Better design makes a top brand ambassador

Accessibility by Smart Design

Russell Blanchard, director of design at Smart Design

A rule of thumb for producing better design is to avoid stereotyping and segregating your customer market, and proof of its success for one top American exponent of accessible design is a strong track record in delivering homeware products that are a joy to use and have the ability to influence business development at the boardroom level.

New York-based Smart Design, founder of OXO Good Grips known for better designed everyday goods, applies the same good-sense approach across its consumer projects. Talking to the director of design, Russell Blanchard, Packaging South Asia learned that by laying aside possible design constraints – even when aiming to cater to people with extreme needs – the chances of market acceptance are improved, as are the odds for reaching a larger audience of users. A move from niche to main stream, while not a certainty, can happen when the path is free of obstacles.

“Our guiding principle is to ignore age as you can easily stereotype and segregate,” said Blanchard. “Relevant is ability. We arrive at an understanding through the observation of people. What they find difficult inspires better design options.”

By 2030 an estimated 67 million Americans aged 18 years or older are projected to have doctor-diagnosed arthritis according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Age then is immaterial – good design has to be as functional as it is aesthetic. To make his point, the transplanted Londoner – and former bartender – when sifting though his favourite examples of accessible design (also known in the US as universal design) hit on a product that helps bartenders under pressure to get customers served efficiently and with no product loss. The bottle designed by 86 Co is easier to open quickly without foil over the closure and features different grip zones and a shaped bottom to be safe to grab at speed and comfortable to hold while pouring.

A designer should look for ‘moments’ in a product’s use where the experience can be improved says Blanchard. But especially in healthcare, better product design is ‘killed’ by legal copy and other drivers such as cost and supply chain requirements, which results in a ‘bland customer experience.’

Even so, there are instances of stand-out design such as over-the-counter pain relief medication by Bayer Consumer Care with an easy to open and grip cap covered with soft-touch thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), color-matched to the graphics for visual impact on shelf and at home.

UCB images 4149
FDA-approved Cimzia has been recognized by the Arthritis Foundation for its ease-of-use, which
extends to its packaging

An exemplar from the OXO Good Grips stable is a smart syringe for self-medication. Cimzia has transformed an established design for administering by a health professional that was “useless for someone with low dexterity,” said Blanchard. FDA-approved Cimzia has been also recognized by the Arthritis Foundation for its ease-of-use, which extends to its packaging. Smart Design wants to educate boardrooms to understand that packaging can make ‘a better brand ambassador’ and is finally seeing more investment in packaging, and advises any business that focusses on metrics to ask itself the question, what’s the cost of not opting for the better design?

Joanne Hunter is the European correspondent of Packaging South Asia.

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