Un-boxing: the “first date” of user experience

Hopefully, we will look back at the turn of the millennium and laugh at the stupid clam shell, vac formed plastic packaging. You know the type I am taking about; the clear plastic job that you can’t get open without some sort of sharp implement to open, and even then it is a struggle. There are eventools you can get at Home Hardware to open these packaging nightmares. I know the reasons for this packaging: theft reduction, mass production and durability for shipping. But that doesn’t undue the harm it does to the user experience. Design Critique: Products for People podcast has a great cast on designing the packaging experience.

A fisher price pirate ship toy, both with and without Amazon's frustration free packaging.

What inspired this article was the Amazon ‘Frustration Free Packaging’ initiative, just in time for the holiday season. The frustration free packaging eliminates the clam shell packaging or complicated boxes with zip ties and plastic trays. This is great to start customers out on the right foot, and keep the positive experience. It also turns out to be more green, using post consumer recycled corrugate and eliminating the mixed media so people are more likely to recycle the packaging. I know alot of brand managers would shutter at loosing that graphical packaging to introduce the product, but the product itself is the real asset that people are looking for. For online purchases from places like Amazon, if you could reinvest the money saved on 4 colour packaging and copacking into a proper instruction manual that people would really have a proper user experience.

We treat brands as we do people; we begin and foster relationships. A great brand experience should be akin to a love story. If advertising is the flirty first meeting, and the website is getting the number, then the packaging is definitely the first date. We all know the importance of the fist date in relationships, but we downplay the impact of the packaging in the user experience. Your not getting off on the right foot if someone struggles to free their product from it’s cumbersome packaging and then deal with the waste that is 5 times the sized of the product.

The model in this space is Apple. When you come home with you iPod, you don’t open it… you reveal it. There is hardly any graphics or packaging material, but the experience is obviously the design focus. The iPod is the first thing you come upon, centered and nested like a jewel. The USB cord, headphones and instructions are laid out simply. It is such an experience that many people I know keep their iPod box on display; talk about valuable advertising space and compelling endorsement. I was also very impressed with the Jawbone packaging, but haven’t experienced it myself.

Have a good first date of customer experience; design the packaging experience and eliminate these torturous types of packaging.


Colin Finkle

Colin Finkle is a brand marketer and designer with 14 years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies, and now passionately helps Canadian entrepreneurs and public figures at the brand marketing agency, Nordeau. You can see his work at ColinFinkle.com

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