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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.
Hand holding a tube of red lipstick

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In the one-handed world study, it was also discovered that studying this extreme user population could go a step further. While most market research captures the consumer’s past, this study provides a glimpse into the consumer’s future—in a word, foresight. With this study, smart packaging and product designers have the opportunity not only to understand where consumers are headed in the future but also to get there first with new designs to meet consumers’ rising needs.

Opportunities for Innovation

Overall in the study, one-quarter of amputee respondents found everyday items difficult to operate with one hand, with the degree of difficulty increasing with the complexity of the task. However, the number of items two-handed consumers reported difficulty opening or using, even when both hands were fully available, was also surprising. In some cases, two-handed respondents reported more difficulty than the amputees.

Of the top 10 categories identified as difficult, nine of them were identical between one-handed and two-handed people. That means the issue isn’t with the consumers, it’s with the items they are trying to open or use. And personal care and beauty ranked in the top 10 most difficult categories for both one-handed and two-handed consumers. Beauty products and packaging are all ripe with opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves from their competitors by being easier to use with one hand.

The vast majority of cosmetic products are two-handed. Try opening a foundation clamshell with one hand, or a lipstick or mascara. It’s incredibly challenging. What about shaving with one hand? Or brushing your teeth? Nail care is impossible with one hand. In fact, one of the study’s participants sported a stunning manicure on her one hand. When asked about it, she said that she gets her nails done at a salon because she couldn’t possibly paint them herself, but the salon charges her full price (for two hands) even though she only has one.

Beauty rituals could be greatly enabled by making items easier to use with only one hand. Imagine how things start to clash in the morning, when people are trying to get ready for the day while checking their messages on mobile devices. And we know many women do other things while putting on makeup—driving to work, for instance.

Truly, convenience is the killer app. This study found one-handed convenience creates delight and engenders loyalty in consumers. A product that is easy to use with a single available hand creates a tremendous advantage for itself in the marketplace and can boost profits, because consumers will pay a premium for convenience. Additionally, it can encourage them to use a greater variety of products.

Frequency of usage could also drive volume of this type of pack by enabling more on-the-go usage occasions. Consider hand lotion. What if we could reimagine its application? What if you could put lotion on one hand at a time?

Finding Solutions

In addition to providing data on individual products and packages within specific categories, the one-handed world study identifies innovation platforms product and package designers can use to innovate better and easier-to-open packages.