Story | 05/21/2024 07:29:09 | 4 min Read time

Packaging designer Uwe Melichar: "It hurt to see this trash I had created"

Mark Smith

Text

Conor O'Leary

Photography

Uwe Melichar is a trailblazer in the sustainable packaging design industry. His clients have included Adidas, Bosch, C&A, Gardena, Omron and Miele. He shares what more than 25 years in the business have taught him.

“About ten years ago I was hiking with friends in Umbria in Italy and all of a sudden in front of me there was a piece of packaging I’d designed.

It was a wrapper for a food supplement bar, a kind of energy bar, and it really hurt me that there was this trash I had created. I started thinking ‘how might the packaging be designed so that it disappears?’.

Back in those days the clients were not really interested in sustainability. They just wanted to optimise the costs and excite their customers. 

But things have very much changed since then.”

 
I started thinking ‘how might the packaging be designed so that it disappears?

Lesson 1: Ask where does sustainability take place

“When I take on a project, first of all it's really important to define where sustainability takes place. For me, the life cycle of the design process starts with defining the framework within which sustainability can be factored in. Product protection, functionality, budget and feasibility are important requirements to be considered first. 

At project briefings stage I ask a lot of questions back. I really need to understand the product and understand the market, the category, the retail structure, the consumers – everything. 

Once this is all clear then I start with the ideation phase. This is a really collaborative process.” 

For me, the life cycle of the design process starts with defining the framework within which sustainability can be factored in.
 
 

Lesson 2: Early decisions matter

“Design processes are always teamwork. I can work with colleagues who are packaging engineers, who are 3D designers – or even environmental scientists. We then define a strategy for the specific package. And with this strategy you can then start working on the visual part of it, like doing sketches and thinking about how it will all fit together. If it's a carton how is it folded? How does it close? How does it all work? 

This is the first moment when I talk to the client about the sustainability strategy. It is very important to have this discussion early. In fact, 80% of the decisions in the very early design phase are the most influential on how sustainable a package is.”

80% of the decisions in the very early design phase are the most influential on how sustainable a package is.

Lesson 3: Glue is a nightmare

“In my designs we avoided using glue wherever possible. 

Glue is a nightmare in the recycling process, whenever we can avoid glue then it's good or we'd have to use the new types of glue that do not harm the recycling process.”

Glue is a nightmare in the recycling process.

Lesson 4: Never stop learning

“I’m passionate about sustainable design and sustainability in general, I can’t stop talking about it – even in my private life when I’m surrounded by friends! 

And I never stop trying to learn about sustainability. I want to know all the latest developments, such as new exciting materials. Every day I read newsletters, I look at videos or listen to podcasts. It all changes so fast and you have to be well ahead of these things all the time. 

There's always something new.”

I can’t stop talking about sustainability – even in my private life when I’m surrounded by friends!
 
 

FACT FILE: Uwe Melichar 

  • Uwe Melichar studied at Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel, before a successful 25-year career with brand agency Factor.
  • In 2020 he left and launched a new business focussed on sustainable packaging. With its mantra of ‘increase value, decrease waste’, Melichar Bros was born.
  • Uwe’s clients have included Adidas, Bosch, C&A, Gardena, Omron and Miele and he is a member of the Type Directors Club New York, red dot ambassador and president of the European Brand & Packaging Design Association.
  • Uwe is a sought-after keynote speaker and university lecturer. He is about to take on a new role as a partner of European operations for London design agency Touch.
 

Author

Mark Smith

Mark Smith

Text | Mark Smith is a journalist, copywriter and author of "The Entrepreneur's Guide to the Art of War" (Arcturus Publishing, 2022). His work has appeared e.g. on the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph and Forbes.
 

Author

Conor O'Leary

Conor O'Leary

Photography | Conor O’Leary specialises in portrait and documentary photography. His clients include Die Zeit, Financial Times, The New York Times, The Telegraph Magazine and Wallpaper*.
 
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