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Using Packaging for Education and Play

The idea is to rethink packaging as to function for: 1) providing information to parents (i.e. rotating labels to tell stories, nutritional tips, child development milestones sheets) 2) be assembled into toys that stimulate children cognitive development (i.e. bottle stack, bottle truck) 3) Building a relevant narrative and bringing the community together offering them a platform to voice out their concerns, ideas, tips, testimonials that will be echoed through the packaging. This idea tackles the problem of lack of tools for ECCD in low income communities. It does so by providing basic tools for enhancing children play and parents-children interaction and a platform to allow parents to share with other parents and stay informed.

Photo of Maurizio Bricola
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Updated 06/01/15 - Description and Implementation

The idea is to create an alternative set of packaging options for relevant products (products that should be used and products that are usually consumed by the target group).
The packaging is modular, that means that you might buy a bag of chips, a box of something and a bottle of water and you could assemble those items into a toy for example (see scenario B). As well some of the surface of the packaging will contain relevant nutritional and/or health information.

During this phase we decided to focus on the following 3 products:
  • bottle truck
  • bottle stack
  • rotating labels ("guess what/who" and "tell a story")

Bottle stack

The bottle stack is a set of small square bottles that can be stacked one on the top of each other and allows children to play simple games together (alone and/or with their parents) stacking per numbers, letters, smiley faces. (See scenario A below)
For children 0 - 2 (without caps) and 3 - 5 with caps.

Bottle truck


The bottle truck is a bottle that can be easily transformed in a truck, children just need to collect 3 extra caps.
The bottle truck's labels comes in different outfits (i.e. ambulance, garbagetruck, fire truck, see this pdf). Children can have fun with it exchanging the labels. The side opposite to the one with wheels could be cut off by parents to allow their children to fill up the truck with their imagination.
For children 2 - 8.

Rotating labels

We have 2 types of rotating labels now. One version "Tell a story" and another version "Guess who/what".

The " Tell a story" type is meant for giving relevant information to parents and children. Rotating the labels parents (or older brother and sisters) can tell children a relevant story.
For children 2 - 10

The " Guess who/what" is a simple game that allow children to rotate the labels and mix the figures, there could be numbers, animals, vegetables, fruit, countries, shapes, etc. We thought to also add the the names of this figures in the caps in both english and the local spoken language to again prompt for parents-children interaction and stimulate the interests of parents in Early Child Cognitive Development ECCD.
For children 1 - 6


If you like to repackage your pot/bottles and help us testing our idea you can download our first labels here below.

We will be happy if you would like download the labels we designed together with the design agency Flex/theINNOVATION LAB, repackage your pot or bottle and try them with your small children.

You can find the labels in the links below:

Tell a story ( big format)
Guess what ( big format)
Tell a story ( small format)
Guess what ( small format)
Caps ( both)

How might we use play, creativity and everyday routines to build life skills and character?

Packaging is all around us even in low income communities and remote areas. Depending on the setting of these communities, children and parents interact daily with products and their packaging in different situations. In the case of Food products we built on the everyday ritual of eating and on the sudden awaking awareness of eating something. Our labels prompts for moments of precious interaction (i.e.: new words spoken) and attention between parents and their children, sort of awareness pills. On one side nurturing parents engagement and understanding about their children's healthy development. On the other stimulating the children's early cognitive development.

The bottle truck and bottle stack go beyond words and images and give a real 6 dimensional experience to the children while playing with it, providing children with tools for stimulating their creativity and play.
The fact that labels can be changed, caps needs to be collected (or made out of something that will fit in :)) will stimulate children social interaction. (as described in scenario B)

Originality: Does the idea present an innovative solution to the challenge question?

We feel the idea is to leverage existing networks, resources and skills to provide children and their parents in low income community with basic tools (toys and information) for stimulating their cognitive development, creativity and play.
We think that with this idea the costs of providing low income communities with tools for creativity and play and information related to 0 to 5 child development will be sustainably distributed among the companies adapting this type of packaging and their customers buying their products. Targeting products like peanut butter for example also give us the opportunity to contribute to child nutrition.
We strongly believe in human centred design, we are currently 3D printing some prototypes to be tested with the target group. (see this picture of a 3d printed bottle for the bottle stack)

General questions asked here:

Does this idea hit the intersection of viability, relevance and feasibility?

