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Usability in product packaging
October 14, 2007|Design

Usability in product packaging

Elmers Wood PuttyI was strolling through Lowe’s today with my boys, not remembering if I had a good batch of putty, so I stepped down the paint and caulk isle, and noticed new packaging for the Elmer’s Wood Putty. The first thing that came to mind was "It’s about time."

I was seriously taken with the new packaging for one reason; it makes a ton of sense from a consumers stand point. I mean, how many times have you had to search for your smallest putty knife to be able to poke it into this little itty bitty container? They have several sizes of this new tub, 8 oz, 16 oz, and 32 oz – at least 32 was the largest one I saw in the isle. How often do you find any manufacturer that has been around as long as Elmer’s redesign the packaging in such a dramatic way? Especially of one of their major product lines.

This new design goes against the trends of all of their competition, also against the conventional way this sort of product has been delivered and packaged for as long as I can remember. It also happens to make the product stand out on the shelf. Couple this fact with the extreme ease of use the new package introduces, and I think that this will give them a big edge, ultimately resulting in increased sales.

In general, it seems as if corporations don’t even try to place themselves into the shoes of the consumers they claim to be targeting. If the opposite were true, spray paint cans wouldn’t have that clumsy spray top that they have had since the product was invented, it would have a trigger mechanism that is easier to control the spray and wouldn’t spontaneously produces muscle spams in your index finger after a few minutes of use.

Maybe it isn’t the companies though, maybe it’s the Ad Agencies at work with packaging designs (both good and bad), and some shared responsibility is in order. How often do you see a new packaging design praised in a Design Annual for how much easier it is for the consumer to use it? Not very; if at all. If you have kids, and have tried to open any toys at Christmas, then you know the nightmare that modern packaging has  evolved into. So maybe there’s even enough blame to be handed out to the Design magazines that showcase the design of a label, rather than the design of the actual package. There are plenty of publications and websites that constantly regurgitate the virtues of well executed and designed web sites; now it’s time for some focus to be placed on the packaging design.

Any way you slice it, there are a lot of products in a wide array of fields that could benefit from a being examined from a usability stand point, and have the evaluation help to shape the design of packaging.

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