Packaging's usability obstacles take center stage

Universal Design conference to explore how physical limitations impact packaging use, drawing from consumer, packager, vendor, and academic perspectives.

Jim MacLaren will discuss packaging usability from the perspective of a consumer who has physical limitations.
Jim MacLaren will discuss packaging usability from the perspective of a consumer who has physical limitations.

A lot of product companies don’t realize the amount of customers they have who have some sort of disability or who are older. There is a huge potential market of people who need to have an easier way to open and use packaging.”

Those comments come from Jim MacLaren, and he is one of those people. A retired professional athlete, today he is a wheelchair-bound incomplete quadriplegic, which means his spinal cord is injured rather than severed. His physical limitations make many packages a time-consuming ordeal to open—and he laments that some are impossible for him to open without help from another person.

How does MacLaren open many packages? “Thank God I have teeth!” he responds. MacLaren adds that, like most consumers, he makes the majority of his purchase decisions at the store shelf. But for him, the deciding factor in his product purchases often comes down to which product has the easiest packaging for him to operate. MacLaren has become an advocate for consumers whose range of motion, strength, and finger dexterity are reduced by either physical disabilities or age.

MacLaren will talk about the challenges of opening and operating packages as the keynote speaker at the conference “The Universal Package: Designing Packaging for Everyone.” The conference, organized by the School of Packaging at Michigan State University (MSU), will be June 19-22, 2006, at the James B. Henry Center for Executive Development in Lansing, MI.

Both Packaging World and Shelf Impact! are media partners supporting the conference.

Speakers will also include packaging professionals from Kimberly-Clark, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Watson Pharmaceuticals, as well as package designers, packaging vendors and some of the leading academic minds in packaging. Topic areas to be covered include:

• Universal design and inclusive design. What is it? Where and how has it been used, and what are its applications in packaging?

• Biomechanics and aging. Speakers will discuss the physiological changes that occur during the aging process that impact consumers’ ability to use products and packages.

• Cognitive psychology and aging. Attendees can learn about the changes that occur in perception and cognition that impact consumers’ ability to use products and packages.

• Consumer trends and market research. Other speakers will discuss aging—population trends and implications for packagers, and present case studies in universal design that demonstrate its impact on the bottom line.

• When tensions occur. Discussions will range from child resistant vs. ease of use to security and ease of use. Presentations will include best practices for achieving universal design in packaging.

Money raised by the conference will fund MSU School of Packaging students who are working in universal design. For complete information on the conference, visit or contact Linda Estill at 517/353-4384 or

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