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Trippy Packaging Brings the Next Wave of Mind-Altering Products to Life

This month's happy hour: eye-catching, mood-altering coffee, water, and spray

In 1964, Timothy Leary first used the term “set and setting” in reference to psychedelic drugs, the idea being that the effect of a substance was impacted by an individual’s experiences and expectations. Today, as more mainstream products tout extra-nutritional benefits, it’s fair to say that the latter part, the “setting,” includes packaging design. A particular design—medicinal, surreal, luxury—primes our brains for a certain experience. This month, we’re looking at stimulants and mood-boosters transposed into liquid form. 

Dazzle Studio: Pzaz

Jonah Reider worked with Zipeng Zhu of Dazzle Studio to bring Pzaz, a caffeine (and vitamin C, electrolytes, and zinc) mist, to life. For the brand design, Reider and Zhu plucked inspiration from a range of sources: Binaca breath spray of the ’80s, “gaming culture past and present and the act of ‘powering up,’” “extreme sports,” and “Dr. Bronner’s glorious maximalist display of text.” Pzaz, which can be bought online and in New York City bodegas, comes in four flavors: Big Apple Energy, Everything’s Peachy, Mint Condition, and Strawberry Fields. This distribution strategy plays well with the packaging design, which looks at home alongside Snickers bars and packs of Marlboros. Positioning a product that’s essentially fuel as instead a playful alternative to less satisfying, personality-lacking options is smart. After all, few people think of Red Bull or Soylent as a source of anything other than energy. By leaning into the absurdity of a form factor that prizes efficiency over all else, Pzaz shows that it’s in on the joke. 

Paper Crane Factory: Wunderground

Seattle design agency Paper Crane Factory brought to life Wunderground, a brand that combines coffee with adaptogenic mushrooms through beans and instant packs. (There’s a chamomile tea with reishi and lion’s mane, too.) Japanese artist Kimiaki Yaegashi’s fanciful, character-driven illustrations steered the direction of the design. Wunderground art director Tarelle Parker says that Yaegashi’s rich but harmonized palette set the tone for the packaging, which is an intentional break from typical “neutral, high-brow standard coffee colorways.” Unlike, the spate of jejune cereal box designs from adult-targeted brands like OffLimits and Magic Spoon, which riff on a category that’s full of cartoons, Wunderground is unique in that it’s, as Parker says, “premium coffee that still loves to be playful.”  

Nathanael de Boer: Psychedelic Water

Psychedelic Water may be one of the first products to bill itself as “psychedelic” without looking remotely like a Grateful Dead poster. Instead, with its blocks of solid color, sans serif lettering and reflective background, Psychedelic Water is sort of like a funhouse version of Vitamin Water. Designing the can to have those “holographic effects” was a major challenge, says Ben Rogul, head of marketing—“think wrapping a mirror around a telephone pole.” It took about a year to get right. But that attention to design detail seems to have paid off. When the brand launched a few months ago, it went viral on TikTok, a medium that thrives on quick slices of video. The dynamism of the can lent itself well to the kind of wrist-twisting pose that’s often used to add visual interest to product placement on social media. The “blend of kava root, damiana leaf, and green tea leaf extract,” found in the brand’s three flavors (Hibiscus + Lime, Blackberry + Yuzu, Oolong + Orange Blossom) won’t induce a trip. Just, you know, good vibes.  

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