Design researchers and stakeholders in the field of packaging production are joining forces to make packaging more user-friendly for consumers who are elderly or have impairments. This initiative should make life simpler for all consumers.
By Hans Emborg Bünemann
Tomato sauce from the tinned mackerel splattered all over the kitchen counter, the unrelenting pickle jar lid, and the package of sliced ham that cannot be opened without a knife or a pair of scissors. Many consumers frequently have problems opening the products they purchase. Now, packaging manufacturers working with design researchers and engineers want to make life easier for consumers.
In 2007, through the Danish Centre for Design Research, the Danish Technological Institute, which heads the project, established contact with design researchers from the Aarhus School of Architecture with experience from other accessibility projects.
The Price Is Paramount
The trade association Danish Packaging Industry, DPI, has long been aware of the extent of the problem. However, according to Peter Huntley, who is the managing director of DPI, companies’ innovative packaging design efforts have been held back by tough competition on retail price.
An interdisciplinary research project on accessible packaging now seeks to address the problem.
“This collaborative effort with design researchers offers an excellent basis for product developing and improving packaging design, because design adds value to products. Well-designed packaging that enhances hand accessibility creates increased goodwill for the product. Thus, it may well prove to be a sound business move even if there are development costs,” says Peter Huntley, adding, “Furthermore, the project is a tin-opener for more extensive collaboration in the long term between companies and the research environment.”
|Flawed packaging design can pose difficulties as well as hazards for consumers. An interdisciplinary project involving design researchers from the Aarhus School of Architecture aims to provide the packaging industry a good basis for developing more user-friendly packaging.|
Inclusive Design and Commercial Opportunities
Design researchers involved in the project will be using interviews, focus groups and video recordings to study how various user groups perceive various types of packaging.
“Once we have mapped consumer behaviours and perceptions through this user-centred approach, we will visualise a variety of scenarios and offer companies suggestions for improvements. This might, for example, be a way of providing air for the jam jar to make the lid easier to twist off,” says Birgitte Geert Jensen, associate professor at the Aarhus School of Architecture.
Birgitte Geert Jensen mentions that the researchers are inspired by the Helen Hamlyn Centre under the Royal College of Art in London, which works with Inclusive Design, design for all. Here, the key idea is that design should accommodate current demographic shifts and elderly consumers’ expectations of maintaining their independent lifestyle. According to this British research centre there are considerable challenges as well as important commercial opportunities in developing design solutions that make life easier for the ageing population, and these opportunities will only grow in the years to come.
Guideline for Manufacturers
The design researchers involved in the project will base their work on engineering measurements of various users’ physical strength and ability to pull, tear and twist. Based on these data and their own observations, the researchers will draw up a guideline for packaging manufacturers providing advice on making packaging more user-friendly.
This guideline will be tested in practice in companies and undergo ongoing improvement. The final guideline will have to live up to the international standards that are currently being established by CEN, the European Standards Organisation.
Embarrassing and Dangerous
One category of consumers with particular difficulty opening packaging is the group of 700,000 Danes who live with some form of arthritis. According to Rasmus Helveg Petersen, who is head of communication in the Danish Rheumatism Association, to people with arthritis this is a daily reminder of their impairment. Tins that are difficult to open can also lead to embarrassing situations with spilled food and stained clothes.
But in addition, it is a safety issue, says Rasmus Helveg Petersen, adding that ironically, there are many examples of arthritis medication that people with arthritis are unable to open.
“And when they finally do manage to break open the package of pills, they often transfer it to another container. This means that the medication is separated from the instruction pamphlet, and that is dangerous. For example, patients can only take one MTX pill for arthritis a week. Taking one a day could be lethal,” he says.
You can read the project description from the Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority (in Danish) here
The Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority has provided a 5.6 million kroner grant for this four-year project, which was launched in spring 2008.