Wrap Rage

Upon visiting Amazon’s front page today, I was shown a message from Amazon about their new initiative, “Frustration-Free Packaging”. We’ve all been there. It’s Christmas morning and the children are crying because they want to play with the new toy but it’s taking an hour to get it out of the box. How many times have you cut yourself trying to open blister packs? And think of all the cardboard, plastic, wire, and other materials that are thrown away.

There are basically two reasons for such packaging. One is to make it difficult for shoplifters to remove items from their packaging in the store. More often, it is for display. Dolls have their hair sewn to the cardboard backing to keep it arranged perfectly. Plastic allows us to see the contents of the package. Ties keep all parts in the pose that will attract attention and sell product.

Of course, neither of those purposes matter for items ordered over the web. You aren’t looking at them on a shelf, and you can’t steal them. Amazon is working with manufacturers to reduce packaging to be environmentally friendly and to improve the customer experience. This is a brilliant move from both a marketing and service perspective. From Amazon’s announcement:

Today, we’re excited to announce the beginning of a multi-year initiative designed to alleviate wrap rage—Amazon “Frustration-Free Packaging.”
Amazon is working with leading manufacturers to deliver products inside smaller, easy-to-open, recyclable cardboard boxes with less packaging material (and no frustrating plastic clamshells or wire ties).

As part of their promotion of this new effort, Amazon is accepting photos and videos from people who have experienced wrap rage.

I can’t imagine the amount of negotiation they must be going through to get manufacturers on board—there are only 19 items thus far—but it is undeniably the right thing to do.

Cup of Fries

Here’s an example of user-centered packaging design. Burger King’s french fry containers are specifically designed to sit within a car’s cup holders. Rather than the typical wide and thin package, this one has a much squarer bottom. It’s on a little smaller in diameter than their beverage cups. They have considered how their product will be used and designed the packaging to better support that use.

Roulette Vendor

There’s an elaborate vending machine in the building at which I’m working this week. Rather than dropping cans or bottles down through a slot, the machine employs a motorized arm. The arm first travels along a horizontal track to the column in which the desired bottle resides, and then another motor moves the “hand” vertically up the arm to the correct row. It grabs the bottle and carries it back down to the lower right corner of the machine where it is handed off to another motorized holder that hinges out of the machine, allowing you to retrieve the bottle. The advantage of such a mechanism is that it can purvey large, glass bottles that a standard soda machine could not.

Unfortunately, nobody considered the fact that the labels on the bottles were not designed with a vending machine in mind. The bottles have a front and a back. Only the front of the label tells you what is in the bottle. The majority of the bottles were not facing forwards, so while I could tell the difference between Snapple and Nantucket Nectar, the actual flavors were a mystery.

I was hoping to get a sweet ice tea. I ended up with apple juice.

Hide and Recycle

I finished a bottle of shower soap. This one happened to be Zest Energizing Effects Body Wash. It’s one of those bottles that has been designed with a unique, curvaceous shape. It was also designed to stand on its lid, allowing the soap to drain down to the opening as it empties.


It is, of course, made of plastic, and the first thing I do when I empty a plastic bottle is look for the recycling icon so that I can decide whether to toss it in the wastebasket in the bathroom or to set it aside to take downstairs to the recycling bin.

On most bottles, that icon can be found on the bottom. I first looked on the top of this bottle, as you might say it is designed in reverse. The brand mark was there, embossed into the plastic, but no triangular arrows. I then looked at the lid. Nothing. I scanned the shrink-wrap label that covered the rest of the bottles surface. No, it hadn’t been printed on the label. I was about to give up when my wife grabbed it an unscrewed the lid. Sure enough, there it was embossed on the neck—a number two. I can recycle it, but I almost sent it to landfill.

Green Design needs to include more than just the materials and construction of products. The product should communicate to the user about its life cycle so that the user may determine, with minimal effort, what is to be done with it. Otherwise, all the careful design will be for nought.