We feel we are able to show companies how they can deliver value, community welfare and social change through their packaging in relevant markets.

Is the scale of the project such that the amount of funding and design support available ($50,000-100,000) would have a substantial impact on the development of the idea?

The amount of funding will enable us to further develop the idea, explore possible partnerships with local and international companies like Unilever, Nakumatt and Rab Processors for example. As well we will be able to produce, test and refine our prototypes.

Does our design support have the potential to propel this idea forward?

We definitely would love to collaborate with openIDEO in further developing additional toys' designs as well as jointly create a community around the platform where designers and copywriters/editors, gamers, educators can share their designs and offer them to companies.

What is the capacity of the implementer? (e.g. What networks are they connected to that will help support the idea? How much experience do they have in their field? What is their connection to the community where this will be implemented? If the idea is submitted by an organization, what is its operational capacity?)

IICD ( is active in several of the focus countries of this challenge like: Ethipia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. We have in each one of those countries a network of strategic partners (implementing partners, preferred suppliers, technical and training partners).


First 13 images (Designed Prototypes) - Copyrights of design agency FLEX/theINNOVATIONLAB

All other images of products have been taken by me during a field trip.


Mary (2), Joseph (3) and Lucy (5) are stacking plastic bottles on the top of each other.
Coming closer you can see that the bottles not only can be stacked randomly. Each one of them have in each side (4 in a square bottle :)) either a number, a letter, a color or a smiley face. Children can now stack the bottles learning how to count, or trying to make a word, or simply having fun and be creative mixing color and faces.

Elizabeth (5), Ted (2) and Jessie (4) are playing on the street in a small village 50 Km from Chikwawa in Malawi, together with 4 other friends of age varing from 3 to 7.
They are discussing among each others showing or exchanging pieces of what is seems to be recycled packaging. Some children are showing play cards, some others have stickers, and all are holding and exchanging some kind of empty plastic container of pouch.
At a closer look they are building their own toy dolls and accessories and deciding a role play following the carachters, images and simple prompts on the play cards.
Elizabeth is building a doll, Jessie has got a nice sky-blue pouch, she is handing over to Elizabeth who she is putting it on the doll. What a nice dress, says one of the friends. 2 others friends have a doll that looks like a doctor, they also have some stickers, they call Elizabeth, Ted and Jessie to come and play wash hands together. The children first stick on Elizabeth doll a sticker with a dirty hand, on the other hand they stick a sticker of a hand with soap. They start talking to each other about washing their hands and the soap their use, then they pull out stickers of clean hands and stick them on the hands of Elizabeth doll. Ted is smiling Jessi tells him "so you wash your hands, Teddy, with soap and clean water".

Update 29/12

We have uploaded our Q&A Template, we welcome more questions from the Open Ideo Team and Amplify Team.

We just realised through an email of the Amplify Team that the deadline of this refinement phase is on January 5th, that makes it almst impossible for us to make the prototyping session in Malawi, we are currently printing the bottle stack. See images of a 3D printed bottle and of a bottle in the making here below:

We might be able to do something either here in NL or only with the labels either in Uganda with Alex Mokori and YEN or in Malawi. Hopefully we have good news soon.

Update 23/12

Anne-Laure has worked out a user experience map, you can see it here:
Thanks Anne-Laure for this great contribution!

We have decided to focus on the following 3 products during this phase:

bottle truck
bottle stack
rotating labels ("guess what/who" and "tell a story")

We will print few prototypes and test them in Tsabango primary school in Lilongwe with kids of grade 1 and 2 (4 and 5 years old) and their younger sisters/brothers and their parents.

This is all for Christmas!

Update 8/12

Hi, we are very excited to show what the designers of FLEX/theINNOVATIONLAB have created.

