Don’t throw out the box: packaging and innovation

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Apple has made white boxes the only way to package a technology product. Anything unwhite is uncool. Nintendo Wiis, Xboxes, and even that pseudo-cool new hard-drive, the SeaGate Free Agent – if it ain’t white, it ain’t right.

Apple Macbook, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox, and Seagate Free Agent: white packaging is a ruling trend

Rather than following Apple’s lead, HP has decided to think green instead of white. Instead of bothering with boxes, HP is now packaging one of their laptop models in messenger bags. Now, the consumer gets an accessory they can reuse, which not only helps the environment (the bags are made out of 100% recycled material), but sets the product apart. Best of all, it gets blogs like us talking, which helps their product’s profile even more.

HP’s new packaging idea: give my people bags!

Great packaging is nowhere near as important as having an innovative product, and nobody except short-sighted design blogs like us would even bother talking about the box instead of the product. But you can draw some meaningful conclusions from staring at the box.

If you want to be a leader in your industry, it’s important to know where to innovate, and where to merely follow trends. Blaze trails where they matter, and if they don’t matter, just pick the right trail to follow.

Apple was trying to introduce sexiness to the personal computing industry, and needed distinctive, visually appealing packaging to help complete the image. White worked, white caught on, and successfully set the trend. They chose to “innovate”, and it was the right move.

Nintendo, on the other hand, knew it was the Wii product itself that was pushing boundaries. Packaging was merely a stepping stone. They realized that thanks to Apple, a white box for their product would indicate what’s inside was sexy and sophisticated. No need to innovate where following a trend accomplishes the right goal. Distinctive packaging wasn’t the goal: letting people embrace and understand a motion-detecting, hand-held, revolutionary console game was the goal.

HP needed to blaze a new trail, because nothing about their run-of-the-mill personal computers sets them apart as leaders in their industry. By leveraging a bonus feature like a messenger bag, they’ve suddenly been heralded as innovative, consumer-focused, champions of the environment.

At the end of the day, the message sounds like a sermon on diversity: it doesn’t matter if your box is red or yellow, black or white. Just make sure you know when to follow trends, and when to challenge yourself to innovate.