Ploom – Alex Ko
Ploom Pod Packaging
Ploom Pod Packaging
Designed the interaction with Ploom Pods, natural tobacco for the 21st-century. Responsible for the design of the structural packaging, graphic identity and the supporting point of purchase assets.
Alex Ko, Creative Director 2008 to present
Tony Joyce PSC, Production dieline James Monsees, Original Ploom trademark 2006 Carolina Trigo, Ploom trademark revision 2007
Mark Christou: Visually beautiful and functionally simple, this design will certainly create noise on shelf without being loud. I see an idea in the blind embossed detail, but why use the same detail across every flavor?
Melanie Wiesenthal: The carton details, like blind embossing and the way it opens with a twist, is truly innovative. The logo is beautifully and elegantly designed. I have to admit, I wonder what would happen once the government put their warnings on there! And of course, we talked a great deal about the ethical dilemma of packaging design and it’s ability to seduce the consumer, especially as it relates to controversial products like tobacco.
Joshua Handy: Beautifully executed structural design and restrained graphics that serve to shine a light on the comparatively clunky vaporizer. Additionally the packaging seems not to address the end-of-life issues regarding all the waste generated by this packaging and format.
Joe Marianek: What young aesthete wouldn't want a clean, high-tech, yet rebellious substance-intake device where the rush is more aesthetic than narcotic. Wait, isn't this what they use on the hit series Star Trek Next Generation?
Marianne Klimchuk: An effective way to position this experiential new product - visually feels more cosmetic and luxury than hard core vice...clever. From the well designed brand identity that supports the visual communication of an interactive experience to the simplicity of the white, blind embossed packaging which communicates purity and creates a sense of trust - this system is definitely intriguing....
Ploom Pod Packaging
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Tobacco, I’m willing to guess, is one of the more polarizing topics one could tackle. It’s sort of like convincing your school that the class bully is now the class angel, or at the very least, the class nerd. Ploom aims to convince you of just that.
Ploom is a tobacco product for the 21st century, using technology to offer a modern alternative to smoking that takes a responsible point of view on ingredients and health. The technology consists of a pocket-vaporizer, called the model One™, and hermetically-sealed, single servings of tobacco, packed in anodized aluminum capsules called Pods™.
Pods are inserted into the model One, which heats the encapsulated tobacco blend to a set temperature. Because tobacco and nicotine volatilize, or boil off, at a temperature well below burning, the model One is able to deliver the natural flavor of tobacco and the naturally occurring nicotine in the form of vapor, without burning the product. It’s almost like boiling a tobacco tea.
Vapor, not smoke, is the key distinction, as research shows that most harms associated with tobacco consumption are associated with combustion, not with tobacco or nicotine.
The problem posed to the team was to design the Pod packaging, defining the experience of purchasing, carrying, and dispensing tobacco and herbal Pods.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
The challenge of designing the Pod packaging, was in implying the differences between Ploom and combustible tobacco.
Pods come in almost-completely white boxes of 12. White was chosen to imply cleanliness and additional care, just as it does in a pressed-shirt or table-cloth. White is also a good canvas for communicating vapor. Representing vapor graphically, somehow felt false. Vapor is ethereal, has physical dimension, and is responsive to light. For this reason, a simple emboss on a white surface seemed to be a more true representation.
Another characteristic of vapor, imparted to me by being surrounded by the engineering efforts in creating the temperature control system, was its intentionality. Burning tobacco to create smoke by comparison seems almost arbitrary. The vapor pattern is concentric, precise, and repeatable.
The vapor pattern repeats to form one large composition when the Pod packs are tiled side by side. This large white face helps differentiate Ploom from the aggressive sea of color formed by other tobacco products, who largely use color as a brand identifier and navigation element on the store shelf.
The exception to the white face of the Pod pack is the colorful, anodized Pod, revealed through a die-cut window. The Pod is a visual and tactile anchor. Informative, as the Pod color indicates flavor, and the deboss indicates tobacco or herbal blend. Tactile, as the lone metallic Pod, juxtaposed against the busyness of the vapor pattern, allows one to orient the pack in the dark.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
One aspect of the Pods that defines the Pod Packaging experience for us, our packaging manufacturer, and the customer, is the size of Pods. Pods are small, about the size of a peanut.
