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Elevating the Ordinary Bar

I’m intrigued by the trend of personal care bar products. A bar avoids excess packaging, but there’s also something organic and truthful about a bar. Consumers seeking authenticity are finding it in the humble elegance of a product that nestles comfortably in the palm of their hand.

The trend follows a desire to find product solutions that reduce packaging waste. For a bar, maybe it needs to arrive in some sort of outer container, but once it starts to be used, the outer container can be recycled or simply join the compost bin.

The bar trend goes far beyond simple soap, however. The big idea right now? Shampoo. Bars are making inroads into hair care in a very high-end way. Lush and Love Beauty and Planet are established beauty brands with shampoo and conditioner bars.

Sans the Suds
What about lotion? Semi-solids in propel-repel sticks are common in lip balms and underarm products and enjoy a loyal user base in sunscreen, but face and body moisturizer in a stick form isn’t as common, let alone a bar of moisturizer. Could lotion be the next trend for bars?

You might worry about keeping a moisturizer bar clean; after all it would get handled directly and unless it was stored in a container, it would sit out in the open, but is it really any less sanitary than a jar of cream that you dip your fingers into? A bar would at least be anhydrous, absent of any water, and better able resist unwanted microbial growth.

How portable would a lotion bar be? Designed to “melt” with the warmth of your skin, a lotion bar would need to be stored where temperatures stay relatively cool. Even so, it's just as portable as a bottle of moisturizer when  kept in a reusable container.

Less is More

I like exploring the idea that we can concentrate personal care products or even formulate them to be anhydrous to both extend shelf-life and make them more efficient to ship and store. But from a design perspective, I love the possibilities in the user experience. Imagine a product with no packaging to fight with and no waste. It lasts longer and works harder. It won’t leak in luggage and will take up less space. Plus, it can be shaped to create an elegant, intuitive application experience. It becomes a very personal product that is shaped by use.

There are sacrifices: How do I keep the bar from getting on my hands if I don’t want to apply it to my hands? How will I keep the bar clean? How does it perform as I use it up and it gets smaller and smaller in size? These are interesting design challenges. If we think of solid-form products in terms of refills, that opens up possibilities for applicator concepts that support portability and clean-hands usage. This could also reinforce consumer loyalty, assuming the product performs well.
Beyond the Bar of Soap
What other applications is a bar format good for beyond the ubiquitous hand-washing soap bar? We don’t necessarily think about this, but certainly makeup and lip products are common solid/semi-solid applications. Going beyond that we can fairly easily consider shampoo and conditioner, shaving foam, and hand and body lotion in a bar. But what about for your teeth? Or no-drip color for your hair? And what about surface cleaners? Furniture polish? A few thin slices of a bar for the laundry? A stain treater? For washing dishes? Washing your dog? Your car? I think the concept is limitless.
I don’t think bars are going anywhere soon. In fact, I think there’s still a groundswell of growth to be found in this format that could create some amazing and uniquely authentic consumer product experiences.

For a look at a great design example in this format, check out my latest VLOG episode!


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