For decades, brands have focused on developing and designing their products to meet broad consumer needs, whether that be through new, innovative products and services, or improved, enhanced formulas that deliver better results and experiences. While efficacy and price are always a top priority, we know consumer expectations of brands have evolved in recent years, with many (particularly younger consumers) stating their decision-making is influenced by a brand’s approach to sustainability, corporate social responsibility, inclusivity, and diversity. It’s clear from the amount we’re now hearing about sustainable packaging solutions that many brands have embraced environment credentials as a priority for their consumers and themselves, but as yet only a dim light has been shone on the role they can play in driving forward inclusive and accessible designs.
A recent prototype packaging test delivered by Launchpad highlighted the impact packaging design can have on the lives of consumers living with impairments. While a particular consumer provided her ratings for various elements of existing and prototype packaging for an everyday household product, it was her more in-depth feedback that was most intriguing. ‘I’d never ever choose one like that!’ she exclaimed, gesturing at a range of options. Gentle probing revealed that the woman in her early 40s had chronic arthritis in both wrists, resulting in dexterity issues that significantly impacted her day to day life, from what she could do, to the choices she made over even the most basic of product purchases. She explained that many of the packaging examples laid out before her were shapes or textures she simply couldn’t grip or hold, ruling them out regardless of the efficacy or desirability of the product itself.
According to the charity Scope, there are more than 14 million disabled people in the UK – 9% of children, 21% of working age adults and 42% of pension age adults. These individuals live with a diverse array of impairments, from hearing and sight loss, to physical disabilities, dexterity or cognitive issues. Many disabilities and impairments are invisible to us and we know well that an individual’s capabilities change over time, whether temporarily or permanently. Yet despite the sheer number of individuals affected across generations, many companies continue to design for broad consumer appeal, without this large community and their needs in mind.
Bold steps are required to make accessible design the norm rather than the exception. And positively in the last few years, acknowledgement of the importance of accessible design has gained momentum, spilling out from the confines of tech companies and user researchers (who have long understood and internalized the accessibility-first approach), into global manufacturers of everyday household products. These companies have recognized the role they can play in driving forward this agenda as a route to better design, championing an approach which is good for business, and recognizing that it is worth doing simply because it is the right thing to do.
- In 2020 GSK pioneered inclusive design by launching a re-designed cap on its Voltarol pain relief gel, allowing patients, many of whom suffer with arthritis, to open the tube with one click. The award winning re-designed cap was the result of a desire to make the product even more accessible to the core consumer and involved in-depth observation of users to understand the real pain points they experienced when using the traditional packaging format.
- In March 2021, Unilever launched the world’s first adaptive deodorant package, designed in collaboration with people with disabilities, as a genuinely accessible product concept. The product is designed to be used one-handed and includes a hook for storage, a magnetic cap for easy replacement and braille labels.
- Only a matter of months later in November 2021, Procter and Gamble revealed an easy to open lid on its Olay Regenerist moisturizers. Again, the lid was designed in partnership with experts in design, and individuals with a range of issues (including dexterity issues and visual impairments) to help consumers who had previously found its products hard to access.
All three companies have stated a commitment to continuing equality and inclusion that will hopefully expand and drive forward the importance of inclusive design as standard.
While the onus is on designers, manufacturers and brands to bring forward inclusive and accessible designs, as researchers we have a responsibility to ensure our studies and evaluations are also as inclusive as possible, to facilitate that crucial feedback from as diverse a range of consumers as we are able to.
If you’d like to continue the conversation about inclusive design or understand how we can help you to bring more unheard voices into your research, reach out to us by emailing email@example.com