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Packaging Lessons From the One-handed World

By: Kelley Styring
Posted: July 10, 2012, from the August 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

What can arm amputees tell us about tomorrow’s beauty packaging needs? According to the results of the latest study from InsightFarm, this extreme user group provides a preview of the changing way humans interact with a wide variety of products and packaging, forcing marketers and brand owners to adapt.

Inspired by the dramatic rise in smartphone usage, InsightFarm investigated how arm amputees interacted with—and were challenged by—nearly 250 everyday products and their packaging across 18 different categories. Two-handed consumers were then also surveyed, exploring how they spent their days and how they fared with the same items.

Among the findings: Two-handed consumers actually spend the majority of their waking hours, 40% of their day, with one hand occupied. As a result, they attempt to interact with a variety of other products and packages using a single hand or finger. While multitasking isn’t a new activity—we eat while we drive, open doors while holding a child’s hand, make dinner and talk on the phone—this dramatic surge in smartphone usage is driving a permanent change in human behavior that product designers and manufacturers simply can’t ignore.

Why Amputees?

People are on the go and trying to get more done in less time. They desperately need items designed to accommodate that lifestyle. Yet precious little that we interact with on a daily basis has been designed to operate with only one hand. Basically, we are all living in a one-handed world, and who better to teach us than those who live with one hand than arm amputees?

Studying an extreme user population such as this can yield insights that benefit a larger universe of consumers, because they learn to improvise and make products work that weren’t designed for their particular situation. In market research, this is called a compensatory behavior, one critical element in identifying next-generation products.

Surely beauty industry members remember the rise of metrosexuals, those men in the 1990s who were deeply invested in personal grooming and used products made for women? At the time, that was an extreme population studied. As a result, beauty companies were inspired to create a new category of skin care and styling products aimed at men, an entirely new market. Today, very manly sports figures are pitchmen for men’s grooming products, which are often made by companies that used to only make products for women.

By understanding the challenges of living in the one-handed world, this research could look at some of the solutions and compensatory behaviors, as well. And that could lead to the better design and creation of products and packages for everyone.