Slam #1: Methods for Product Repackaging

My wife just handed me a Sunday circular for something called iSold It.

“Drop off your stuff. We’ll sell it on eBay. You get a check.”

For stuff worth $30+, they provide:
“- Professional digital photography”
“- Expert copy writing and posting on eBay”
“- Payment processing from winning bidder”
“- Professional packing and shipping”"

…So this is a lot like what I was suggesting stores do: “liquidate” your stuff when you’re done with it. But this makes more sense, because you can drop off ALL of your stuff and not have to worry about anything.

For the mass market, this makes more sense than auctioning off stuff on your own, but there’s a few things that still bug me:

  1. You’ve got to get all your stuff together and go find a storefront. Right now there’s only one in my city. This needs to be more convenient.

  2. You don’t know the fair market value on the stuff you take there. This is important because it’s a motivator to pass the stuff on. Can we build this into the upgrade cycle somehow? ie. When you buy a new camera at the store there’s a “trade in” price?

The number of storefronts should increase as time goes by. Places dedicated to ebay should increase as traditional resale and pawn shops understand the power of ebay and other online auction houses.

The packaging could use the barcode or the soon to be ubiquitous RF tags for consumer knowledge of fair market value. If you had something to read the RF tag or barcode (I’m sure this device would be under $10), it could easily link to an online database to determine fair market value. It would also provide insentive to save the packaging. Right now the best example of something similar is’s TMV (True Market Value) for used cars. You have to input the data about your car (something the RF tag or barcode would do automatically) and it tells you the worth of the car as a trade-in, private sale or dealer price in your zip code. If my packaging could do that, I would be more likely to save it.

Also, on a general note, I have had the opportunity to develop several pieces of packaging. I was taught there are four traditional objectives of packaging. I would recommend keeping these in mind as you continue your project. They are as follows:

The packaging most hold all of the parts and support materials in one place.

The parts and support materials should arrive to the customer undamaged. Consider all of the hadling and the elements packaging must go through when it is made in China and is opened in Illinois.

This includes everything from sizing the packaging so it fits on a pallet, to how its broken down to fit on the shelves or POP display, to how the customer carrieis it home and even if the packaging acts as a dispencer.

A lot of pyschology can go into the outer design of the packaging. For example, faces on children’s cereal boxes generally face down so they are looking at the kids walking by the shelf. I personally have picked product solely based on the packaging.

i think we can simplify the situation a bit. You cannot have everything and save the world from our mistakes at the same time. there is a great deal of compromise to be had by all.

yes degradeable packaging would be better - but only if it stays out of the landfills.

yes mild packaging would be better in that their wouldnt be as much.

and inflateable padding would be great - just cause.

but we are forgetting that the packaging in itself is an opportunity. take the 5 minute epoxy container as an example - it comes with a special indent so you can mix it using the blister. granted i chose a horribly toxic substance to support my ideal, but anyway - the point is that it isnt what the packaging is made of or how much of it there is… it is what the user does with the packaging thats important. In the case of mr audiophile who hordes his stereo equipment boxes - there is a benefit for him to keep them around. if there is a perceived benefit to the average consumer keeping their printer packaging around, they probably would. and it could be as simple as a collectible item. take the success of the KidRobot stores who cater to the unique collectible market. by the time someone needs to replace their computer, the packaging will already have changed to accomodate its contents. if said contents where padded with KidRobot figurines, then they most likely would save it. The trick is in finding what would be useful to everyone as packaging design. and is it truely usefull or merely desireable?

only make what you want the world to have.


I wish I could take credit for an inflatable packaging system. I mentioned it because I remembered being shown one a few years back. After searching for it for a while, here is mfg link. Notice that the mfg is well known for other packaging systems… the most famous brand being Bubble Wrap, a pre-inflated system.

Truly one of the “slap the forehead, why didn’t I think of that” ideas.


Thanks for the inspiration! If RFID’s were involved, the “personal drop-box” concept would work even better. Any package with an RFID that’s dropped into the box would automatically be registered and the proper shipping agent would be notified etc… The cool thing about RFID’s is that the entire box full of them can be scanned on regular intervals (say every 5 minutes) without the need to physically do anything.


Now the problem is how to make the association with the RFID and the destination address and other details. For many reasons it makes sense for this to happen via a web interface, but there is a physical logistics issue here…

Anyone with a printer can spit out a Fedex label complete with barcode and postage, but you can’t encode RFID tags without a device. If we go with the dropbox concept, then I wonder if that device could do the association for us: the user slaps any old RFID on the box, and when it goes into the box, the box registers with your PC? Worst case, we could always introduce some new PC peripheral to the Dropbox concept, but remember, my goal is to make this whole process stupid-simple. I hate to introduce more “things.”

Then again, there are other needs that could be combined into this device: a postage scale for instance.

Here’s what “Endicia Internet Postage” offers:

Seems a bit tedious and expensive–clearly not for everyone.

Taking a closer look at the above demo revealed another factor: payment balances.

Anyone who uses Paypal is familiar with this… Ideally the shipping cost would be directly connected with the payee’s money transfer.

Perhaps this could even reduce the actual shipping cost. Right now, sellers tend to pick a guesstimate value of the “buyer pays $x shipping.” It would be beneficial to both parties if they know beforehand exactly what the shipping amount was. The problem is that the item isn’t usually packaged until after the sale. Perhaps this should be reconsidered also?

