Dutch Design Series Featuring: Flex/Design

Today's Dutch design feature we are highlighting Flex/Design, a design studio in business for almost 30 years and a recent The Dieline Awards 2016 Editors Choice winner for the Ultimaker 2 Go packaging. Learn more about this dynamic agency and their project Ultimaker 2 Go. 


Agency: FLEX/design
Brand: Ultimaker 2 Go

Tell us about your agency?
We are FLEX/design - a leading design consultancy from the Netherlands founded in 1988. 
By combining insights from in-depth consumer research, technical innovation and our clients’ commercial expertise, we create products and experiences that connect the dots between people, technology and business.

How did all start? 
When they founded FLEX in 1988, Jeroen Verbrugge and Ronald Lewerissa wanted to design ‘solutions that sell’. With previous careers at General Electric and Vicon, Ronald and Jeroen had a clear view on the relationship between client and designer: design should meet the purpose of the client, not the other way around. They believed that design is not a goal but a tool to reach other objectives: profit, cost reduction, making brands more relevant, creating user benefits, economic continuity and ultimately even a better world. FLEX quickly gained an excellent reputation with projects that truly made a difference.

In the mid 90’s we were the first agency in the Netherlands to offer structural packaging design, a discipline left untouched by designers until then. Iconic packaging solutions for Albert Heijn, Bols, Grolsch and Lego underlined the creative power of our agency and helped to steadily grow to a team with 30 designers and engineers.

Consumer insights have always played an important role in the innovation process. We were one of the first agencies to adopt insight research  and develop our own co-creation tools. Over the years we filled our toolbox with more creativity techniques, trained ourselves in facilitating brainstorm sessions and finding methods to open other people’s creative potential. All because we believe creativity is the key to a new reality. In the most recent years, it turns out that what we think is just as valuable as what we make. Our design thinking approach proved valuable in innovation projects for De Nederlandsche Bank, refugee camps and the municipality of Almere.

Over the last 25 years we created more than 400 products that delivered financial success for our clients and despite the fact that it has never been our aim, a lot of our designs have won international awards and are incorporated in museums all over the world.

What is the Ultimaker 2 Go? What can you tell us about it? 
It’s a packaging solution for the Ultimaker 2 Go, a 3D-printer with an on-the-go proposition. 

The packaging protects the printer during transport from manufacturer to the user, but also allows the user to take the printer where ever he goes. Next to that, an important feature is the possibility to improve and personalize the pack.

We designed and engineered the project in 2015/2016. In 2016 the concept is awarded with several packaging awards, among them the Dieline Editor’s Choice Award.

What was your solution?
Ultimaker noticed that many users of 3D-printers take their printer on the road, for instance to hackathons, maker festivals or to give workshops in schools. This inspired the brand to extend their product portfolio with the Ultimaker 2 Go, the most powerful little 3D-printer around.

We were asked to design a packaging concept that let the machine fully live up to its name. Our brief was to design a structural packaging solution that ensures safe and cost effective transportation from factory floor to the user’s home, but also enables the user to take his printer where his next print job is.

The core of the solution is the gray EPP Box. This plastic foam material made of polypropylene is lightweight, shock resistant and made to last. The high-quality foam shells and a brown cardboard box protect the printer during transport from manufacturer to user.

After unboxing the shells double as a cool and easy carrying case. This solution allowed us to get rid of the cheap, flaky and unsustainable foam inserts, you often see in electronics packaging.

Next to the carefully chosen packaging material, we thought of other solutions to make life on the road as easy as possible. The durable nylon strap that comes along holds together the packaging’s shells and is used for lifting and carrying.

We also created little holes at packaging’s corners, enabling users to clip on their own 3D-printed parts. These add-ons can be functional, such as wheels, handles, and cup holders or just mere fun, making the case personal. This strikes beautifully with Ultimaker’s open source business philosophy.

Concept Packaging Renders

Why is this work so special and what does it say about your agency? 
This case shows the great potential of structural packaging design on both a functional as well as an emotional level. A potential we try to unlock in every packaging project we do.

On a functional level, the structure is designed to endure shocks, drops, and vibrations. Next to that, the structure is optimized for palletization, ensuring that the 3D-printer gets from A to B in an efficient and cost-effective way.
 
On an emotional level the packaging is designed to tell the story of the brand and communicate the USP’s of the product, in such a way that it resonates with the maker community: A young and creative group that expects brands and their products, services and also packaging to be interactive. The packaging concept builds upon the open source philosophy of the brand and taps into the creativity of their online community.

An idea is of no value when it’s not executed. We’re proud that – next to coming up with the creative spark - our technical expertise and knowledge allowed us to help our client execute the idea and bring it to the market.

What makes the design Dutch?
According to Wikipedia, Dutch Design can be characterized as minimalist, experimental, innovative, quirky, and humorous. The packaging design for the Ultimaker 2 Go ticks all the boxes. It fulfills its functional requirements in an innovative way while using minimal material. The possibility to improve and personalize the pack with colorful 3D-printed add-ons – inspiring users to create and experiment – makes it a quirky box with a sense of humor.

What way would you describe Dutch packaging design?
In our eyes, Dutch Packaging design doesn’t have such a strong common denominator as the Dutch product design movement, which gained international recognition from the 1990s onward. Packaging design for a Dutch market is often relatively small in scope compared to for instance a UK or US market. As a result available time and resources are limited. This requires packaging designers in The Netherlands to be inventive, create something great within the given constraints. Dutch 2D packaging design as well as structural packaging design is characterized by inventiveness more than anything.


Join us in Amsterdam next week. November 23rd for a one-day conference. The event is specifically for packaging designers and marketing/brand managers. And remember; this is a free-to-attend conference that is exclusive to attendees of Packaging Innovations Amsterdam 2016. But space is limited, so don't delay!