Here is their inspiration:

We have been focussing on 3-4 types of packaging:
1 cans / tins
2 plastic bottles
3. carton boxes
And we have been focussing on storytelling and ‘replayability’: we like it when the product can be used over and over and when it invites to build on it further on.

Like the example as enclosed for the oil bottles. We think it triggers the imagination of children inviting them to use it as a bus, build a train, fill it with ‘people’, use it as a transport truck filled with different products, build roads around it and so on.
The concept for the cans/tins  builds more on storytelling: by rotating the label the window shows and leads you through a story. This story can be fun or educative and so on.
A variant is shown with the half labels that can rotate thus creating fantasy animals – as an example.
For the carton boxes we took the game peekaboo as inspiration.



Update 8/12

Hear ye, hear ye! Our friends of FLEX/theINNOVATIONLAB have gone very creative and delivered a couple fo great designs! Kudos to their engagment!

The Bottle Stack you see on the picture is one of them, we are totally excited to make this happen!

Special thanks to Bettina and Anne Laure for their guidance and support up till now!

We will update 5 more designs by the end of the day, stay tuned!

Update 5/12

Visited a rural and a peri-urban community.

The visit to the rural confirmed that body care products are widely available especially beauty soaps, body lotions and glycerines. In this other rural community I did not find women pads.
GIV beauty soaps are widely available.

Children do play with "garbage" and other things they might be able to find in nature (See main picture)
Seeing the children making the cloak has made me think that a simple design of plastic bags could enable children to dress up as different characters, although plastic bags are also dangerous.

One other this is the wide availability of plastic containers and bottles. This type of package could provide with material for assembling small toys like cars, truck, airplanes, dolls, etc.

Focusing on the assembled doll, for example, stickers or pouches could be used as dresses. In this way children could change the appereance of their dolls changing stickers or pouches. As well with stickers it is possible to get quite creative. We could have stickers of dirty hands and stickers with clean hands with soap. hildren could then wash the hands of their doll simply adding the stickers with clean hands.

There is not much properly packaged food with relevant nutrinional values. I have found a bag of dry soya, who is quite used in Paiva, a very dry area (cotton growing region) near Chikwawa.

Some prices to understand buying power and behaviour.
  • The small body glycerine pots are sold at 150 MWK (about 0.25 euro)
  • 100 gr of rice is sold unpackaged for 150 MWK
  • 150 gr of black beans are sold unpackaged for 300 MWK
  • About 20 ml of cooking oil is sold repackaged in small plastic bags for 40 MWK at the small shop
  • A small bag of peanut is sold for 50 MWK at the small shop
  • The dried soya product is sold for 100 MWK a bag. The 2 shop owners I have interviewed they say that that items sells well since is food and is affordable. They also said that the small pots of glycerines are one of the best buy.
  • Women pads at the fuel station are sold for 580 MWK the package (about 1 euro)

Stay tuned!

Update 30/11

Field visit in Malawi, main finding:

A) last mile product supply (see bicycle pictures)
  • They mainly supply basic goods like sugar, salt, cooking oil for repackaging, white bread, sodas.
  • Relevant nutritional products like peanut butter, cereal, enriched flour are not to be found.
  • Reasons for the above can be: clients won't buy peanut butter (too expensive) and they most likely produce peanuts them selves. The shop owner thinks that her/his customers won't buy those products, so s/he does not introduce them either. The shop owner has a very limited budget to invest so s/he needs to make choices in what to supply. A mix of the above.
  • Sodas even if heavy and fragile still makes it till there without that much organised logistic has claimed ;), so what is their secret? (liquid sugar?)

B) Small rural shops (see pictures that says small shop)
  • They do not supply additional nutritional product, when asked wy she did not have peanut butter in her shop the owner said her customers grow their own peanuts.
  • Women pads are to be found there.
  • Baby Diapers are not used standing to the answer of the shop owner.
  • Body care products are widely available
  • Soap is unpackaed
  • Cooking oil i repackaged by shop owner in small portions (she said she buy a 20lt bottle)
C) Fuel Station Shops
  • They have a good variety of products especially soaps and body lotions
  • Women Pads are there too
  • Here you can find locally produced peanut butter
  • They also sell enriched flour and other fortified products
  • Here you can find baby diapers

Update 23/11

We are about to give it a shot to come out with the first toy's design made out of 5 modular packaging. That means that we will have to select the first 5 products to start with. We also want to validate the design with the users and community.

