Founded by Anna Glansén and Hanna Billquist in 2013, Tomorrow Machine is a Swedish design studio focused on building a better world through research, new technologies and intelligent material. What started as an elegant and effective conceptual project for edible food packaging is now on the verge of production, proving that consumption with zero waste is closer than ever. Anna Glansén answered our questions exploring materials and their importance in product design as we enter this new decade.
Having studied product design at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm (Sweden), Glansén easily recognizes a lot of Scandinavian and Nordic design as being sustainable-focused. The long-standing tradition of the discipline, known mostly for minimalism, is almost inherently less wasteful. “When I studied design, about 10 years ago, all product briefs had sustainability as their main focus,” credits Glansen.
Notwithstanding the advantages of formal design education, the duo recognizes there was is gap between material research and the application of a given material. As designers, their mission has become to explore that space in between and create the sustainable products of tomorrow by understanding and testing the full potential of certain materials.
Seven years after their founding, Tomorrow Machine now works with research companies and material manufacturers to usher in a new age of food packaging. Using new, smart, environmentally friendly materials and the right project partners, they are building from their concept ‘This Too Shall Pass’. Originally a prototype, this project was inspired by biomimicry: an egg and its shell, or fruit and its peel – nature’s way of packaging where the interior and exterior age at the same speed. The ‘This Too Shall Pass’ project consists of a smoothie package made from agar-agar seaweed, a rice package made of biodegradable beeswax and an oil package made of caramelized sugar, coated with wax. Now with a collaborator in the materials market, these products will soon see the light of day and be available for public consumption!
The materials have been perfected to allow for large production and sale, making these edible (or at the very least fully compostable) food products shelf-stable for up to one year. While the recipe for the material is currently proprietary information, Tomorrow Machine has confirmed it is vegan, and free of any artificial colours or flavours. These gel, paper and glass-like structures will outfit different food and beverage contents based on their viscosity and truly modernize the food experience.
The choice of material often lies with the design, and it is the responsibility of the designer to be educated in what new alternative materials exist. Creating or improving a product that is more sustainable than one already available on the market should be the only contribution from designers today.
“To answer the question of how we choose materials, most of the time we don’t, the material chooses us,” said Glansén when asked about how the search for materials began. Tomorrow Machine collaborates with Swedish research companies or material producers who are looking for their expertise in product design. However, the selection of materials and industrial design would mean little if other aspects of sustainability were neglected, so the team at Tomorrow Machine drafted a sustainability profile to ensure that the use or sourcing of a particular material wouldn’t also mean a larger carbon footprint. Reducing transport, working with cellulose based materials (which are common in Sweden) are built into the early development phases of their production.
Tomorrow Machine sees their packaging as an extension of bulk stores that have started to pop up in cities. These so-called “zero waste stores” have disrupted the current buying experience in a western context and could evolve to eventually offering edible packaging. Ultimately, the only zero-waste packaging is one that can be eaten, leaving no trace behind.