One cool thing about packaging is that there are a ton of options to choose from. Which means, in theory, that there’s no right or wrong way to package a product.
But in reality, companies are faced with numerous considerations when designing packaging. What’s going to keep the product protected? What’s going to make it stand out? Who’s their target consumer?
The latter being extremely important. Think about your own life. Any packaging that gets on your nerves? Something that’s hard to open? Clunky and bulky? Oversized and essentially pointless?
We could go on and on about our frustrations with packaging. But instead, we asked our Mission: Packaging students to tell us their biggest pet peeves. And, as they are preparing to start their own packaging careers, tell us about how they plan to address such annoyances in their own jobs.
Anna: All Joking Aside
Since I made the switch from biology to packaging science, I have received several messages from my friends and family expressing their frustrations with packaging and their jokingly, yet serious, exclamations to fix the issues at hand. The pet peeves that most often come up are the zipper bags (re-closeable feature on bags like frozen foods), small caps on thinner water bottles, thermoform packaging (SD card or computer chip), and child-proof pharmaceutical packaging.
The zipper bags are one side of a double-edged sword: it is innovative packaging, adding convenience to the end user…when it works. But, on the other side, when it doesn’t work, we have frustrated consumers dealing with said packaging.
When we add features such as zippers or other reclosing features, we step into a dangerous playing field. If the added feature does function properly and serves its intended purpose, consumers will appreciate the feature; however, if the feature does not work, it makes the product and company look like they dropped the ball. When this happens, it often comes with repercussions such as stockholders, investors, and customers being unhappy, which could drive them toward the competition.
It is crucial to keep in mind that a company cannot put out a product or a package with a 100% guarantee it will be successful in the market as consumers’ needs change each and every day. However, a company can do as much research and development, including consumer studies with the products, as they can in order to receive some basic understanding of how it may perform in the market place. There will always be some level of risk associated to introducing a new package, but with the proper research and development, those risks can pay off and provide a company with a competitive edge.
The second packaging pet peeve, smaller caps and thinner bottles, was brought up from a few different angles. The first angle being the bottle is so thin material wise and the cap is so small that older people or people with difficulties with their hands are unable to get a grip on the cap to open the bottle. My nana has gone so far as to use wrench! The second angle occurs once someone has a grip on said cap and bottle and is finally able to open it – they’re squeezing so hard they spill the water all over their lap. I know I’ve done this a few times myself. Granted it could simply be the torque (how tight the cap is applied) that causes this issue but regardless, we should be able to open a water bottle without the fear of water going everywhere.
The last two pet peeves are two I feel will be difficult to completely get rid of because thermoform packaging does help protect, secure, and display an otherwise difficult product to package in other packaging materials and child-proof packaging is a requirement on specific drugs in order to help keep children safe. Thermoform packaging allows for flexibility in packaging a product that may have certain requirements or limitations such as being odd in shape or marketing asking for high visibility of the product. Thermoforming is the process of forming a piece of sheet plastic into a particular shape using a mold. The ease and price of thermoformed materials seems to outweigh other packaging options containing multiple components and/or a higher price. There are many factors at play and what one company chooses may not work for another.
Child-proof packaging has come up as a pet peeve because sometimes they seem to be adult-proof as well. The intent of this style packaging is understood, but when an elderly customer is trying to get into their medication in an emergency, they may not be able to remove the cap because the child-proof packaging was simply too difficult to remove quickly. We have all tried to open a package that required us to line up the cap arrow with the arrow on the bottle so we all know that if the arrows are not lined up, the cap will not come off. Sometimes this arrow is barely visible, so it comes down to touch sensation. Imagine if you were a person with arthritis or numbness of the hands in an emergency…do you think it would be difficult to line up those arrows? Could it be a difference between life and death?
