DESN 5154M – A study on the use of packaging design to raise contemporary  students’ awareness of the dangers to marine life caused by ocean  plastic waste. 





Module Code

DESN 5154M
A study on the use of packaging design to raise contemporary  students' awareness of the dangers to marine life caused by ocean  plastic waste. 

Contextual background 

Marine plastic pollution is the fastest growing environmental challenge on the planet  (Hamilton et al. 2015). Plastics can be preserved for centuries and break down even slower  in the depths of the ocean (Dauvergne, 2018). The oceans are becoming more polluted  because of the increasing variety of plastics (Gall and Thompson, 2015). As awareness of  marine pollution has increased, there have been a number of national and non governmental attempts to do so. For example, in 2017, Ocean Conservancy’s International  Coastal Cleanup organised volunteer litter pick-ups along the coastline, where they  collected a total of 8,346 metric tonnes of plastic, metal and glass. But this is nothing  compared to the scale of what litter does to the ocean (Dauvergne, 2018). 

The scale of the marine debris problem and the negative impact it can have on biodiversity  is not yet widely recognised and appreciated. When people walk along beaches, they often  leave behind large amounts of litter, much of which is plastic that is difficult to break down  and can be extremely harmful to marine life. Thompson and Gall in their 2015 study  

compared 340 encounters between marine debris and individual marine organisms and  found that 92% of these were plastic. Some studies have shown that marine ecosystems  would be better protected if people used fewer plastic products rather than continuing to  buy alternatives that degrade the environment. 

A 16-year survey by Potts found that older people (46-64) were more concerned about the  ocean crisis than younger people (≤27). This study therefore intends to start with younger  students who also have more purchasing power. Plastic packaging is a major source of  plastic pollution, so I intend to use packaging design to raise awareness of everyday life. 


This study aims to raise students’ awareness of the dangers of plastic waste in the ocean  to Marine life through packaging design. 


  1. Understand the extent of students’ knowledge of the effects of marine plastic pollution  on marine life 
  2. Explore what kind of packaging will attract customers’ interest  
  3. Explore whether customers change their views because of packaging 4. Use the findings of the research to determine the direction of the subsequent packaging design 

Research methodology  


The first method is to use a questionnaire. Before designing a questionnaire, it is first  necessary to be clear about the specific purpose of the questionnaire (Lowe, 2006). The  purpose of my questionnaire is to find out how much contemporary students care about  marine plastic pollution, how much they know about the harm plastic causes to marine life  and how much they prefer and care about packaging design in their daily lives. So, I  divided the questionnaire into two sections. And some questions from Henderson and  Green’s (2020) study were referenced. 

Pilot Test 

The Pilot test is a very essential part of the research process. You need to test every part  and every question when conducting a Pilot Test because every part can go wrong, and  you have to do another pilot test again if improvements are made after the pilot work Oppenheim (1992). I ended up doing a total of three spot tests before the formal  distribution of the questionnaire. 


The third method is the interview, which is probably the most widely used method  employed in qualitative research (Edward and Holland, 2013). The interview is a question and-answer session that provides a deeper insight into the participants’ thoughts. The  target for this project was the students, so I eventually looked for six students to interview  individually. Each interview lasted approximately 15-20 minutes. 

Results and discussions 

Pilot Test 

I asked a friend of mine to conduct the Pilot Test, and she made the following suggestions:  1. the age division in question 1 is too broad and involves the age of minors, which needs  to be submitted for ethical review; 2. the gender division in question 2 should be more  detailed; 3. the question of whether it is a student should be put at the top, because the  student is my research subject, and it is better to filter out the unsuitable subjects at the  beginning; 4. a little too much technical terminology, which can be difficult to understand;  5. the questionnaire on google may not be open to students from mainland China. I modified suggestions 1, 3 and 4 based on these suggestions, and left gender unchanged  as it does not affect my findings. 

I gave the pilot test again to a second student after revising the questionnaire and she  suggested that it would be better to write in the open questions: please answer in English,  as my questionnaire might be addressed to Chinese students. She also corrected some of  my English expressions. Finally, I gave a Pilot Test of my questionnaire to another student,  and she said that everything was fine. 


A total of 118 responses were received to this questionnaire, with 108 valid answers  matching the project’s target audience.

Questions 16 and 22 were open-ended questions. I grouped these responses according to  the relevance of the content. This was based on Lowe’s (2006) method of first recording all  the answers to this question and then grouping them according to those responses.

