28 June 2020

Package Design and Cooking Converge for Graphic Design Graduate, Steffi Braganza

“It was not until I started studying graphic design that I realized the relevance of packaging – how it made one product stand out from the rest; how it developed a sense of familiarity – and affinity – in customers,” says Steffi Braganza, a Class of 2020 Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design graduate from VCUarts Qatar.

“When I mention this to family and friends, they’re equally surprised that graphic designers have anything to do with the packaging at all! ‘We assumed your work is mostly computer-based’ is the usual response.”

Braganza was in her second year of university when she was introduced to the essentials – and nuances – of packaging, as part of her graphic design program.   

“When you visit a store to buy a product, your gaze subconsciously wanders to the one that’s well packaged,” explains Braganza. “The visual image attracts a consumer.

“Yet, what may seem efficient and easy to handle might not hold a strong visual appeal, and this is what sometimes makes a consumer ignore the product. Additionally, packaging plays a huge role in providing clear information about the product. As graphic designers, we need to be aware of such features that directly influence customer response.”

Braganza’s introduction to packaging coincided with another new interest – cooking. A recent convert to vegetarianism, she relished the creativity that her culinary forays afforded her, except for one aspect.

“Not having done any serious cooking until then, I was taken aback at the quantity of packaging waste that one human being – me – was generating,” she recalls.

“Each day, I was throwing out huge amounts of wrapping – plastic, paper, and aluminum foil from packaging for noodles, veg burgers, soups, bread, spices, not to mention the innumerable squeezed-out teabags that piled up near my kettle each day.”

Keen to find a solution to the major environmental problem of large amounts of waste resulting from discarded product wrapping, she began to contemplate the possibility of creating edible or biodegradable materials from scratch – an endeavor that would lead to her senior thesis, titled, ADDON, which focused on edible biodegradable packaging.

It took her weeks of research – and innumerable trials in her kitchenette in her university dormitory room – to develop packaging that could be deemed edible/biodegradable.

Finally, agar provided the answer. Also known as agar-agar, this jelly-like seaweed is often used in desserts and vegan recipes. Its molecular structure was perfect for Braganza’s purpose, and she was ultimately able to concoct the prototype of the wrapping she had in mind.

Likewise, she used corn starch to create clear biodegradable sheets that could potentially replace the thin cellophane sheets, such as those used to wrap flower bouquets, which are widely used as wrapping on so many consumer products.

Braganza notes that though her edible and biodegradable wrappings may have been fabricated in a university dorm in Qatar, they have great potential for solving some of the world’s most vexing environmental issues. Her work underscores the link between packaging waste and environmental concerns, and the role of designers in reducing them.

“These past four years have taught me that design can change mindsets - that it has the capacity to draw consumers, to actively promote sustainability and control our carbon footprint,” says the VCUarts Qatar graduate.

“It was only after being introduced to graphic design, and the innovative GDES curriculum at VCUarts Qatar that includes package design, that I truly appreciated how broad the field is, and I realized my creativity is not confined to a computer screen.

“So much so that today, the question ‘What’s in that package?’ has taken on an entirely new meaning for me.”

See more of Steffi’s work on the BFA + MFA Online Show website at http://vcuqbfamfa.com

Steffi's senior thesis, titled, ADDON, focused on edible biodegradable packaging.

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