was more important was how much I could apply myself so that I could hopefully influence others to try as hard as I had. As I learned the ropes of creating my own dielines I also began to understand the importance of sustainable packaging in being eco-friendly and how I could make a difference.

Something that was and is very helpful to me is a book called Folding Techniques For Designers From Sheet To Form by Paul Jackson. From ornate and geometric to extremely simple and even organic, the book covers over 70 techniques designers can put in their toolboxes. These techniques present endless possibilities when applied to packaging design. Here are a few images (after the jump), that were taken by Meidad Suchowolski:

Although paper in its original state seems very flimsy, it can be molded into the most strong architectural structures. When I was in 7th grade, I took a really nerdy class, where things such as computer science, basics of electricity and switchboards, aerodynamics, and bridge building were touched upon. On our first day, our teacher faced us with a challenge: to build a 4 foot tall jungle gym dome out of newspaper. That isn’t even the best part. After we had finished building these domes in teams of 4, we each had to take turns sitting on it to see if it could hold our weight. Our teacher told us that if we did it right, the domes should be able to hold a 12-years-old’s weight – plus textbooks. If molded in the right way, paper can do wonders.

This experience has stuck with me for a while. It has definitely taught me not to underestimate the power of paper and physics. And I always kind of laugh to myself when one of my friends complains about some mess of a paper tote (supposedly constructed to hold 6 glass green tea bottles from the health food store, which she had bought primarily because it had “eco-friendly” printed on it in green ink) that broke on her 2 block walk home. To me, being eco-friendly as a package designer doesn’t have to entail using the most minimal amount of paper as possible, thoughtlessly folded 8 ways to call itself a box. It could mean to just be more mindful, and to use exactly what you need, when you need it. No more, no less. It could mean creating thoughtful, biodegradable, well-structured packages that could be reused more often before it gets recycled.

Another thing that I have understood about myself and the reasons why I love designing packages is that package design is much more than just applying graphics, fields of color, and well designed type to panels on an already created box or dieline. I get to be a little bit of an architect, paper crafter, and graphic designer all at once. I don’t have to be a person who colors inside the lines. I can create those lines or boundaries and change them whenever I want. I also get to apply myself and hopefully make small contributions to help the world go green.

My goal is to always influence myself and other people to utilize the talents they have to design for good. Small positive steps add up faster than a few small bad steps. Since many professionals who design packaging have clients attached to their products, their packaging is more than likely produced in mass quantities. And that little extra bit of glue or unnecessary amount of paper or plastic you used to cut a corner in your design time could stack up pretty quickly in the landfill.

Below is a really great example of talents being put to use. This moldable box was created by the inspiring Patrick Sung for potential parcel services.


The box, named UPACKS, is actually just a flat sheet of cardboard with triangular scored lines so you can fold it around many forms of things you want to ship, whether it be a box or a baseball bat. The creation has potential to help save space – and eventually fuel, since saved space means more packages per truck. Although Sung’s creative endeavor may seem like one small step in the grand scheme of all matters eco-friendly, his positive influence has the power to catch attention and hopefully challenge other designers to create the next best thing in the spudding world of sustainable packaging.