Questionnaire results

From the summary data of the questionnaire, we can draw the following findings: 

  1. 57% of the students did not care about marine pollution or only occasionally cared  about it, and less than 10% of the students usually cared about it.
  1. Most of the participants were aware of the dangers of plastic to marine life, but were  not clear about the extent of the impact, nor did they have a clear understanding of the  crisis that plastic has caused in the ocean, for example, only a few knew exactly what the  Great Pacific Garbage Patch was. 
  2. Most of the participants knew that plastic was harmful to marine life, but only about  half of them avoided using plastic packaging when shopping. 
  3. 78% of customers would read the small cartoons on the packaging, a statistic that has  played a role in how I have since developed my designs, proving that drawing cartoons on  packaging is a viable operation. 
  4. By analysing the participants’ views on the design of the packaging in question 22, some  people saw the packaging and realised the danger of plastic pollution to marine life,  suggesting that the design of the packaging could raise awareness of this, but some people  also responded that they were uncomfortable with the design, reminding me to be careful  about the proportion of words and images in my future packaging design. 


The interviews were conducted with each of the six students on their level of concern  about marine pollution and their preference for packaging design. A full transcription of  the interviews is attached as an appendix. 

  1. Concern about the extent of marine pollution and protective behaviour 

All six participants mentioned that they would click on news or information about the  ocean if they saw it, but would not normally actively search for information about it. Participant A was the most concerned about this, probably because she had lived by the  sea since she was a child and provided a lot of personal experience of the people living by  the sea, for example, she mentioned that the water in her home town was much dirtier  now than when she was a child. In contrast, participant D said that because she grew up in  the city, she did not care about the natural environment because she felt it was so far  away from her life. 

Participant F also mentioned that she did not usually care about marine pollution, but  during her brief time living by the sea she would pay attention to this. This is slightly  different from Potts (2016), whose study found little difference between coastal  populations (defined as living within 20 km of the sea) and inland populations in terms of  their level of concern about the health and impacts of the marine environment. But it inspired me to wonder if perhaps the focus of packaging design could be different  for different regions (coastal or inland). 

When asked if they could think of any stories or films related to plastic pollution, several  interviewees mentioned videos or images of turtles being entangled, suggesting that  images with a stronger visual impact are more likely to make an impression. Participant B  said that she felt a strong sense of concern for the sea when she saw these pictures. In  addition, Participant C mentioned the social experiment with plastic sushi, again  confirming that exaggerated representations can make a strong impression.

However, even for those who are concerned about marine pollution, most of them do not  take the initiative to do something environmentally friendly in their daily lives. Participant  A, although concerned about the oceans, does not avoid using plastic packaging and  plastic products in her daily life; her view is that there is nothing too wrong with using  plastic packaging products, but not littering. The rest of the interviewees had three  reasons for using plastic packaging: 1. they don’t think about the environment when  shopping or in their daily lives, 2. they can’t avoid using plastic packaging only, and 3. the  convenience of plastic. Reasons 2 and 3 are difficult to change through the packaging  design area, but reason 1 shows that it is necessary to raise awareness through design in  everyday life. 

  1. Usual care and preference for packaging design 

When asked if they care about packaging design, the six interviewees gave the following  preferences, A: practicality and colour scheme; B: pattern and colour scheme; C: material  and colour scheme; D: IP linkage; E: material and pattern; F: pattern. 

Participants A,B and C all mentioned colour and merchandise matching, something that  will need to be taken into account in my subsequent designs. 

When asked if they would take the time to look at the comics on the packaging of the  merchandise, all interviewees answered in the affirmative. 

“… I probably didn’t have enough time when I buy it at the supermarket at first, but after  I bought it back, and when I was taking it apart, like when I was eating, I would look at  it…”  

“… I might notice it at first glance, and then I might stop and read it a few more times…”  “… I think it’s interesting that when I see a package like this, I will look at what it says  and what kind of theme it’s trying to convey…”  

“… I feel like you painted this thing on your package to prove that you cared about your  design, and no matter what the finished product is, or what kind of work you are, I would  be willing to pay for your design…”

Designing cartoons on packaging for science and warnings can be an effective way to raise  awareness. 

  1. Perceptions of marine conservation themed packaging 

At the end of the interview the respondents were shown a packaging design that showed  the impact of plastic on marine life. 6 respondents gave very different reactions. 

Participants A and C both felt that the design was uncomfortable to look at, even though  they were aware of its intention. 

