Thursday 1 May 2014

Product Packaging Problems (& Solutions?)

[Image description: see text below]

You may be thinking that the photograph above is of a set of torture equipment. It is not (although it very often feels like mental torture!). Nor is it for committing burglary. The selection represents some of the items I use to break into products via packaging that oftentimes feels like it was sent by the lord above as a trial of strength of character.

There is:

A grippy silicon pad to help my arthritic fingers hold on to a product whilst attempting to disrobe it.

A silicon mat upon which to stand jars and cans to prevent them sliding all over the counter whilst struggling with their lids.

Two different tin-openers (can-openers) depending whether one or the other fails to do the job in the first instance on tins (cans) without ring-pulls.

A bottle- & jar-opener.

A pair of scissors for cutting through crisp packets, cereal packaging or - G_d forbid - products completely entombed in solid plastic.

A knife for sliding under folded-down packaging that will not peel back - it has to be that big and chunky for my arthritic hands to try to grip.

A ring-pull opener for cans of pop (soda), and some tinned (canned) goods, as there is no way my swollen fingers can get at the ring-pulls.

A sparkling-wine opener - this is one of my favourites as I can now extract bubbles under my own steam whenever I want champers.

A wine-bottle cutter: it cuts off the metal/plastic surround at the top of bottles making access for a corkscrew a heck of a lot easier.

A bottle-cap opener - in desperation for a beer I tried teeth once and just cut my gums and gave myself toothache!

Not photographed, I have an Alessi wine-bottle opener which, whilst still requiring the twisting action with hand & wrist, is a damn sight simpler and less effort to use than conventional corkscrews.

Talking of wine, I applaud the use of screw-caps as on the whole these make extracting wine from the bottle a much easier task, although not without difficulty as one still requires two hands - one to hold the bottle, the other to utilise the bottle-opener.

Whilst in Spain, I observed a distinct move away from conventional bottle-caps to pull-off caps on bottled beers and ciders. Even I could open these with relative ease. I am not aware of this occurring in Britain; but then I tend to drink wine or spirits at home.

Actually, thus far I seem to have obsessed rather on alcohol! This next item also contains the blessèd substance. After-shaves and eau de colognes can often prove nightmarish to access. The photograph below is of one of the fragrances I use, Gucci by Gucci. The plastic, wrapping the box, is easily peeled away, and the box opens without difficulty. And I can pull the stopper off without much effort due to the large ring-pull. Also the bottle itself feels weighty in my hands. For me this is a good as I have diminished touch sensation through my fingers, so my body is aware I am holding it and have not lost or am not losing my grip upon it.

[Image description: a plastic wrapped box of & bottle of Gucci]

Yikes, the next product also contains alcohol; oh, no it doesn't any longer, I forgot they reformulated it without. Shucks! Mouth-wash. Can able-bodied folk actually access these? I usually have to resort to using a knife and scissors to remove the plastic holding the lid on and ensuring water-tightness. I have no choice over using these rinses as much of the time I am physically incapable of cleaning my own teeth, so at least mouth-washing keeps them fresher than they would be otherwise. Which neatly segues into tooth-paste. I am a convert to flip-lid tubes as I found the tiny little screw-lids nigh impossible to unscrew, re-screw or kept on dropping them.

[Image description: a bottle of mouthwash, unopened]

I wonder too what percentage of shoppers struggle to read labelling due to font-type, size of font, colour of font, etc. It must be really difficult for blind folk to know what product is what in their cupboards or on their shelves. Whilst some products have taken the enlightened step of using Braille to identify the contents, the vast majority have not. Perhaps it is time manufacturers were obliged to do so, as it will take until the twelfth of never for all products to be helpfully marked.

Turning now to a product that most of use daily: milk. It does not matter how you buy your milk whether in a Tetrapak-style carton or a plastic bottle, who does not on a regular basis struggle getting at the cow-juice? I think Sainsbury's or Booth's uses a plastic seal with a sort of large wing which is large enough to grip. My milk is delivered as I find it difficult to shop at specific times due to my fluctuating conditions. The packaging is easier than most, but with a slightly larger flap would probably mean I would not have to frequently resort to a knife to get me started.

[Image description: a plastic bottle of milk, unopened]

Cleaning products are another bane. Well some of them are. One that is not is my anti-bacterial spray. The nozzle is turned from off to on without effort and the whole design appears to have been ergonomically well thought-out. On the other hand, Waitrose replaced the caps on their bleach a few years back, so now one is required to squeeze and turn at the same time. Just about impossible for folk with poor grip and/or struggling with arthritic pain in their hands. Now once I have the lid off, it stays off; which of course risks accidents.

[Image description: a bottle of bleach & an anti-bacterial spray]

Bleach lids are not unlike the lids on some of my medications, although this time one is required to push down and unscrew. These supposedly child-safe lids, that seem to hold no difficulties for youngsters, are just downright beyond the capability of many disablies or even just agèd folk. Packaging of medications is my true bête noir. Apart from inaccessible pill-bottles, there are the designed-to-infuriate blister-packs. To be fair some are easier than others. In the photograph, the pack with the largest pills is made of a very pliant, foil-like material. I have no problems in pushing these large pills out and it causes negligible pain. However the smaller tablets are in packaging that probably would not be destroyed by a nuclear explosion. I end up with pills here, there and everywhere, increased pain and pressure marks where I have attempted to squeeze out the little blighters!

[Image description: see text above]

There are lots of companies out there with lots of products. Some really try to do their best; others do not seem to care a hoot. Perhaps what we need is an annual set of prizes for both good & bad packaging. But really, companies should not need incentives or to be named and shamed, it ought to be good business sense to get the packaging right in the first instance. I should love to know how many design companies actually ask or test their ideas on disabled folk. Maybe such should be made mandatory.

If you have an example of good or bad packaging, please feel free to post about it below (but be aware of libel) with, if possible, photographic evidence.

Likewise, if you know any good products to deal with poor packaging design, post away.

Furthermore, if you have any ideas on how to improve packaging, communication with manufacturers, whatever, please feel at liberty to comment.

[Image description: BADD logo]

This article is written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014


  1. Fantastic post, Criquaer! The inaccessibility of medication remains a particular mystery to me - a determined child can probably get in it, but a lot of disabled adults, who need to take the stuff, cannot. More than once I've shed blood over a blister-pack.

    1. Thanks for being supportive - as ever. Thinking to tweet my post to a few companies/departments/media over coming days, to raise some awareness.

  2. Totally agree, re: medication. Iron supplements, in particular, make me want to weep, as each is in it's own separate blister, and if you push TOO hard it crumbles (rather than coming out), but if you don't push hard ENOUGH, it stays in its little home, happy and safe. Super frustrating.

    1. I know where you're coming from; I hear you! %)
      It's as if the pharma companies never think to test their products in real-life situations! %DDD

  3. I hear you! As a kid I had fun opening supposedly "child-safe" packagings for my parents, and now I have trouble with them, though not quite as much as you do. One thing that helps me get pills out of blister packs is ripping the foil with my nails before pushing them out, perhaps you could try it? A sharp tool like a knife would probably do too, as long as you can move it precisely enough to not damage the pills.

  4. UPDATE:

    I have now contacted the following:

    Royal Society of Pharmacists (T)
    British Pharmacology Society (T)
    The Packaging Federation (E)
    Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (T)
    Department of Health (T)
    Office for Disability Issues (T)
    BBC Radio 4 (T)
    The Independent (T)
    The Guardian (T)
    Manchester Evening News (T)

    Should I hear anything, I shall of course apprise you.