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University Designers Tackle Universal Problem


Designers at Staffordshire University have come up with a solutions package with the potential to make life a lot easier for everyone.

The University’s Centre for Rehabilitation Robotics has spent more than a year involved in PACKAGE, a £1.5 million European Commission project concerned with making small changes to consumer packaging in a bid to improve "openability"

Now after rigorous trials carried out throughout Europe, the Centre are hoping that the world’s biggest food and drink manufacturers will use the research to help disabled and elderly people to get to grips with the problems of awkward packaging.

"The project chose to concentrate on selected pack types where simple modification would benefit a much larger market quickly and effectively, "explained senior designer Richard Huxley.

These included screw top drinks bottles, biscuit packets, bread bags and cereal boxes. Modifications were made and put to the test in user trials in the UK, France, Italy and Sweden. The trials involved a wide range of users and were conducted under a strict protocol with video back up.

Richard added: "There have been a number of articles released in recent years highlighting the need for better packaging design. Design companies and other institutions have discussed how design with the aged in mind can improve market share.

"After our research and contact with different user groups, we feel positive that industry can change most pack types and make a difference, without incurring great cost."

Successful modifications include:
• the introduction of a small notch on a screw top bottle cap which would allow the use of a simple moulded spanner tool to open and close. The notch could be replaced by the embossed logo of a manufacturer.
• a simple ring tab was used on biscuit packets and bread bags, the current tear strip proving difficult to operate for many users. This enabled many users, even those with severe arthritis, poor muscle control or tremor, to open the pack without the need for kitchen knife or scissors. Video evidence supports this case with a young girl who has cerebral palsy opening the packs perfectly for the first time in her life.
• a conventional cereal box was adapted with a large tab for initial opening. Once open, the tab becomes an integral part of a pouring spout proving useful for all, including those with tremor and poor co-ordination.

Through the project, the University’s Centre for Rehabilitation Robotics has also developed the Powerhand - an electronic opening device which designers hope will be available in shops in time for Christmas.

The overall project was carried out in collaboration with Strathclyde University, Lunde University in Sweden, German company FTB and test centres in France and Italy.

Richard added: "Both integrity and brand image remain strong drivers in packaging design. Our studies reflect in a multi-national sense that there is a wider market for making small changes to packaging.

"Our centre would be very interested in taking studies further with companies wishing to trial products over Europe and in the design of more easily openable packaging. We have a large number of users available to trial packaging with established and successful protocols and analysis."

The Centre for Rehabilitation Robotics at Staffordshire University is currently involved as a Partner in a number of EU-funded projects concerned with the development of devices designed to aid the rehabilitation and improve the quality of life for elderly and disabled people. The Centre can be contacted on (01782) 294477.

Maria Scrivens | alfa

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