The Unexpectedly Clever Way Ingo Maurer Designs Packaging
By: Theresa Christine
When you explore the showroom for Ingo Maurer in Munich, one of the most eye-catching pieces is Porca Miseria. This large lighting fixture hangs from the ceiling and looks like an explosion of utensils and plates, with silverware poking out and shards of porcelain pointing in all directions.
But Porca Miseria isn’t just for looks—it’s a functional lighting installation, just like all of the unique pieces Ingo Maurer and his team create. These are gorgeous items designed to illuminate, offering form and function in a space.
But first, they have to be shipped there.
“We are not only a design studio,” explained Axel Schmid, a Designer at Ingo Maurer, “but a manufacturing company as well. We cover all the steps, from the ideation to the shipment of the product, so designing packaging is always a part of the project a designer is working on.”
When a designer is working on a given lighting fixture, the packaging solution is always something in the back of their mind. “I would lie if we think about it from the very first moment, but the idea takes shape quite early,” Axel said. “Working with light is something you have to see with your eyes, so it’s difficult to work theoretically on a lamp.”
This means, of course, prototyping—and lots of it. The team builds mock-ups and design pieces which they actually put on display for the public, usually at a fair or event. “If we have this first prototype, then we think about how we can present it and how we can ship it.”
Packaging for an Ingo Maurer lamp is not a one-dimensional process with a sole focus on protecting the product inside. The packaging needs to not only get it safely from Point A to Point B, but it also has to be easy to open and still create an experience for the recipient. Lamps with a more minimal design have a simpler look, just as something more luxurious has the packaging to match.
Additionally, the Ingo Maurer team strives to send someone on site to help with installation—but this can’t always happen. This means that whether it’s a museum curator, a new office building manager, or simply someone like yourself looking for an interesting lighting fixture, the packaging needs to make sense and be well-marked.
For certain items, they even go so far as to include a structure inside the packaging which can be removed and used as a platform to hold the fixture during the installation process. “There has to be something which acts as a tripod because you may have the perfect product and perfect packaging, but you can’t place it on the floor since it doesn’t have legs.”
Although the packaging is created custom, their one constant is cardboard boxes. “We think it’s better for the environment and we try to avoid plastic and styrofoam,” he mentioned. “Plus, with cardboard, we can have lots of packaging supplies with quite a small volume in the space.
"We have more than 100 different models in our collection, and when we send something, it’s never just one box—it’s pieces inside of pieces, so this gives us flexibility.”
But before finalizing how they ship something, the team does the ultimate test: they pack an item up and throw it down a flight of stairs.
“It’s quite a good test,” Axel laughed. “Our lamps are not only very delicate, but they’re easy to break and have weight in different positions. Even if you mark something with a ‘top’ and ‘bottom,’ you don’t have control over how it’s handled in transit.”
Chucking prototypes down the stairs may seem extreme, but it quickly shows them where the cardboard starts to ripple or compress, and from that impact they can figure out what the problem is. And then they make another one.
He added it’s not merely a matter of a box being tipped over or placed upside down. Sometimes, even the simplest movements or vibrations from a plane, train or automobile can damage something. “Honestly, the packaging is sort of like a bumper on a car,” Axel added. “It should be able to move, and it should also stay in place.”
As an example, Axel talked about one of their creations which was comprised of many wires, and at the end of each wire had a handcrafted butterfly or insect. “Each one has wings and antennae, so they’re incredibly fragile,” Axel explained. “Instead of surrounding each one, which could have damaged them, we basically put a floating ring inside the shipping box. All the insects had the freedom to move on the edge of these wires, and this was actually the most secure way ship them.”
Because Ingo Maurer light fixtures are no ordinary light fixtures, the team treats packaging each one with just as much care as they do in designing it. There’s no set formula, but the end goal is always the same.
“It should be like a puzzle where all the parts can come together and come apart.”
Theresa entered the world of design through The Dieline. With a background in writing and journalism, she has a passion for discovery and cultivating human connections. Her work for The Dieline is a constant journey to deeply understand all facets of the design process and to investigate what makes designers tick. Theresa's writing has taken her snorkeling in between the tectonic plates in Iceland, horseback riding through a rural Brazilian town, and riding an octopus art car at Burning Man with Susan Sarandon as part of a funeral procession for Timothy Leary (long story). When not writing, she is planning her next trip or taking too many pictures of her cat.