Actually, if you borrow from other business models, you won’t need a new device. At the most, it will be a card like the one you use at the grocery store. The RF tags hold a lot of info and are used to track goods for the manufaturer. Every time the the tag is read, the scanner usually sends the data back to the manufacturer. If you purchase that item with a credit card or use a card like the ones issued by the grocery store, your name, address and other info is know associated with the particular RF tag. When you want to resale, either you scan the RF (like I said before, it shouldn’r cost more than $10) or you can go to a storefront and they will scan. That data about the item (age, features, etc.) can be retrieved from the manufacturer and made available for the next buyer. Postage caluculations would then be automatic when the new buyer enters where the shipment goes. You as the shipper could get an e-mail with the shipping address and postage ready to print out.

The trick is having a positive ID system to track the person to the item (yes, this sounds a little 1984, but you can resale the item in another way if you want). Positive ID systems have been around for years in the medical field to match blood/urine and other samples to patients. McKesson is the world’s leading provider of LIS (laboratory information system) and RIS (radiology information system) software. I would recommend benchmarking what they do.

What you say about RFID tracking is right on and is echoed in Bruce Sterling’s “spimes” presentation. It would make sense for a “factory original” RFID to exist on the “permanent” product packaging I’m talking about here. Even if the consumers are not using this, stores could. RFID’s are most handy when you’re talking about a pallet-load of stuff: you can scan them all at the same time. Great for inventory control. If the product was to come back for refurbishing work, the RFID would be a great universal record locator.

For the consumer, I’m going to concentrate on the “home printer friendly” barcode. Ideally something that is compatible with the major shipping carriers, including the USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL.

if the entire tracking system is to be electronic (RFID), then why use an electric printer to create a paper barcode?

i like the idea of the manufacturer owning the packaging - the buyer would have to pay a deposit - in this way, environmental responsibility is shifted more in the direction of the manufacturer - and as it is the packaging is being continually reused, increased manufacturing costs would not matter (that much :open_mouth:)

I have to agree. As time goes on, barcodes will become obsolete and the carriers you mention will use readers for the RF tags.

So as far as the packaging goes, it seems as though there are two directions shaking out of this discussion:

Minimum impact (but disposeable)

re-useable (but you have to store it, which is a pain in the butt)

Both of these directions assume something that is not necessarily true: That the packaging can only be THAT packaging.

I’m not proposing that the Audiophile should save his $3000 speaker box by making it into a super-ghetto coffee table, or that the epoxy foam guy needs to make a cute little epoxy foam ash tray for his grandma (yuck)

Instead, what if there were a material (of course, not quite invented yet, but maybe possible) that was reasonably particulate and homogeneous. And, this stuff stuck to itself, and could be caused to “flow”, or pack, or build around an object you wanted to ship. And then, this stuff could be caused to “stiffen” with the application of electricity, or magnetism, or heat, or whatever.

So now, rather than everyone saving all these boxes which are non-standard (because who’s going to ship a pair of earrings in the box from those speakers?), everyone can just “melt” or break apart, or dissasemble this packaging each time the get something in the mail. And now, everyone can keep a fairly small bucket (as opposed to a giant load of boxes) of “packaging stuff” in a closet for when they have to ship out christmas gifts.

This stuff is probably an environmental nightmare, but it is a good example of a material changing states when an external force is applied.

Magneto-Rheological fluids

Basically this grey-goo is a solution of tiny magnetized bits that changes in consistency almost instantly when a magnetic field is applied to it.

The MR fluid was definitely on my mind with that post, but as you said, it would be a cleanup nightmare. The base of the fluid is a silicone oil that just gets into everything and sticks like there’s no tomorrow. Plus, the stuff is awfully expensive for just being a packing agent, and it is mostly iron particles, so it would add quite a bit to shipping costs.

I was thinking more on the lines of something like the eurethane foam injected into bags idea for packaging. That’s light, formable, and durable for shipping. But it’s completely non-reusable.

It might be as simple as little balls of foam with a velcro-like coating so that they stuck to each other, but not the otem to be shipped. Then they could be removed and stored away for next time.

taking a different route, why not have a little device at home a size of a paper shredder (or a toaster) that would re-melt the plastic bags into cubes (like crushing cars into cubes). Then you bring those cubes back to the mall/store and get like 5 cents a cube or something.

There is different plastics for different packaging. I am talking about just the thermoplastic plastics for now, although a similar principal could be applied to thermosets.

Anyway, sorting out plastics and melting similar plastics together becomes the responsibility of the consumer (PE with PE, PS with PS, and so on).
This would not only save space in the recycling trucks, but also educate consumers about different kinds of plastics.

Back at the recycling facility the cubes would undergo a type of ‘scan’ to see for impurities (paper, metals, paints(that are of a different kind of plastic)) and deal with them apropriately.

Just an idea I though to throw in this brainstorm.

Posted: Wed Jan 05, 2005 10:19 pm Post subject:

I heard that some european countries require foreign manufacturers to recieve their packaging back. Does anyone know anything about that?

I LIKE This Idea…[psted by gadget–guy]
i’m sure this has been done before. HP does this with thier empty ink cartridges…I think this idea need to be implemented by those HIGH END DIGITAL COMPANIES…
the inflatable packaging is good too…but I think now we as designers need to help implement WAYS to encourage consumers to ACT ON SAVING/REUSING/RETURNING…packaging that usally aides them in purchasing the product…


believe CG mentioned breaking down product into raw material for RP somewhere? sounds like something he could use himself. an automated UPS store in miniature. full-service in a box!

Thanks to everyone for the excellent support and feedback for my design slam topic!

Today is the deadline, and although obligations have prevented me from completing the entry, I’m more than satisfied at having spawned discussion among the design community on the issue!

At the very least I hope this discourse may in some way act as a springboard for your own professional work, or to help raise awareness for sustainability and the changing role of the product life-cycle.

Together we can get this right, and as designers can truly affect positive change! Thanks again, and best of luck, -cg