If you buy a new toy rocket ship from a company called Educational Insights, the cardboard box it comes in isn’t supposed to be recycled (or end up in the trash). In a redesign for its latest line of toys, the company transformed its packaging to become something to play with.
“Our goal was to make something the child would actually want to keep, extending the life of the packaging,” says Joey Lopez, senior designer at Educational Insights. The box for the rocket, for example, unfolds to reveal a scene from a control center, launch tower, and moon landing. A toy recycling truck comes in a box that turns into a recycling center.
The idea was an extension of the company’s approach to its toys, which it also designs for longevity. “Most toy companies create product that depends upon pop culture and trends—they are intended to flash and burn in the market, with lifespans of a couple years if they’re lucky,” says Heather Weeks, the company’s director of product development. “We don’t do that. We focus on products with staying power, that have evergreen play patterns that children come back to again and again . . . This thinking eventually led to an evolution in our packaging approach.”
The company is beginning to adopt a similar packaging-as-play approach for other toys, including a set of play fruit that comes in boxes that will look like apple crates and picnic baskets. “We’ve added full-color pop-up graphics onto what would have been throwaway cardboard trays,” Weeks says. The new set of boxes also double as long-term storage for toys.
Some mass toy manufacturers are moving away from plastic packaging, including Hasbro, which plans to phase out plastic boxes by 2022. But reuse goes a step farther. Other designers have explored similar ideas; one concept uses packaging to become part of a toy vehicle, for example. “As a smaller company, fortunately, we can be more nimble, which is why our focus is on what we can do right now, today, to improve our footprint and at the same time inject more play into the experience,” says Weeks.