Why packaging needs to move beyond tokenism to promote inclusivity
Nick Dormon, Echo's MD of brand design & innovation
Within the packaging design ‘community’, the term ‘inclusive design’ has only recently begun to gain traction. For years, we designed with the ‘average’ consumer in mind, ignorant to the needs of others. Now, with society in general shifting to become more inclusive, diversity and inclusion in branding should be at the forefront of designers' minds.
Many consumer brands struggle to see this, beyond making perfunctory efforts. Yet, with the number of over-65-year-olds projected to hit 5.6bn by 2030 - and boasting purchasing power of around $15trn - and with 14.1m disabled people in the UK, designing for those with higher needs has never been more necessary - or more lucrative.
Take the Good Grips kitchen utensil brand, which was designed for people with dexterity and hand strength issues. The resultant ergonomic and comfortable handles are suited to all, and the brand has subsequently become a long-standing commercial success. Solving for one but extending to many, Good Grips was designed with the minority in mind. The brand didn’t shout ‘disability’ but marketed the utensils as products for all.
The best inclusive products are flexible enough to suit consumers with a myriad of needs so that they don’t exclude the marginalised.
Some companies overlook accessibility issues because of ignorance
If the profitability of products such as these can be so high, then why aren’t designers looking towards more inclusive design solutions for everyday products? There are several reasons why companies overlook these accessibility issues: Often, the answer is a lack of awareness, even ignorance.
Firstly, many product designers are reluctant to focus exclusively on a specific disability or need if the wider community does not benefit. We can counter, however, that true inclusivity comes from design that appeals to those who are able-bodied as well as those who are not. Currently, the majority of design follows the assumption that the user is able-bodied. Disregarding those with visual impairments or dexterity issues greatly affects the user experience.
Designing with awareness is the best tool a creator can have. Embedding this throughout the process is key to solidifying understanding and crafting for inclusivity. Right from the outset, attention should be made to those often overlooked: research, personas, workshops and prototyping are all markers of inclusive design methodology. Gathering reliable data free from bias, where inclusion is woven throughout and not just as an output, will create products that benefit your relevant audience. When done successfully, this integrates marginalised communities.
Packaging can convey a brand’s inclusivity principles
As designers, we have always recognised the power of packaging to attract consumers. The inclusivity trend over the past few years - a trend that has been accelerated further by the pandemic - has spurred brands to design with a social conscience.
Packaging is a powerful touchpoint to speak to a wider market and our output is shifting from designing for aesthetics to designing for a voice.
To do this successfully, brands must avoid tokenism. Inclusivity is no quick fix. When brands create a consistent ‘voice’, they forge a stronger relationship with the consumer. Adapting to the demands of the market - and resonating with a diverse group - will subsequently build a more sustainable brand. It isn’t formed by the visuals of the packaging (or the product itself), but by the ecosystem from which it is created. Packaging can be used as a means to convey the inclusivity principles that lie close to a brand’s heart.
Ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s has been a pioneer of this approach. Creating an activist voice that speaks up for societal imbalances, the brand has crafted packaging to reflect its tone of voice. Most recently, Ben & Jerry’s launched its ‘Change is Brewing’ design, where the packaging celebrates black liberation. The ingredients are sourced from black-owned and non-profit social justice enterprise businesses, demonstrating end-to-end inclusion. Profits from sales go to the ‘People’s Response Act’ - an organisation calling for a health-centred approach to policing against those in minority and ethnic backgrounds.
This isn’t just tokenism.
Packaging design has the opportunity to reach millions. By including a variety of individuals in the creative conception, you successfully design for diversity, connection and appeal. Moving beyond inclusivity as a trendy buzzword to actually focusing on the consumer’s needs throughout the design process involves a human-centred design approach. Inclusivity at the core - and throughout every step of the process - will lead to sustainable design solutions. Broader appeal will mean higher volume production, affordability, acceptability and, most importantly, greater access. The benefit of this not only spotlights minorities, but it also helps raise awareness in embracing these individuals within the community as a whole.
The future of inclusive design lies in multi-sensory adaptive solutions, from clever colour to accessible function. Indeed, we’re moving even further beyond this with technological integrations that enhance user accessibility. The mass resurgence of the QR code during the pandemic has accelerated consumer - and, subsequently, designer - insight into how useful this tool truly is.
The NaviLens colourful QR codes, for example, help the blind and visually-impaired identify products in stores and access health & safety information about them, such as finding out the best-before date or allergy warnings on products. This technology is being rolled out across all Kellogg’s cereal packets, with its use gaining widespread popularity, demonstrating how even small changes have the potential to make everyday items accessible to different demographics.
Promoting inclusivity begins with promoting diversity within the workplace
There’s no doubt that adopting inclusive principles will be beneficial to your business. More accessibility, after all, means more market share. However, promoting inclusivity begins with tackling the issue at the core and promoting diversity within the workplace. There should be no tokenism at the final stage, rather end-to-end discussions and processes. Employing a diverse team dismantles ignorant design that ostracises those who do not fit the ‘ideal’ demographic. Diverse research and design solutions open the way for equal resources and opportunities for accessible inclusive design.
And, that’s what the future looks like.
Main image: Alex-Henriksen, Tetra Pak
In society, awareness of others has accelerated in recent years to levels never seen before. That awareness needs to transfer to the design process for packaging, argues Nick Dormon, MD of brand design and innovation agency Echo. Otherwise, brands risk missing the boat, not only socially, but also financially.