Screaming at apple juice bottles, helpful gadgets and why we would all benefit from easier to open, simpler, more intuitive packaging
Read time: 5 minutes
Packaging design is one of my greatest bugbears and this week it has frustrated me every single day, culminating in me screaming blue murder at a bottle of apple juice (and then writing this blog post as therapy).
Unless you live off the land like a rogue Bear Grylls, packaging is something that we all interact with every single day – particularly food packaging – but think about bathroom products, office products, cleaning products; it’s everywhere. When it opens easily we don’t even notice it. When it doesn’t, few things can elicit such perfect hulk-esque rage. Like me and the apple juice.
Leaving product usability aside for a second, the packaging covering it can be an impenetrable prison before we even attempt to use the thing inside. How many times have you struggled with a jar? A toothbrush packet? A vacuum packed meal? I would bet you good money that you have at some point in your life found yourself needing a new pair of scissors or similar, but have subsequently found yourself cursing your shiny new pair through the packaging, which ironically you need a pair of scissors to open. Even my rugby playing husband was thwarted by the offending apple juice bottle. For people who face any kind of difficulty with dexterity, strength, vision, cognition etc. negotiating packaging must be like slamming into a brick wall every single day. It’s more than making life unnecessarily hard for ourselves, it’s down right disabling.
I love this video which explains the problem:
But what really bothers me is how quickly we blame ourselves for these difficulties, or bat it aside as something that is ‘just the way it is’. We beat ourselves up for being ‘feeble’ or feel like we are acting irrationally screaming at a bottle of apple juice. It’s not irrational at all, why should it be that hard to get into something?
For example, one of my ladies came to me looking for a nutcracker recently. Christmas nut season long since passed, I was intrigued. It turned out she is developing arthritis and can no longer open bottles and cans and heard that using a nutcracker will give her extra leverage (which of course is true and the basis for may of the other very helpful solutions out there). While very resourceful, I can’t imagine it is the most effective. But probably better than her current solution which is to take them round to her son when she visits once a week where she gets him to open them for her and then takes them home half open. Considering she told me it is the bleach bottle and jam she struggles with the most, I dread to think the potential chem hazard she has in her bag as she brings them home.
Ecologically, I am not sure why we insist on covering everything in plastic anyway, or sending things in boxes as big as a house for something as small as a cup. Hygiene, safety and convenience of course (all great things) has led us down the path we are on today, but we have incredible technology and materials available to us that weren’t back then and yet nothing seems to stop our love affair with throwing things away. While I’m ranting, I think poorly designed packaging probably also perpetuates the unhealthy and misplaced notion of female weakness and male machismo. How often have you heard or said ‘oh I need a man to open this,’ or made a joke at the expense of a guy who couldn’t open something? While I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, and of course I am generalising, but most of our packaging, has been predominantly designed by able young men, and thus design and functionality reflects this. I’m sure I’ll cover this subject in a separate blog, as who designs the products we use is an important area to look at which deserves it’s own post, but for now back to packaging.
I suggested these rubber jar grippers from Lakeland to her, which are handy little things and really do help. They also make great trivets to pop your hot plates on. I recently found this cute little thing too, called a Tweetie multi-bottle opener. I really wanted this to work because I wanted to give it as presents. Sadly it fails when it comes to some of the hardest to open bottles. Never mind, some of our testers thought it looked creepy anyway. The more classic jar openers still are the best bet, even if they don’t look that great. Many have a touch of the medical about them and some remind me of forceps which can really put you off your food. In fact, so much so that if you look at jar openers on the market lately we desperately seem to be trying to pretend they’re not jar openers. Jar openers: A gripping tale is coming soon!
Something our testers really love however, is this new product in development, KAY, by bright new designer Alexander Matthams. He has won several awards for this new take on the jar-opener that redefines the whole experience. It is designed specifically to look good sitting on your kitchen work surface, but is incredibly effective too. Using some very clever physics (or magic) it doubles your strength and makes it feel effortless. We like its modern ceramic and natural wood appearance and the Dr Who fans amongst us also thought the bobbly grips looked slightly like a Dalek, which made us smile. Sadly this is still very much in development, but we applaud Alex’s rethinking of this much-needed piece of kit.
Another nifty little thing that makes packaging light work is the Nimble. This is a tiny ceramic blade you stick on your finger like a thimble and use a bit like a Stanley knife. Cleverly, it won’t cut skin though, which blew our testers minds! We write about Nimble in more detail here as it is one of our favourite products of the moment.
In fact there are lots of brilliant people working on very helpful gadgets to help us get into things, but really the key is to design packaging more thoughtfully and inclusively from the outset. Simply put, we would all benefit from simpler, more intuitive, easier to use product packaging.
Packaging seems to be miles behind other product design, as all too often it is little more than an afterthought. The priority is just keeping the thing inside clean and intact as cheaply as possible. However, what’s the point of that if people can’t get ever get to the thing inside to eat or use anyway? Or have thrown it against a wall and broken it in frustration.
Redesigning packaging hook, line and sinker takes time, energy, broad consensus and vision, and of course money, so development is slow. Increasingly, however, manufacturers are seeing the benefit of making things people can actually get into. Some enlightened designers are even designing things that are pleasing to use as well as functional. For example, these Oxo Good Grips storage containers are great. Our testers love them for their ease of use and simplicity of design. They stack brilliantly, have a perfect vacuum seal and come in every shape and size. One of our testers has diabetes and suffers peripheral neuropathy which is intense pain and numbness in her fingertips that restricts her dexterity and ability to grip. Her grandson also has the same condition so it’s not an age-related problem at all. Both love these containers as they don’t have to fight with as many airtight boxes anymore.
Here at The Pretty, Good Project we are all about championing designers who consider the root cause of problems, factor in our different and changing abilities and design packaging inclusively from the outset. Until that easy-to-open utopia exists, however, (when I may finally get a drink of my apple juice), we will carry on highlighting some Pretty, Good fixes in the meanwhile.