In the case of tamper evidence the need for these devices has been brought about by those wishing to steal or worst still to engage in holding the community to ransom. Aside from these exceptions, an ongoing problem lies with the utilitarian packs, which can be difficult to open. As a participant in a radio talkback program last year I found myself bombarded with complaints of difficulties with gable top cartons; plastic packs, which lacked any sort of tear strip; jars with round tops which had been vacuum-sealed and the ubiquitous can.
I could have argued that there have been reasonable technical justifications for the use of round jars but does this necessarily have to extend to the lid? A round glass jar with a smooth round lid hardly facilitates ease of opening. Over recent years the one-piece plastic cap for plastic and other containers, which requires that the spider be broken has been introduced. Combined with a reduction in the plastic of the main body of the container and it is not unusual to find that the container can distort quite markedly during the opening process resulting in spillage. Similarly roll-on metal caps can be taken off in one piece without breaking the joints. These problems can be simply resolved by paying attention to detail at the production level and evaluating the torque required to open a container.
The more disconcerting aspect in regard to opening containers is the accidents that can and do occur when opening containers. In the United Kingdom it resulted in a major survey that 94.000 people had attended hospital as the result of an accident caused during the opening of a package. The survey initiated by the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs found that of these accidents:
29 per cent concerned medicines,
39 per cent of these occurred on the initial opening with a small proportion involving tools,
22 per cent took place at re-opening,
39 per cent took place after the container had been emptied,
61 per cent involved an arm or a leg,
9 per cent resulted from stepping on broken glass.
The types of accidents were mainly cuts and lacerations (79 per cent) but nonetheless serious as attendance at hospital was necessary. In a follow-up survey it was established that only 33 per cent of the total number of accidents were responsible for hospital visits. How many cuts and other injuries occurred which were dealt with and not requiring hospital attendance is impossible to assess. The end result of this survey was the introduction of tools to assist in the opening of containers particularly for those with physical impairments.
When it comes to opening packages the issue of instruction is important. Dr Belinda Winder a chartered psychologist who is a Lecturer in Design and Manufacturing at the University of Sheffield has looked at the question of instructions on packs. She refers to the use of "Do not open this end" on cartons as a frequent source of complaint, pointing out that this sends the wrong message. She argues that our subconscious does not process this negative statement and we go ahead anyway, usually with messy results.
So where do we stand with the opening of packs? The picture however is not all negative and we are seeing some attempts by manufacturers to alleviate the problem. Amongst a few developments the Spam can now has a large pull opening for ease of handling and more recently a newly designed easy open end for cans. In this latter case however despite the ridge to make access to the ring pull easier the leverage required can still be problematical. A thin knife blade to lever it from the surface may be the most immediate solution and the potential for an accident. With regard to visual directions the Kraft block of chocolate with visual instruction that doesn’t require an understanding of Norwegian, illustrates what can be done and works well.
In the Australian and Southern Cross Packaging Awards in 2004 a category was introduced which highlighted the need to address the ease of opening, creating an awareness of the issue for designers. In looking at this whole issue we need to remind ourselves that whilst ease of opening is a problem it is a major hurdle for those who are physically disadvantaged it is even more so for the blind or visually impaired. We all like visually attractive and welcoming packs and ease of opening particularly of consumer packs needs to be borne in mind. It is up to designers and especially marketing to be aware of the need for convenience and the ease of opening of packs and to be aware of consumer needs and expectations. The last word must go to the respondent to the UK survey who said, "I donÂ’t buy this product as I can’t open it".