Mar 16, 2021

We’ve all struggled to open a stubborn package. An often-cited and infamous example is opening a hard plastic package containing a pair of scissors. You actually need a pair of scissors to open the package! You see the absurdity of this, right? A user-hostile package can undermine a consumer’s initial experience with a given product. Sometimes, it can even cause injuries, such as deep cuts that require medical attention.

(Image source)

Now, think about the difference that a good package can make when accessing a product. Given the right design, it should be able to achieve all of these goals:

  1. Clearly identify the contents
  2. Appear visually distinct from similar products, thereby avoiding selection errors
  3. Conspicuously indicate the expiry date (if applicable)
  4. Indicate the proper means to open the package on the package itself
  5. Provide an intuitive, simple means to open the package
  6. Enable opening without using tools
  7. Keep manual opening forces within the low-to-moderate range
  8. Add features that enable use by individuals who have physical limitations (e.g., Arthritis in the hands)
  9. Ensure resistance to opening by young children (if applicable)
  10. Remain stable during opening (i.e., do not require motions that could spill the contents)
  11. Maintain the contents sterility during transfer (if applicable)
  12. Protect the user from hazards related to the contents (e.g., chemical, biological, radioactive)
  13. Clarify the appropriate means of recycling or disposal

These goals can usually be met by specifying these characteristics ahead of a package design or selection. Perhaps it will increase package costs in some cases, but ideally not. The benefits are likely to include the following:

  • Increased task speed (time to open the package and access the contents
  • User satisfaction
  • User protection from injury
  • Use of products that are not damaged and have not expired
  • Reduced waste (reduction or elimination of damage and contamination during opening)
  • Proper attention to sustainability concerns

Ultimately, an ambitious approach to package design, recognizing the benefits of a good package, is warranted when a product developer is committed to product excellence in all of its dimensions.

I’ll close with what I consider to be an exemplar of good package design, and it pertains to the use of hearing aids. Consider that people who wear hearing aids, in particular those who are elderly, might have limited manual dexterity and some vision loss. These limitations could easily complicate the task of replacing the small batteries in hearing aids. The following package accommodates these limitations by giving users a handy tab that makes it easy to handle the small battery, thereby speeding up the task, reducing the chance of dropping the small battery, and ultimately leading to task success and user satisfaction. See video.

Note: This example does not constitute a product endorsement. It simply serves to show how one manufacturer has sought to produce a user-friendly product.

Michael Wiklund, CHFP, P.E., is General Manager of Human Factors Research & Design at Emergo by UL.



  • Michael Wiklund