Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fresh Thinking USA, LLC

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Packaging is one of the few areas of design that the general public feel passionate about - unfortunately, it's usually in a negative way. The difficulties of getting into a packet of videotapes or a carton of milk are the staple diet of radio phone-ins and traditional sit-coms. But a new research project from the Royal College of Art's Helen Hamlyn Research Centre seeks to make food packaging easier to use.

The project, named On A Plate, was undertaken by Katherine Gough, in partnership with Marks & Spencer and Faraday Packaging, the research and development network which brings together Sheffield, York and Leeds universities to work with commercial organisations interested in packaging innovation. Over the course of a year, Gough investigated how the visual communication of food packaging can enhance the ability of users to access its contents. "If consumers don't understand a product when they see it, they won't engage with it," Gough says. "If the shape is completely alien to them, they won't know how to use it."

In order to examine how a variety of consumers interact with food packaging, Gough set up four studies using video ethnography to assess behaviour. She selected subjects representative of four different types: young professionals co-habiting; a family with teenage children; a couple with grown-up children and a single older woman living alone.

Marks & Spencer agreed to let the research take place in their stores and provided each subject with #25 of gift vouchers. Gough recorded their shopping trips, how they unpacked food when they returned home and how they used packs when preparing a meal. The goal, she says, was to identify the visual clues in existing packaging that inform use and to identify potential areas of need that can inform design. For example, the young professional shopper liked to hold up packs of strawberries so that she could smell them for freshness suggesting that packaging which did not allow aroma to be released would not appeal to her. The mother of teenagers would tear open a re-useable salad bag at the wrong end because the instructions were too small for her to notice when she was in a hurry.

Using her findings, Gough developed a tool to help designers and retailers assess how well their packs perform. Various factors such as "ease of storage" and "intuitive use" are arranged in a circular diagram called a "spidergram". Packs can be scored for each of these criteria producing a map of the strengths and weaknesses of a particular pack.

Using the tool, she came up with mock-ups for two alternative package designs - one for courgettes, the other for salad. Current courgette packs are difficult to open, with many people injuring themselves in the process. Gough's research suggested putting a groove around the edge of the pack to guide a knife. Most people attempt to open salad bags, she found, by pulling them apart, often ripping the bag and rendering it useless for storing any leftover salad. Gough's pack works like a purse. Users snip one end then squeeze to open: let go, and the pack re-seals itself.

Gough hopes that the tool will prove useful both to clients who can use it to help set briefs and to assess their existing designs, and for designers who will be able to show clients how their ideas will improve previous designs and who will be able to use it for their own research. "Design consultancies tell us that the first thing that goes from the budget is research," says Gough. "This is a tool to guide you through usability factors." And, hopefully, to make all our lives a little less frustrating.

Copyright: Centaur Communications Ltd. and licensors

Source Citation
"Fresh Thinking." Creative Review (2005): 54. InfoTrac Pop Culture eCollection. Web. 2 Jan. 2010. .

Gale Document Number:A133665801

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