Thanks to the great feedback of Bettina Fliegel and Anne-Laure when choosing the first array of products we will pay special attention to products that are children "safe" and "friendly" as well as to products that stimulate healthy behaviour.

We might want to focus on:
corn starch,
peanut butter,
cooking oil,
hand soap,
water bottle
(any feedback more than welcome!)

We have also put up our very basic release of the crowd-sourcing platform at Toys Creators and we are looking for contributors copy-writers to join the initiative. Leave us a comment on here!


Update 7-11

We are trying to understand which products are most strategically appealing to be targeted. Thanks Anne-Laure and Alex for your pro actvivity and insight. Here is what we are coming up with:

Soda (reaches remote areas)
peanut butter,
powder mil,
Bottle of water,
I was thinking that also basic drugs (medicines),
Women sanitary-towels,
UHT milk,
unprocessed milk,
fruit juice,
farmers inputs? (fertilizer, chemicals, seeds, etc)

we feel we could start to pick 10 products on the base of the following criteria:

last mile penetration
most bought
relevancy for the challenge
complementarity for producing a family starter kit
buyer's gender and livelihoods
type of current packaging - we need some variety of materials to think about possible toys, toys parts and story telling supportive carton figures, card, board games, etc.

Alex Mokori one of the greater contributors to this challenge has asked us a great question: "how we can redesign packages for already packaged product sold in shops? "

We are thinking to tackle this through

A) Make such cool packaging material that the whole industry will just loves it and wants to buy it to be able to tell a helpful story and create social impact through it. Successful companies are made by individuals who surely have great stories to tell.

B) A is still applicable and find some early adopters customers / partners among the companies that produces the products we'll choose to start with.

C) focus on school feeding programs, initiatives, private catering that supplies schools and health facilities. We could than target teachers and health workers too who are also a very important influencers. As well packeging could be used in schools for example (even providing complement to text books (which in Malawi are very scarce). A vouchering system might also something that we might think of as a possible application for accessing health care services.

D) target packaging national and international producers, I know that in Malawi small corner shops repackage some of the goods since their customers won't be able to afford buying large quantities.

E) Target national food retailers (big supermaket chains) they need to package their own branded products

Some "extreme" thinking inspired by some videos on youtube on how to make own plastic. In the case of plastic we will try to use organic plastic. That will make possible to recycle the plastic for being remodelled at community level in other create different products that could be sold in the same community or outside the community (e-commerce included) like: jewellery, iphone cases, local relevant tools.

Stay tuned!

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

All children and families that will be able to buy products using that type of packaging or have access to the empty packaging.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

we identified three main work areas: 1) Identify an array of 3 to 5 products and make the modular design 2) Present the prototypes to a relevant strategic partner (or another relevant strategic partner) in order to have them on board 3) Further develop the crowd-sourcing platform through which we plan to engage designers, copy-writers (for the narratives) and consumers (members of local communities). The consumers will interact with the platform using SMS. Basically they will be able to voice out concerns, share ideas, testimonials, best practices, tips with other parents. Their "messages" will be shown in the platform and hopefully featured in the packaging.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

Packaging designers, toy designers, story tellers, graphic designers, writers, nutritional experts, maternity and child health experts, game designers

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am looking for partners that might be interested in taking this idea forward in their communities.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Monica Wirawan

Hi Maurizio!
I love your idea and it is an amazing way to provide children with the new toy which can be accessed with the reasonable price. I am just a bit confused with the few part
1. How are you gonna make sure that the plastic container gonna fit one another
2. Despite the variability of the available resources, how are you gonna provide the stickers to be appropriate to the plastic container

Love your ideas to provide children with the variety of learning toys from the affordable materials!

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