Goods’ self-initiated project showcases the benefits of refillable packaging solutions for brands
Outside their day-to-day client work as an ethically-driven packaging design studio, the industrial design team at Goods pursued a mini design sprint for their own in-house project: creating their own ‘Refill’ packaging solution. Industrial Design Lead Sean Collins and Sustainability Manager Sindre Rosness tell us more about the project, and how the studio’s experience – combining graphic and packaging design with sustainability – informed the process.
PT Hey Sean and Sindre, how are you?
G All good here. These days we are settling into our new shared office with all ARC Norway companies. Fun getting to know each other through the move, and refreshing to change up Goods’ studio space. We’ve been going through our archive of projects and samples to build more relevant displays around us, and thinking through what we need from our space for better collaboration. Inspiring times.
PT Sounds great! Regarding ‘Refill,’ where did the idea for this project initially come from?
G Goods is a young studio and we have a lot of ambition. We started in 2019 with three graphic designers, then Sean joined as an industrial designer to begin looking at packaging in a much more comprehensive way. At first, we dove into the supply chain and structural design of boxes/pulp components. Now, we have a small ID team, and want to help brands reduce single-use packaging by designing well-positioned refillable alternatives. Our micro refill project is meant to be a small nod to the industry that we are open for business and have wide capabilities beyond cardboard.
PT What were the most valuable insights from your research that informed the outcome?
G When we decided we would do an industrial design exploration on refill, we turned to our social channels and asked a series of questions to help define a path. We had a good level of response, and felt a strong sense of engagement from those who wrote – their sense of care really motivated us. A major issue today seems to be the lack of availability, which is getting better, but there are still ways to go. We also learnt that people care about ease of use, ergonomics and moisturiser! All strong elements in our concept bottle.
Acting on sustainability is always a balancing act.
PT Why are refillable packaging solutions a good thing?
G Refill can be good for everyone; the planet, the people and of course the businesses.
There are good reasons why refill is a key part of the EU and UN’s solution to the plastic pollution crisis. A widespread adoption of refill solutions could be an effective way to fight single-use plastics, and in turn, the negative impact brands using them have on the environment. It’s also in line with circular economy principles and can help us keep materials/products in circulation as long as possible, so we can consume fewer natural resources.
Refill also provides business opportunities for brands. There’s money to be saved on shipping, but refill also incentivises consumers to be loyal and return purchase. A report by WRAP showed consumers think that refill, bulk and reuse are the number one most sustainable packaging solutions. That means it can be a strong brand strategy and a way of being recognised by consumers for taking sustainable action.
PT Is there ever a situation or execution where they aren’t a good thing?
G Before going all in on new solutions, it’s critical to understand full product journeys, operational demands and the likelihood of continued consumer or brand participation.
We see potential for issues if refill solutions are designed or marketed half-heartedly, and are never actually reused. Acting on sustainability is always a balancing act, but overall there are many single-use plastic streams that can be greatly reduced with refill.
PT Was there any particular reason for choosing hand cream?
G It came up when we reached out to our social channels. Thinking back, we did that last winter, so likely a seasonal influence! It’s cold in the Nordics so we identified with it and felt motivated to focus on it. Hand cream is also an item people frequently carry around, is relevant for a broad audience, and hasn't been too over-explored from a design perspective.
Our industry needs to be open to trying, failing and improving through learning.
PT Can you tell us about why you worked with clay in the design process?
G As a designer, it can be easy to spend most of your day on a screen. Modeling the bottle in clay to start was a fun way of getting into form, working more collaboratively and also helped us understand ergonomics/interaction with the bottle.
PT How long did this project take, from concept to execution? Who was involved in the project?
G This was a small side project for us, primarily run by our industrial designer, Sander Kommedahl. We worked on it during quiet moments through spring 2023. The outcome is still very much a concept, and since there is no client, we were able to work rather intuitively.
PT What were the biggest challenges you faced?
G Our process was smooth since it was just a fun conceptual take on typology, industrial design language and the emotional appeal of the object.
That said, refill packaging in general brings a tremendous set of challenges. Our industry needs to be open to trying, failing and improving through learning. We also need to be bold enough to explore new business models, sometimes including reverse logistics. At Goods we talk about sharing the knowledge we accumulate (which is why we built the Goods Index) – better packaging solutions will benefit the whole planet, and helping each other get there goes to benefit all.
We wanted to design a bottle that feels intriguing to hold and fidget with.
PT Can you explain the finished design to us, such as the final form, materials and functionality?
G This case looked at sketching concepts for a pocketable refill hand cream. We wanted to design a bottle that feels natural on the go, but also intriguing to hold and fidget with. We ended up with an organic flask-like volume with surfaces that fit comfortably in a pocket through ergonomic curves. It has a tactile sliding lid for single-handed use, with a form that feels equally natural floating around a bag or grounded while resting on a table.
Our main focus was solely on form and function, but the material is loosely based on injection moulded PP or PET, with recycled content. We had a number of material directions in mind, so maybe our next internal project will go deeper into this area!
PT Do you think this project has had an impact on your approach to day-to-day client work?
G For sure, going as far as designing hand cream bottles required a better understanding of the market, user and emotional needs here. It left us with a stronger way of communicating internally and with prospective clients.
PT What do you hope to achieve with this project?
G Collaborations with brands looking to bring refill packaging to market.
We want to explore refill solutions like this in greater depth; what is the refill bulk format that fits with this bottle? What is the ritual of refilling it? How much are consumers willing to spend? What does this mean for materiality? We believe good design can answer and define this, please reach out if you have a project that needs our expertise. We would love to work with you to define next-generation FMCG experiences.