All packaging should be accessible packaging – here’s why

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25 Jan, 2023

How many times a day do you open some form of packaging? From flipping the lid on your shampoo bottle each morning to unscrewing the toothpaste cap at bedtime, we interact with products without noticing. At least, most of us do. 

For the one billion people worldwide living with some form of disability, however, product packaging is a constant challenge. Opening a packet or loosening a jar can be difficult – sometimes even impossible. To the point where some disabled influencers have created videos to help others access everyday products.   

Vlogger Chiara Beer demonstrates how to open items with one hand. 

Should someone have to hold a drinks bottle between their knees to open it? Or tear a crisp packet with their teeth? Not in 2023. 

Thankfully, consumer brands are starting to recognise the diversity of their customers’ needs. More importantly, they are investing in accessible packaging to make their products more inclusive. 

Let’s take a closer look at why accessibility should be a primary objective for all consumer goods packaging, and how design thinking can make packaging more inclusive. 

Accessible packaging should be the norm

When it comes to packaging and labelling, looks matter. 72% of consumers say packaging design influences their decision to buy a product. Functionality matters too, of course – but many brands judge this by able-bodied standards. 

Here’s an example of how an ableist mindset can shape packaging decisions. In 2016, Whole Foods launched pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers. The product was quickly removed from shelves following widespread ridicule, with media outlets calling them “the ultimate in bourgeois laziness” for people who were “too posh to peel”. Did these journalists consider that some people can’t easily peel an orange? 

Fortunately, public understanding is changing, and this change is being driven by Generation Z. 

62% of Gen Z believe increased diversity is good for society. Empathy and accountability are highly regarded by this group, and Gen Z consumers want to buy from brands that share their values. 80% say it’s important for brands to embrace diversity and inclusion. 

Industry-leading examples of inclusive packaging 

Forward-thinking brands are now designing universal packaging that meets the needs of people with disabilities, along with other groups that may struggle with standard packaging such as seniors and children. For example:

  • Dove has created an inclusive deodorant container with a hooked lid and magnetic ‘click’ closure for people who struggle with twist caps. 
  • Breitsamer Honig switched from screw caps to flip-top lids to make its honey jars easier to open.
  • L’Oreal has developed a handheld makeup applicator, which enables people with tremors or limited mobility to apply makeup independently.

It’s not just lids and seals that impact accessibility, either. The way information is displayed can include or exclude customers. 

Many brands have already reviewed the accessibility of their product labelling and made them more inclusive. Band Aid, L’Occitane and winemaker Chapoutier incorporate braille into their product labels for customers with visual impairments. Tropic Skincare uses a bespoke typeface named ‘Susie Script’, which is easy for dyslexic and neurodiverse customers to read. 

Over Christmas 2022, Coca-Cola experimented with NaviLens technology, so visually impaired consumers could scan packaging with their phone to receive product information. Kellogg is now rolling out the same technology across several cereal brands. 

Design thinking makes packaging inclusive from the get-go 

Greater accessibility makes sense, but it’s not just a matter of adapting your current packaging for a wider audience. For many brands, becoming inclusive means embracing a new mindset; a different approach to design. 

An increasing number of consumer goods brands are adopting a ‘design thinking’ methodology to ensure that packaging is accessibly constructed. 

Rather than trying to second guess what works, design thinking involves companies observing people in real-life situations. This real-world insight allows packaging designers to consider the impact of many factors, such as size, weight and opening mechanisms, on product usability. 

With design thinking principles, inclusivity is embedded from the get-go. As deaf human-centred designer Elise Roy observes, “when we design for disability first, we will often stumble on a solution that is not only inclusive, but is often better than when we design for the norm.” 

Elise Roy’s Ted Talk on designing for disability 

Accessible packaging is a value statement

We all have a responsibility to make the world a more inclusive place. Accessible packaging ensures that everyone has access to your products, no matter their ability or circumstances.

Changing the thought process behind product packaging will help more brands to make inclusivity the default design mode. 

After all, making products accessible to all consumers should be a no-brainer. And creating non-discriminatory containers is a far more powerful statement of beliefs and values than adding inclusivity to your brand values. 

Enjoyed this blog post? Follow Hooley Brown on LinkedIn for more insights on packaging design and localisation.

This blog post was written in January 2023. The facts were correct at the time of writing. 

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