As my fellow Cooperistas will attest, I’m passionate about a lot of things: interaction design, birthday cake, shoes… But product packaging? No, I wouldn’t have included that last one in the list – at least, not until I caught myself swooning over Amazon’s new Frustration-Free packaging.
Suddenly, it all came back to me in a rush of emotion: the anger, frustration, and threat of serious injury when struggling to extract a tiny memory card from its giant plastic “clamshell” package. The tedium and anxiety of twisting countless plastic-coated wire ties in a seemingly never-ending effort to release toy components from incarceration before the child loses interest and starts playing with an empty box instead. The disbelief and disgust over the trail of excessive plastic waste left behind after opening a single product. And I am not alone. To tap into the packaging-frustration zeitgeist, Amazon has encouraged customers to post pictures and videos of their worst experiences to the Gallery of Wrap Rage, and the responses are pouring in.
These consumer-hostile packaging practices are a perfect example of business needs trumping user needs. For far too long, companies have designed packaging that serves only two masters: product marketing and theft reduction. Mark Hurst’s This Is Broken features a particularly rich example of product packaging that fails to address the need to get the item out of the package.
Because Amazon doesn’t have to deal with retail display or shoplifting, they were in a unique position to sidestep the usual drivers for package design and think (pardon the pun) “outside the box”, focusing on customers’ goal of liberating products from the package so they can actually use them! And as Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos notes in his letter to customers introducing the program, “in addition to making packages easier to open, a major goal of the Frustration-Free Packaging initiative is to be more environmentally friendly by using less packaging material.” According to their FAQs, products with Frustration-Free Packaging can often be shipped in their own boxes, without an additional shipping box.
Just in time for the holiday consume-a-thon, Amazon delivers human-friendly, eco-friendly package design. Now really, who wouldn’t be passionate about that?