Garrett: Everyone is an Expert
From my little brother to a distant family friend to a complete stranger, everyone has their specific pet peeves about packaging. When I tell people what I plan on doing with my degree in Packaging, most of the time, people make a suggestion on what packaging they hate and why. One piece of advice I was given during my co-op at Kohler Co. was that everyone thinks they are an expert in packaging. Which is quite true.
Over the last couple of weeks, I specifically asked people for examples of packages they didn’t like and why. I got examples like: tooth brushes, dolls, resealable frozen chicken breasts, curling irons, and many, many more. Some of the reasons most people do not like certain packages include the need to use a scissor or a sharp knife to open the package and not being able to close the “resealabe” food packaging very easily.
Then I was thinking why these things are such a negative. Can’t consumers live with opening up the hard plastic of the blister packages the one time they need to do it? Why can’t people just concentrate for five seconds and reseal the plastic bag the correct way?
I came to the general conclusion that consumers are starting to recognize the amazing strides packaging has made the last five years. For example, consumers including myself, are expecting that all freezer food has high quality, easy open and resealable packages. Also, that other types of packages have perfectly engineered solutions so the product basically falls out when open properly.
At the end of the day, there are going to be pros and cons to every packaging design we engineers make. It may be the quality, the price, the repeatability, the security, the ease of opening, the ecofriendlyness, the look, the protection, the print, the size, the availability…this list could go on forever. At the end of the day, everyone has an opinion on everything, even packaging. All we can do is weigh these positives and negatives and make a design that benefits both the company and the consumers the best way possible.
Eric: Blister Packaging
Packaging attempts to create a balance between product presentation or protection and consumer wants. While one goal of a package is to create a positive impression with the end consumer, a package sometimes requires characteristics that create a less-than-perfect experience. A good example of this “packaging pet peeve” is blister packages. A blister package is a package type of many shapes and sizes that is composed of a product surrounded by plastic. There are two common blister pack designs used today. The first type, a carded blister, features a backing (commonly paperboard) that is adhered to the molded plastic and is often used in the pharmaceutical and consumer goods industries. The second type, a clamshell blister, is “made with a single piece of thick plastic that’s had a hinge added to it. The plastic is then folded over itself, with a consumer good tucked safely inside its blister, then sealed shut”1. Blister packages are notorious for being a “packaging pet peeve” due to the difficulty of access to the product they protect.
The packaging industry today uses blister packages for a multitude of purposes. As they are often transparent plastic, consumers are able to clearly see the product they are looking to purchase. Companies use blister packages to advertise to and attract consumers. Blister cards have become very popular in the pharmaceutical industry to separate doses and easily track medicine use. While visually appealing, these blister packages often create frustration for the user, ranging from ease of access to a personal safety concern resulting from the method the consumer uses to open the package.
Clamshell blister packaging is known to be an incredibly difficult package to open as the plastic sheet is folded over and sealed to itself. While this creates a less-than-perfect package for a consumer, a clamshell blister package does promote product safety and security. Companies and stores alike want certain products, specifically those that can cause harm to a consumer, in a clamshell blister package. It not only provides an appealing, functional package, but also a safe barrier to the product. Common things that are packaged for this purpose are various tools and sharp objects such as knives and scissors. Having a hard-to-open package like a clamshell blister also offers security from theft. Smaller electronic goods and other high priced items can commonly be seen in clamshell blister packages to prevent this.
While some blister packages are intentionally hard to open, others have potential improvements that packaging companies are looking to implement. Creating perforations in the paperboard backing, for example, or adding a zipper-like feature on the sealed edges of the clamshell should improve the consumer experience, while still delivering the benefits of such a package. Blister packages are just one example of a “packaging pet peeve” where the package characteristics clash with consumers wants.
Within the packaging community, innovative designs sensitive to both the purpose of the package and the customer’s ease of use can only further enhance the appeal of the marketed product. A packaging engineer will be most successful by considering all aspects of the package, from both the manufacturer’s and the consumer’s perspectives.