Commentary & Analysis
“Dear Packaging, I Hate You”
When designers forget that that the product experience, not the act of opening the package, is what consumers are paying for, things can get stressful.
By Patrick Henry
Published: April 6, 2015
The headline of this piece also is the headline of a recent post at TechCrunch by Ben Einstein, who knows packaging through and through. As the founder of a venture capital firm that assists start-ups with prototyping and manufacturing support services, he’s had plenty of opportunities to explore the interrelationships between products and their packages. As he argues in the post, they get in each other’s way when designers forget that the product experience, not the act of opening the package, is what consumers actually are paying money for.
Packaging is fascinating to write about—if only it were as engaging to use! Google “I hate packaging,” and you’ll quickly find litany after litany of complaints about packaging that most of us, at one time or another, have given vent to personally. Plastic clamshells for small electronic gadgets always seem to top the list. Impossible to open without sharp-edged tools capable of sending a clumsy wielder to the emergency room, they instantly become useless after the product has been prized out of them. Snack bags that won’t let you open them or that go to pieces when you do open them are also high up on the most-hated roster.
There’s even an expression—“wrap rage”—for the riot of bad feelings people experience when packaging turns into a barrier between them and the product inside. Confession: “wrap rage” is this writer’s substitute for road rage. I like to chew gum when I’m in my car, and I always keep fresh packs handy in the caddy between the front seats. Problem is, the cellophane covers the boxes so tightly that there’s no way to remove it one-handed (I’m driving, remember). I have to pull over and stop to get my stick. So emotionally draining is this insult from Bubblicious that I have no righteous anger left to direct at unfilled potholes, inexplicably closed lanes, and chuckleheads who refuse to use turn signals.
There can be good reasons to make packages ornery. It’s not as if I don’t know that if the cellophane didn’t wrap the gum carton as closely as my own skin wraps me, the gum wouldn’t be fit to chew. And if there were no shoplifters in stores, there probably wouldn’t be any plastic clamshells in them, either.
No consumer, Einstein writes, “will positively bias a crappy product because of a great unboxing experience.” I think he’d agree that a miserable unboxing experience tends to cast a crappy shadow over whatever the box contains—at least until the offending container is thrown away. He’s my kind of packaging curmudgeon.