For decades just a functional part of the packaging of every item that we purchase, barcodes are undergoing a revolution in Japan.
Design Barcode Inc. is working with dozens of companies here to brighten up the mundane black-and-white stripes that contain information on the product. The new designs still include that data, but are increasingly incorporating company logos or an image associated with the product.
Some others are solely to catch the eye of the consumer in an amusing way.
"We recognized the problems that barcodes had, such as the fact that it was a blemish on the look of the packaging or that it lacked personality," Minoru Yoshida, a spokesman for the company, told Relaxnews. "The Japanese aesthetic traditionally focuses on small details, something that is barely noticed. Our idea was born from that kind of quintessentially Japanese aesthetic.
"One of the greatest 'ideas,' I believe, is to turn something that is otherwise considered a negative into a positive," he said. "Specifically, the Design Barcode transforms an unattractive element of packaging into something that actually appeals to people and may even become popular."
That is certainly beginning to happen in Japan, with some people starting to collect unusual barcodes and display them on their blogs.
"Another reason would be the situation of the advertising industry in Japan," Yoshida added. "Advertising has become too expensive and too much of an 'undesirable' in Japan. The reason for that is because it turned into communication that was forced upon the consumer.
"But we took the opposite approach. We never spoke up. We never suggested using expensive media for advertising, but we have let consumers write about their 'discoveries'," he added.
Design Barcode Inc. has four designers and has produced around 400 designs to date, for such companies as domestic confectionary giant Calbee, traditional tea manufacturer Ippo-do and on the Axe brand of deodorants.
"A barcode is something that is used in products all over the world, so the wide applicability of our idea is obvious," said Yoshida. "Our ambition is to bring a barcode revolution to the world."