First and foremost, I want to wish all my readers a joyous New Year. May 2017, bring you good health and the fulfillment of all you have planned for this year.
Given the turbulence of the past year and the repackaging of our electoral politics I suppose we all need to buckle up for the year to come. Let’s do so with a large dose of hope in the resilience of Americans. Today I write a blog entry that has nothing to do with politics, an area of great sensitivity to many. Rather than spotlighting villains in the political arena, I have found another group on which to vent my frustrations.
You may have thought that only lawyers and used car salesmen were the classic villains. But I have an update, which may be particularly resonant after the holidays. I hereby nominate package designers who commit packaging crimes to join this infamous group of professionals. Their errors can sometimes drive a gift recipient, or an ordinary shopper, up the proverbial wall.
Have you struggled to open a package this holiday season, or ever, for that matter? Then you’ll surely understand my pet peeve. Let’s take a large carton, say, containing a new coffee maker, or a TV. Think back and answer honestly: did you struggle to figure out how to even begin? Scissors or a razor knife? Which would be less likely to cut through some essential component inside?
After you made the brave choice, did you need to stop and think how to extract the captive appliance? Possibly it appeared to be held by extruded plastic roughly in the shape of the object, but there was something else shackling it. It could have been tape, metal twist ties, or crazy glue. No way to tell. You might have stuck your fingers around the edge and — ouch– a nasty cut. You began to jiggle the package gently trying to shake it out without damaging the item. Still nothing doing! Your nerves fraying, you probably began tugging at the carton trying to tear it. Frustration! If you are like me, or many folks pressed for time, you begin to regret the purchase.
Now, it may be less surprising to struggle with a big appliance carton, but an ordinary K-cup box? Yes, I have had the unpleasant opportunity to try opening one along the perforated lines. Perforated? They must have been kidding, I thought as I attempted to coax the line of tiny dashes with a knife. Soon enough, a breakthrough, but—oops—not the kind I intended. I was hoping to extract a K-cup to make coffee, but instead, I pierced it, rendering it useless and raising the per piece cost of its brethren.
Recently, one of my biggest beefs with packaging design has been in the medical sphere. Ever struggled with a childproof medicine bottle, pressing down and turning simultaneously? It should be easy, just like walking and chewing gum. But sadly, not always. There have been plenty of times I called my husband to help. If you have ever felt sick—sore throat, sneezing up a storm, coughing— and tried to open a pill encased in one of those plastic blister packs, you will likely agree that package designers aren’t cut out to be brain surgeons.
The packaging annoyance got so bad that I decided to look into the industry. Just a quick survey of the Internet shows that there are numerous professional associations, journals, websites, and training programs in the field. And, like in most fields, there is enormous specialization. After all, packaging medicines is different from packaging, cosmetics, or appliances, or foodstuffs and beverages. Not only are there issues of design, but the fabrication of the appropriate containers and use of the best materials are sciences onto themselves: thermo film or cryofilm? Shrink wrap, stretch wrap, anti-static wrap, or marine wrap? Makes one’s head spin.
Sustainability questions have recently made their way into the discourse of the field in a significant way. Weight of the packaging is a crucial issue in transportation costs. Ability to maintain certain products unaffected by temperature and humidity changes is another important consideration, among many.
Just one look at some of the themes on the minds of packaging designers would give even a novice a hint at what’s at stake:
Quite aside from all the branding related packaging decisions is the mind-boggling array of machines designed to package specific products. Who knew that a different machine is needed to package coffee as opposed to cheese, or pasta, or nuts?
Having done a cursory tour of packaging websites, I now realize more sharply than ever how specialized our world has become and how this specialization leads to complexity and stove piping. It now seems clearer to me that the various packaging specialists are not likely to be in communication with one another, leading exactly to this: a miserable cold sufferer being driven to distraction trying to get a cold pill out of a blister pack.
P.S. I hope that by now everyone has opened their holiday gifts and liked them, as it would be nearly impossible to get them back into the original packaging for returns. Anyway, who wants to deal with the crowds heading for the returns counters?
Happy New Year!