Creating design to optimize shape, form, and function.


It is thought-provoking to observe that some manufactured items are beautiful to behold, though not designed with that focus in mind. Their allure and captivating qualities first result from mathematical pursuits in function, not a sculptural exercise focused on desirable form. However, a highly emotive, aesthetic package design still emerges. 


The Aquafina bottle was a disruptive introduction to the water market and is among the best examples of our team’s creative and technical collaboration integration. The objective was to develop a light weighted, disposable package to optimize its shape and generate a unique shelf presence with distinctive brand assets. The result was a bottle that included a physics-based rib structure that enabled 13% light-weighting and a label that leveraged the geometric rib features to create an illusion of rippling water. This package represents a benchmark example of physics-based design and creative expression. 


Packaging today is often seen as a kind of debt to be managed; sustainability pervades the conversation with good reason. The reduction of plastic can lower greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide emissions, and other types of pollution. However, one does not have to travel far back to acknowledge plastic’s role in the advancement of packaging and see packaging as ever-evolving progress. There was a time when plastic bottles supplanted many containers made of glass and stainless steel in the food and beverage industry. Plastic bottles weighed less for transporting, had strong barrier properties to keep foods safe, and were much more durable altogether, enabling packages to travel further for those needing food and drink while maintaining vital freshness. Our work on Aquafina shows a piece of our story in advancing the strength and light-weighting of beverage bottles while also helping our clients deliver differentiation and delight to their consumers. 

When it comes to consumer products, the packaging is always one of the most important considerations. Regarding selling water, packaging must support a brand position that aligns with being clean and pure. The Aquafina bottle brought an elevated and new aesthetic category to the beverage industry. The ramifications of the technical challenges solved were significant to light weighting bottles, increasing strength, and elevating sustainability. 

The Client approached the SES (Stress Engineering Services) Team with the desire to make a lightweight bottle. Lightweight bottles are less expensive and use less material, so they are considered more “eco-friendly.” Unfortunately, to the consumer, eco-friendly and inexpensive translate to cheap, with negative connotations for brand quality. Our Client not only wanted a lightweight product but wanted it to maintain the appearance and feel of a heavy bottle. The Client added one more constraint: they also wanted a design fit for lightly carbonated beverages. This requirement provided the added challenge of increased and dynamic pressures in the bottle. 



Typically, from a technical point of view, having circumferential ribs would be an obvious choice to stiffen the shell of a bottle. However, circumferential ribs are a poor choice for pressurized containers because they tend to expand in the “Z” axis like an accordion. Moreover, circumferential ribs oppose when top-loaded in pallets because they buckle easily without the required vertical stiffness. We should also consider the in-hand impression, we have all experienced a bottle that crinkles and buckles as we attempt to drink from it, an impression that any high value brand wants to avoid. So, SES produced the idea of a segmented rib design. The design process was simple… once the vision was established. The result was a groundbreaking new method to lightweight a bottle, save cost, and deliver a modern design language for the Client that was perfect for their Aquafina brand. From a design perspective, it is an example of how computational methods for very functional purposes can produce iconic solutions with beautiful results that catch the eye of consumers. The bottle’s optimized shape and design are inspired by the look of rippling water. An exemplary network of undulating ripples capped with refractive highlights pushed the design to the forefront of a sea of competitive sameness. As a result, the bottle felt premium, solid, and elegant in the consumer’s hands, belying its cost savings and focus on strength.


Technically, we parameterized the network of rib segments in length, depth, and spacing and ran a series of predictive computational models for bottles under “squeeze,” “pressure,” and top-load conditions. Two designs stood out, and we offered them both: a short rib pattern called “Super Rib 1” and a long rib pattern called “Super Rib 2.” Both maintained the squeeze stiffness, had adequate top-load capabilities, and could retain their shape under pressure. Super Rib 1 was considered a little more visually attractive than Super Rib2. Therefore, the long rib pattern (Super Rib 2) was not chosen, and Super Rib 1 naming was condensed to just Super Rib. When we made the prototypes, Super Rib bottles had such a pleasant aesthetic that the Client decided the consumer would love to see the design in the water bottle. So, the Client labeling team worked hard to invent a translucent light-blue label, through which the rib pattern produced a shimmering wavy appearance. The combination of bottle design and labeling garnered the Aquafina water bottle the Institute of Packaging Professional’s Ameristar award in 2003. 


After the new bottles hit the market, other bottlers quickly copied the Super Rib design in less efficient forms. In just a few years, clear-labeled, rippled water bottles had pushed their predecessors off the shelves and into the recycling bin of history. The success also led the Client to experiment with other attempts at new and innovative structures, many of which became projects for the SES Team.  

Force-4 — Smart Ideas for A Smart World. We are a force for innovation because we envision and translate brilliant ideas into highly experiential and efficient products. Our expert team of strategists, industrial designers, and engineers unlock new ideas while navigating complex technical challenges to take your product to market faster.  

Stress Engineering Services — Innovative Solutions for Cutting Edge Ideas. Our passionate, multidisciplinary team of expert problem-solvers believes that the future of innovation requires forward-thinking solutions and a tenacious commitment to cutting-edge ideas. Therefore, we commit to providing the most comprehensive design, analysis, and testing services with unsurpassed engineering integrity and expertise.

If your business requires forward-thinking solutions by a team with expert in-depth technical knowledge and proven performance in engineering design & analysis, thermal & fluid sciences, instrumentation, and testing, choose the Force-4/SES partnership!


Jason Phillips

  • Jason Phillips, Group Creative Director, has more than 20 years of innovation and product development experience in consumer-packaged goods, durable products, human performance applications, and technology integration.

Ref: C006-CP-Creating design to optimize shape, form, and function

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