Being so small, the single most impactful design feature we could include for our customer was to capture each individual Pod. Capturing the Pods would allow us to orient and space them uniformly, making them easier to count and handle. It would also prevent rattling when pocketed.
Our packaging partner, Pacific Southwest Container, advised us against creating a capture feature, citing added tooling and labor costs. We insisted, and thankfully, they continued to collaborate with us until settling on a star-shaped die-cut through-hole. The resultant paper “leaves” capture the Pod at the minor diameter of the heat-seal flange with right balance of security and pliability. They even helped us avoid the added cost of custom punches by producing their most complex .25” knife to date.
At Ploom, we blend, seal, and pack our own tobacco. To tackle the additional complexity of orienting and capturing the Pods, we worked with PSC to develop a two-part package. A flat interior card with die-cut star profiles accepts Pods via a pneumatic loader we developed to match; and a pre-glued, pre-folded box finishes the exterior. Just one strip of hot glue not only bonds the two together, but seals the Pod pack, making it tamper proof without the need for cellophane wrapping.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Ploom belongs to a new category of non-combustible tobacco. While we understood the technology, we recognized that we didn’t fully understand the tobacco retail environment, and the public’s reaction at the point of purchase. We learned the most by visiting c(convenience)-store and tobacco retailers, and encouraging them to test-drive and manipulate our Pod point-of-purchase(POP) prototypes.
An early lesson was that tobacco products, by federal law, cannot be displayed as self-service items. They are required to be held behind the counter, or in a countertop display that can only accessed from behind. While we initially thought our Pod POP would be confined to the back shelf, conversations with retailers not only re-opened the possibility of placing it on the counter, but revealed an additional opportunity to use the non-dispensing back side as a substantial signage piece. Our Pod POPs are designed with this 2-sided strategy in mind.
Retailers shared their strategies to “move the pineapple gum” and other new items by placing them near the cash register. This not only lead to small-footprints and anti-stacking characteristics for our displays, but a slim profile, that allows our display to be slid in front of the cash register. It’s the best retail real-estate we could have hoped for. In our latest iteration, informational take-one cards have been integrated with our displays to address consumer questions in locations with short transaction cycle-times, such as c-stores.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Ploom aims to be the leader of the tobacco harm reduction movement by offering a modern, wholly satisfying, and health-conscious new ritual to smokers wishing to quit, and to the would-be smokers of tomorrow.
Despite common public misperception, nicotine itself is quite benign. In fact, it has many positive properties, and is widely used in research to treat neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. The delivery mechanism of burning tobacco is what causes harm. Burning tobacco produces over 400 chemical compounds. Many of these, such as carbon monoxide and benzene, cause disease. A great deal of research has been conducted to show that the low- temperature vaporization of tobacco drastically reduces or eliminates the negative health effects of smoking. By combining this demonstrated process with the safest ingredients, Ploom can make tobacco consumption as safe as coffee or alcohol use.
Ploom Pods represent a new type of tobacco for the 21st century. From technology, ingredients, and even recyclability, Ploom Pods are made with a responsible human outlook.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
We’ve developed an elegant structural packaging vocabulary of sliding boxes. It’s a nice motion, structural, yet elegant. It creates a dramatic visual juxtaposition between an open and closed box. Unfortunately, customers from a cigarette box paradigm expect a flip top. Unless they’re shown before hand, they sometimes mangle their first Pod package.
While we restrained from adding additional graphics to maintain the “clean” impression, the need for explicit directions in a new product perhaps warrants the distraction of additional instruction.
The Pod package design also calls for a concentric die-cut circle inside a concentric deboss. The window created reveals the Pod, a feature that is both informational and aesthetic. These two features are created in two separate hits. While this is typical, we would rather this happen in one integrated tool, eliminating any deviation between the two circles.