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Guacamole Airplane Breaks Down Its Work On Hammerhead's Recyclable Packaging

by Marisa Sanchez-Dunning on 03/24/2021 | 4 Minute Read

Hammerhead is a New York-based company whose mission is to build the finest cycling computers. 

They approached our design studio, Guacamole Airplane, to reimagine the structural packaging for their newest product, the Karoo 2, a handlebar-mounted smart GPS unit. Specifically, Hammerhead was looking to avoid non-recyclable EVA foams, which they had relied on for the original Karoo 1 packaging. 

Not only would we be packaging the GPS device itself, but Hammerhead also needed to include a handlebar mount, wrench, USB cord, lanyard, and instruction manual. Hammerhead required a design suitable for shipping in all of their target markets and robust enough to survive direct-to-consumer shipments. 

Plus, we needed to eliminate the use of unnecessary plastic foams while simultaneously crafting an unboxing experience appropriate for a well-engineered product. With the backing of an organization committed to good design and impactful sustainability measures, we got to work. 

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Unfolding the Possibilities 

We began by conducting an audit of relevant sustainable packaging materials and processes, providing samples and manufacturing context for everything from mushroom-based foams and potato starch-based trays to more conventional materials. We also explored the merits of different sustainability strategies—minimizing volume to lower carbon footprint in shipping, and even more importantly, designing for curbside recyclability. 

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Once we had aligned on a sustainability strategy with Hammerhead’s design, logistics, and management teams, we took to the drawing board. Hundreds of sketches became a series of a dozen rough prototypes. From the initial sketches and rough mocks, we arrived at two different concepts to build out as high-fidelity prototypes. 

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Concept 1 - The Slant Box 

The first concept was the Slant Box—an angular geometric package consisting of two die-cut paper boxes that slot together with an outer sleeve. As the sleeve slides off, the device is nested into a top drawer that displays the Karoo 2 device. A drawer opens from the outer box to reveal the secondary components and mounts nested into die-cut paper trays. 

The sustainability benefits of this concept are twofold. For one, it's entirely paper-based, meaning the components are curbside recyclable. Secondly, by nesting the two boxes together to avoid unnecessary space, the overall volume of the package shrunk from 97 cubic inches to 59 when you compare to the original Karoo 1 packaging. This decrease in volume translates to a tremendous reduction in carbon emissions during shipping. 

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Concept 2 - Topo Map 

The second concept was a Topographic Map made with a PaperFoam tray—a sustainable alternative to molded pulp made from waste potato starch. We designed the tray to match the terrain of Compassberg, the highest mountain in the Karoo desert, after which they named the device. The form of the top trays provides an emotive reveal, and a tab in the profile of Hammerhead’s logo allows the tray to lift and reveal the secondary components in die-cut paper trays printed with similar topographic patterning. 

The environmental benefits of this concept rested heavily on PaperFoam as a material choice. PaperFoam requires 85% less energy to produce than conventional molded pulp trays, as the waste potato starch is injection molded at a low temperature rather than cooked in massive ovens. PaperFoam carries a relatively unique distinction of being both compostable and compatible with paper recycling. That concept minimized volume by nesting the tall portion of the handlebar mount beneath the elevated peak of the tray. That way, we could avoid an unnecessarily large carbon footprint in transportation. 

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Results 

Tireless nights eventually turned into a sweet, sweet reality—after over 145 prototypes and refinements, Hammerhead decided to go with the Slant Box for the Karoo 2 packaging. We worked in tandem with the manufacturer to refine the final dielines and ensure the package met drop-testing requirements, as Hammerhead’s Art Department nailed down the final graphics for the container, focusing on a sleek black on black graphic language with minimal ink usage. 

At the end of the day, with a series of humble folding cartons, we packaged a complex series of products without the use of plastic foams or trays. They released the kit to glowing reviews from the cycling community, and we’re proud of the packaging that effectively elevates the product without doing any unnecessary environmental damage.

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