“…how can anyone use this bag? Although you are promoting environmentalism, doesn’t  this suggest that you should be carrying a turtle’s head in your own hands at all times…” 

“…it’s like I’m walking around carrying a turtle, which seems like animal abuse if you  don’t know what my intention is…” 

Participant D mentioned an interesting point about whether putting a design with  environmental intentions on plastic packaging was putting the cart before the horse. 

“…it feels weird to print a design that wants people to use less plastic on a plastic bag.  Because what you’re trying to say is don’t use plastic because it hurts animals, but  then you print it on a plastic bag…” 

Interviewees B, E and F felt that the packaging would serve as a warning and a reflection,  and that seeing the design themselves would raise their own environmental awareness at  the time, but not permanently. 

“…I feel like if there was a person carrying this on the street and someone saw it, it  would be an epiphany if it was me…”

“…might be a little more aware than I might normally be after seeing it, and would  not go for some plastic like this when I buy it myself, but I guess it might not last  particularly long…” 

“…if I were to buy one of these bags, I would probably think about the fact that this  plastic is being used now, but later on it doesn’t degrade and then causes pollution,  and then the pollution might affect the environment around us and affect nature…” 


Achievement and limitations  

From the results of the interviews and questionnaires, it was found that most students pay  attention to the packaging design of products in their normal life, indicating that it will be  effective to raise students’ awareness of the harm caused by marine plastic pollution to  marine life through packaging design. 

However, all six of the interviewees were female and all four were design-related majors,  so they may have been more interested in packaging design. Ritnamkam and  Sahachaisaeree’s (2012) study suggests that male and female preferences for packaging  design may differ. And the Chinese were overrepresented in the results of the  questionnaire. These are the flaws in the research. 

3 concepts  

Concept 1 

Drawings Four-panel cartoon on the package to explain the effects of marine plastic  pollution on marine life, or about marine pollution. 

Advantages: 1. People who do not buy the product will be attracted to it and watch it, so it  has a greater impact.


  1. The range of content available is very broad and not limited by the product itself Disadvantages: 1. Some people will not read them 
  2. The colours may not match the style of the product 

Concept 2 

Smaller labels for different products show the possible impact of the plastic packaging on  marine life to raise customer awareness. 

Advantages: 1. Not limited to products, this design can be used for any kind of packaging 

Disadvantage: 1. The icon is too small and may not be prominent enough and the message  may not be clear enough. 

Concept 3  

The main focus of the design is on plastic bottles for drinks, using the same colours as the  drinks (e.g., white for milk, black for Coke) to paint the packaging and warnings. This way,  customers will see the words ‘please recycle ’after drinking to remind them not to throw  

away plastic bottles. The text can be changed depending on the region, for example in the  seaside area to remind people not to throw away plastic bottles, or inland to remind  people to recycle or buy fewer plastic bottles in the future. I eventually chose this concept as the develop one. 

Advantages: 1. Customers have a sense of involvement and experience when using this  product, and they may be more willing to participate in environmental protection than  simply passing on information. 

Disadvantages: 1. The design vehicle is mainly plastic bottles, so it is not possible to  organise people to buy them in the first place. 

  1. The scope of application is too narrow.


Dauvergne, P. 2018. Why is the global governance of plastic failing the oceans? Global  Environmental Change, 51, pp.22-31.  

Edwards, R. and Holland, J. 2013. What is qualitative interviewing? London: Bloomsbury  Academic. 

Gall, S. C. and Thompson, R. C. 2015. The impact of debris on marine life. Marine Pollution  Bulletin, 92(1-2), pp.170-179.  

Hamilton, L. C. and Safford, T. G. 2015. Environmental Views from the Coast: Public  Concern about Local to Global Marine Issues. Society & Natural Resources, 28(1), pp.57- 74.  

Lowe, M. 2007. Beginning research: a guide for foundation degree students. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 

Henderson, L. and Green, C. 2020. Making sense of microplastics? Public understandings of  plastic pollution. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 152, pp.110908–110908. 

Oppenheim, A. N. 1992. Oppenheim-Questionnaire Design Interviewing and Attitude  Measurement. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 

Potts, T., Pita, C., O’Higgins, T., and Mee, L. 2016. Who cares? European attitudes towards  marine and coastal environments. Marine Policy, 72, pp.59-66.  

Ritnamkam, S, and Sahachaisaeree, N. 2012. Package Design Determining Young  Purchasers ‘Buying Decision: A Cosmetic Packaging Case Study on Gender  Distinction. Procedia, Social and Behavioral Sciences, 38, pp.373–379.