How to ruin a great product

As if creating a great product isn’t hard enough in the first place, there’s (at least) one way of completely ruining it: poorly-conceived or badly implemented packaging. I despair whenever I see examples of great products where poor packaging has completely taken the focus away from the product itself. And by that I don’t mean the artwork, labelling or other such cosmetic element. I mean the mechanics, the physical barrier between the consumer and the experience of actually getting at the product.Packaging

[Image courtesy of]

It feels as though the packaging designers aren’t part of the same great team as the rest of them. Or they don’t understand what the users need or want. Or they’ve never had to open the packaging themselves. Or they’re completely unaware that the packaging is the last hurdle which the consumer needs to overcome before “the moment of truth“; that magical moment when the consumer engages with the product for the first time.

Of course it’s not easy. The packaging has to protect against damage, tampering and theft. And it (usually) has to be retail shelf “friendly” too. And it has to survive damage itself, and not cost the earth (financially or environmentally), whilst also (often) allowing the consumer to view the product prior to opening.

So yes, there are difficulties and challenges, but it isn’t impossible. And it seems as though the difficulties have become an excuse (or perhaps more generously, the reason) why they have completely forgotten about the consumer experience.

Whilst researching for this post, I came across this Wiki page – Open rigid plastic clamshell packages safely. Helpful and insightful though it is, surely something is wrong when we need to seek this level of instruction to open the packaging. It’s ironic that on eventually reaching the heavily fortified product, you often find minimal instructions on how to actually use the product, a feat which can sometimes only be accomplished after seeking further assistance from the web.

On a side note, I also found this article about so-called “wrap-rage” which confirmed that I’m not alone in being frustrated at the difficulties associated with packaging of toys.

Surely it’s not right that the consumer should need to use a can-opener to get into a plastic blister-pack. Effective perhaps, but what sort of experience does it leave the consumer with? Doesn’t this rather detract from the product itself? Do you think that the product team responsible for creating the product in the first place imagined “hey, let’s do all this really great stuff; tick all the boxes; get every little detail just right; think of absolutely everything; and then, as the icing on the cake we’ll have the consumer open the packaging with a can-opener. Won’t that be just perfect? And if we get the material selection right, we can use a hard plastic which will leave sharp edges – perfect“.


Every time I think about burning data onto a blank DVD, my mind is instantly filled with the frustrations of opening the shrink-wrapped plastic on the outside of the case – it is something I dread. Trying in vain to find the tiny little plastic tab, which is usually heat-sealed onto the rest of the plastic. Trying a different edge – just in case it is somehow easier. Then finding something sharp with which to poke the wrapping. Why can’t it be simpler? Why can’t this be done? Even writing this makes me angry, thinking about the frustration I feel and to think about how something so common and potentially satisfying is so damned difficult. What an experience!

By contrast, I refer to my experience of opening an Amazon Kindle package.KindlePackaging[Image courtesy of]

It involved pulling on one cardboard tab. That was it – done! It was intuitive, quick, easy and most importantly – a complete delight. Every time I use my Kindle, my memory briefly replays that moment when I opened the packaging for the first time. This mental connection between that pleasant first experience and the product itself is an important one.

CertifiedFrustrationFreePackagingAmazon are big users of packaging, and recognising the effects of frustration has on their customers, have invested in new technology to combat the problems of opening products. The result is the “Certified Frustration-Free Packaging” logo on their Kindle boxes (and other products too). Funny that it has taken a distributor to finally take action, rather than a manufacturer, but perhaps this will finally get the ball rolling and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

I think I’ve said enough about packaging for one post. To summarise the message:
Product packaging is an important part of the user experience, and as such it should get at least as much attention as the design of the product itself. Get it wrong, and you might as well have not bothered with all that great product design work.

By way of lightening the mood, here’s a lovely short clip demonstrating the “new” packaging technology for drinks.

1 thought on “How to ruin a great product

  1. Pingback: When the packaging is part of the product itself | CreatingGreatProducts

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