While a stubborn clamshell container or vacuum-sealed jar lid might serve as a minor inconvenience to some, it can be a major struggle for others. These miniscule tasks prove difficult for nearly 49% of our general population across the U.S. — and for those who have a disability or physical limitations, the likelihood of experiencing struggles with traditional packaging increases dramatically. This data is all part of a larger issue that begs the question, “How can the industry start shifting the foundation of design?”
The future of packaging is dependent on adaptation. There is a fundamental misconception many packaging designs fall into, and that is the assumption is that every consumer is fully able-bodied and can access products with ease. By leading with this judgement, the packaging industry not only loses a significant portion of the market but also sets the precedent that this standard is acceptable. The good news is that the industry seems to be on the verge of a new wave of out-of-the-box, inclusive innovation.
A Look into Inclusive Design
Inclusive package design is the design of products that are intentionally accessible to all people — regardless of age, gender, disability or physical limitation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 61 million adults in the United States alone who live with a disability. In addition to that 61 million, there is a lot more of the population who lives with everyday physical limitations such as carpal tunnel, arthritis and muscular dystrophy and others.
Historically, companies have designed products with one way to operate for all consumers. For instance, across hundreds of brands, there has always been one way for consumers to open a vacuum-sealed jar — and even for fully able-bodied individuals, it is usually a struggle. This design misstep not only limits accessibility, but it also causes many consumers to forego purchasing products they may not be able to open. Inclusive design must include a universal solution or more than one way to use a product so that everyone is able to participate, and companies can help to improve quality of life for all consumers.
Engaging Consumers with Physical Limitations
Beyond a moral and social responsibility to serve consumers, when companies design a product or packaging with inclusivity in mind, they also gain access to a greater portion of the market. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to engaging all consumers with packaging — including those with physical limitations. According to a Designing Inclusive Packaging study by ResearchGate, companies should ask the following questions in regards to how their products relate to inclusivity:
What are the needs of consumers who are buying the product?
- How can my product help meet these needs?
- Test your design concepts. How well are these needs met?
- Depending on test results, what will your next steps be for the product?
Companies have recently started taking this approach over the past few years. Advil has implemented The Advil Easy Open Arthritis Cap that provides a comfortable grip made for those with difficulty opening bottles. Microsoft has created an adaptive Xbox controller for disabled gamers with reduced fine motor skills — even its packaging comes equipped with hinges, so it pops open with minimal effort. For consumers who struggle opening traditional jar lids, the recently launched EEASY™ Lid allows them to break the vacuum seal on jars by simply (and gently) pressing a button in the middle of the lid and twisting the cap off.
The Future of Packaging
Five years ago, most of these inclusive designs did not exist — which shows great promise for the modern shift toward accessible packaging. While more and more companies are starting to think about inclusivity when it comes to their products, the packaging industry still has a long way to go. It does not have to be a massive revolution. Simple updates to existing products can open up the market to so many more consumers who deserve the same quality of life as everyone else.As the industry continues to show forward-thinking progress in areas like sustainability, it has an excellent opportunity to show this same level of innovation in inclusivity. By incorporating highly accessible designs from the initial “napkin sketch” stage of product development, inclusivity will no longer be an afterthought in packaging. Brands should continue evolving and consider packaging options for those forgotten consumers because inclusive design does not just benefit those with physical limitations; it benefits everyone.