Packaging and universal design

We all experience packaging that is hard to open without a knife, scissors and even teeth. Ergonomic researchers from the University of Wollongong provide an overview of a presentation about packaged food. Their study of packaged hospital food revealed some obvious results – much of it is difficult to open.

Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: food and beverage packaging has no regard for people with low dexterity. In hospitals it can mean missing out on a proper meal.

Four tetra drink packs showing different shapes in packaging.

Many people are frustrated by packaging and have issues opening it.  A series of 3 studies was undertaken with well people aged 65 years and over in NSW examining their interaction with routine hospital food and beverage items.  

The researchers checked for strength, dexterity, time taken and nutritional status. The most ‘problematic’ items were – tetra packs, cheese portions, boxed cereals, fruit cups and water bottles. Most packs required greater dexterity than strength while some packs could not be opened at all. For example, 39% of subjects could not open the cheese portion.

The overarching message is the need for manufacturers to design easy to open packages. Packaging has an important role to play in food provision and if well designed, assist older people remain independent and well nourished. 

The title of the article is, “Lift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: the challenges of hospital food and beverage packaging for the older user”.  Alison Bell has published more on this topic, including a PhD thesis

A case study

A glass container of flour is laying on its side with the flour spilling out.Researchers use the case of opening a packet of flour. They looked at information, instructions, size, transparency, rigidity, shape, material, handling and opening features. These are all  factors to be considered at the early design phase. 

Usability and technical aspects of packaging design should be considered together in the design process.  The title of the article is, A Design for Affordances Framework for Product Packaging: Food Packaging Case Study in the Journal of Applied Packaging Research. 

The Engineering Design Centre at University of Cambridge has been looking a packaging and product design for some time. Find out more from the book chapter Designing Inclusive Packaging.

Sustainable packaging with universal design

Three pieces of fried chicken are placed in a white cardboard box.The resulting waste from product packaging is causing global concern. When it enters our oceans and food chains it becomes more personal. It’s also a personal concern when you can’t open the packaging without considerable effort or help. Packaging should suit both the consumers and the environment. So how to make packing easier to use and more sustainable?

A research paper from Thailand brings together universal design and sustainable design. The study looked at three main elements of packaging: what appeals to the buyer, level of environmental impact, and functionality. They also considered disposal of the packaging. Using a fried chicken container the researchers developed a prototype to see whether universal and sustainable design principles could work together. 

The article will be of interest for designers of packaging, including the graphic design. The title of the article is, Correlated Key Attributes for Sustainable and Universal Design: A Case Study through Meal Packaging in Thailand


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