Louis Sullivan, a famed Chicago architect, once said that “form ever follows function.”
His statement firmly asserted his belief that the way a building looks should be determined by its purpose. Over time, this principle was applied beyond buildings to automobiles and many household objects, from tea kettles to can openers. Sound functional design is a nod to the people who will actually use an item, creating features in response to customers’ stated and interpreted needs. As Steve Jobs famously told Business Week in 1997, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Dom Sciamanna, Product Development Manager at Fres-co System USA, Inc., has been responding to consumers’ needs over the course of his career. For example, he worked in consumer products at W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc., a manufacturing company that is best known as the developer of waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex® fabrics. He found that the voice of the customer (VOC) subtly affected the ways he approached his profession.
“The VOC can change your sensibilities,” he explains. “Once you understand their unmet needs and priorities, you begin to realize how function and ease of use should influence design. Before fully vetting and understanding that input, you may think only in terms of function.”
Sciamanna cites the concept known as “Quality Function Deployment” (QFD), a principle that was first outlined by quality expert Dr. Yoji Akao. A cofounder of QFD, Akao stated that QFD is instrumental to ensuring that VOC appropriately influences design. Sciamanna also subscribes to this method for satisfying customers by hearing their concerns and engineering their needs into the final product design.
“One of the first considerations in design is ergonomics (i.e., an applied science centered around designing and arranging the things people use so the users may interact most efficiently and safely, also referred to as “ease of use”). In our flexible packaging industry, ergonomics applies mostly to the ways that products are opened and dispensed. It may be pertinent to how we open a package and pour out its contents.”
The VOC can change your sensibilities. Once you understand their unmet needs and priorities, you realize how function and ease of use should influence design. You may think only in terms of function.
Sciamanna points out how the development of peelable sealants was an example of how Fres-co and other flexible packagers responded to ergonomical considerations. “There are still a few packages out in the market that require scissors. That makes no sense given the safer and more convenient alternatives we have. For instance, with products such as Fres-co’s EZ Open, consumers can open packages without resorting to sharp tools.” Similarly, Fres-co has developed taps and fitments that use mechanical advantage (i.e., the threads) to pierce barrier materials easily in order to dispense liquid products from them. “We know we are succeeding in meeting users’ needs because we tested our prototypes with various users, and we used that input to refine our design.”
In addition to ergonomics, some other QFD considerations in flexible packaging include:
Minimizing Dimensional Space
Shipping costs are changing (and often increasing) as more commercial transport companies are charging according to a package’s dimensional weight —a pricing technique that uses an estimated weight calculated from the length, width and height of a package. “Many packages shipped with a lot of air in them, and that may unnecessarily raise prices,” notes Sciamanna. “Flexible packagers like Fres-co are helping to reduce much of the dimensional space around our customers’ products. Glass, ceramics and other rigid materials take up a prescribed amount of space; there is nothing you can do to reduce that. On the other hand, flexible containers, such as our Fres Jug, conform to the contents being stored. The resulting package is more compact, and that can be shipped at a lower cost.”
Packaging Weight Reduction
Sciamanna cited a customer that produces industrial minerals and chemicals, and they were shipping their products in fiber drums. “They replaced those drums with (Fres-co’s) flexible, gusseted bags,” he says. “This reduced the packaging weight of their product by 56%. On top of that, the bag has pour handles and EZ Open features built in — two ergonomic features added!”
Sciamanna illustrated his point further with a more recent Fres-co product. “Our customer, Liphatech, produces and distributes rodenticides. The rigid buckets they were using were heavy and took up space in their warehouse. Switching to our flexible bucket reduced the weight by 92% and the unfilled volume by 96% percent. These reductions not only saved space, but simplified work for their employees and resulted in considerable fuel savings.”
The more disruptive the design, the more there is to learn from the voice of the customer and performance testing. Each redesign brings its own set of disruptive qualities and new challenges to overcome.
Although he is a proponent of QFD, Sciamanna recognizes the dilemma product designers and developers face when considering the famous Steve Jobs quote. This is where creativity and innovation (two traits not easily imparted through use of development tools) come into play. Sometimes those qualities will lead to truly disruptive inventions that change the product landscape. Disruptive designs are always sought, but also come with their own additional challenges. “The more disruptive a design is, the more there is to learn from VOC and performance testing. More iterations are required to arrive at the final design,” Sciamanna says. “This is because each redesign brings its own set of disruptive qualities and new challenges to overcome in achieving the final representation.”
He adds, “No matter where a design ends up, we must remember that it starts with the customer. It is important for those of us in flexible packaging to listen for that Voice of the Customers. Their viewpoints are essential to help us improve existing products and especially to develop new ones.”
Topics: Package Design
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