This new package works just fine for consumers - and you know that how?

CHICAGO , July 9, 2013 () – My wife and I spent the week of the 4th of July working on upgrades to a tri-level log cabin in the woods that her family designed and built 35 years ago, almost exclusively using traditional hand tools. (Disclaimer - I married into a family that makes no small plans!) So I spent a lot more time in hardware/DIY/lighting/plumbing/etc. stores (small and large) than I normally do. Dealing with a wide variety of packages took me back to the basics of packaging design.

While the majority of my work involves food and personal care packaging, I supervised package design groups targeting many end use segments as part of my industrial responsibilities. I had the privilege of working with some of the most prolifically creative paperboard packaging structural designers of the 70’s through the 90’s, as well as very talented flexible packaging and thermoformed package innovators. And quickly gained a healthy skepticism for assurances that a design would be easy, or even foolproof to use.

The most important rule I established? Never solely rely on a designer to prove an opening or other package feature works. A good designer will ALWAYS make it look easy. They have worked to refine it to the point where working the feature is second nature, and they likely are giving you a mock up, not a production model.

My approach was to cut short the “this is how it works” discussion in favor of me diving in and pretending to be an uninformed, not particularly adept (read “typical”) consumer. Or when I got too familiar with the basic concept, taking the latest iteration to a random person in the technical center or office who was not involved in the relevant technology. A lot more designs got sent back to the drawing board as a result, but our success rate of sending out robust designs improved.

I trust this is striking a resonant chord with most, if not all, of you. We watch family and friends struggle with packages, and listen to them complain. Yes, there must be a balance between security, safety and ease of use. But far too often we end up with packages that are irritants rather than pleasures to use, particularly to open and reclose.

Clever people won’t ignore this input or get defensive. They’ll take it as important information and use it to create better solutions. And subject production-realistic prototypes to deliberately clumsy or misguided attempts to use them. Because the real audience for our creative work is people for whom packaging is not a passion, it's a means to access and use a desirable product.

And if we are lucky, when we get old enough to have a hard time manipulating packages, these clever people will have solved some of the most pernicious package problems (don’t pretend you don’t know what they are!) and made our lives easier.

The time to get started? Now seems appropriate.

Timothy Bohrer is the owner of Pac Advantage Consulting:

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