In 2005, Panasonic noted that the packaging of its batteries for hearing aids was not convenient for the elderly, its main target group. The company called upon the services of Pars pro toto design bureau. After a thorough analysis of the needs of users, the company developed a new packaging concept. The new packaging is smaller and costs less than its predecessor. This proves that greater convenience is not necessarily more expensive or damaging to the environment.
Users not sufficiently taken into account
Panasonic Batteries is the market leader in batteries, including 1.4V zinc oxide button-cell batteries for hearing aids. However, when the company launched a new packaging for these button-cell batteries in 2004, sales decreased immediately and considerably. Panasonic contacted the Ghent-based design bureau Pars pro toto for advice. They were able to rapidly determine the cause of the problem. ‘Hearing aids are primarily used by the elderly,’ explains Johan Bonner, Sales & Marketing Manager at Pars pro toto. ‘This group, however, found the new packaging inconvenient. The packaging had been designed to minimize production costs rather than to improve user-friendliness. The hinged joint, for instance, was on the wrong side. In addition, a ballpoint pen was necessary to remove the batteries from the packaging. This was too cumbersome and tedious, particularly for elderly people with reduced hand dexterity or poor eyesight.’
Increased convenience, reduced environmental impact
After an extensive analysis and concept design (see overleaf), Panasonic marketed the Easy Dispenser Pack. ‘It is a round and transparent little box equipped with a large rotary knob,’ explains Bonner. ‘Users intuitively understand how it works: turn the rotary knob until it is above a battery, turn the little box over, and gravity drops a button-cell battery into the palm of a hand. This is very simple, especially for people with reduced eyesight, tremors or palsy, or who experience other motor handicaps. A remarkable fact is that the new packaging is even smaller and cheaper than the previous one. In other words, convenience does not necessarily imply a higher price or a greater environmental impact.’
Good to remember
- Panasonic saw the sales of its batteries for hearing aids plummet because the packaging was not user-friendly for elderly people.
- After market research, Pars pro toto developed an alternative packaging system. The design bureau held discussions with users and closely observed their handling and use of packages.
- The newly developed Easy Dispenser Pack is smaller and cheaper than its predecessor.
How did Pars pro toto develop the new packaging?
Step 1: better knowledge of market and users
Pars pro toto researched the market. Not just the packaging of competitors, but also those of ergonomically similar products such as sweets and chewing gum tablets. At the same time, they analyzed the needs of the most critical target group. They held discussions with rest home residents, observed how they handled packaging, and noted the difficulties as well as the frustrations (both verbal and nonverbal) that they encountered. This work was carried out with the help of an expert in ergonomics.
Step 2: a lot of discipline during concept design
Pars pro toto immediately tested every design idea with the rest home occupants. ‘Using rapid prototyping, we were able to quickly eliminate inappropriate choices,’ notes Bonner. ‘I remember one of the users saying that the packaging made him think of a rattle because of the noise. During such an iterative design process, unexpected sensitivities often surface. One has to be extremely alert and show considerable discipline and critical sense.’
Step 3: engineering and pre-production
The detailed feedback from users provided useful information for the eventual packaging design. Bonner explains: ‘We knew exactly what to pay attention to during engineering. It was important that the users intuitively understood that the lid can actually be turned. That is why we gave it a recognizable shape; it now resembles the knob of an old-fashioned gas stove. We also saw to it that the batteries were easy to remove from the packaging, but without having them rattle too much. Every detail is extremely important.’
Users must immediately recognize that the lid can actually be turned.
Johan Bonner, Sales & Marketing Manager at Pars pro toto
Pars pro toto
Pars pro toto is a full service design bureau that conducts and carries out innovative projects for private companies and public authorities. Its many activities include industrial design, developing exhibition areas for trade fairs and events, and designing specific party games for companies.
A few other Pars pro toto packaging prevention realizations include:
- Developing a refillable packaging system for Ecover specifically designed for customers of natural food shops. Each element of the packaging is designed to minimize environmental impact.
- Designing the Ecolizer for OVAM. Ecolizer is a practical guide that helps product designers minimize the environmental footprint of their product designs.