Strive for Universal Utility


One formidable hurdle in drug packaging is achieving senior-friendly child resistance. Most child-resistant packages require users to combine two actions, like pushing and turning a bottle closure. Trouble is, this type of design requires a certain amount of dexterity, leaving many seniors to struggle.


Blister makers face a similar feat. Take the peel-and-push blister, for instance. The two steps may be enough to throw off a toddler, but they may frustrate a few seniors.

This challenge is at the heart of a debate between the

Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council

(HCPC) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). We cover it in this month’s feature on blisters starting on page 26. HCPC has asked CPSC to set the failure amount during child-resistance protocol testing at eight units. “While unit-dose formats can be fortified to pass the current standard, such fortifications can make it difficult for adults to use the package properly,” HCPC said earlier this year.

Others argue that better designs are needed. Laura Bix, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s School of Packaging (MSU; Lansing, MI), suggests looking at an approach called Universal Design. “Universal Design is the concept of designing not for the healthy, average adult, but for the worst-case scenario,” she explains. “Proponents of this approach believe that the resultant designs benefit the whole, not just the difficult cases. They improve the product.” Products for Gatorade and Tupperware, for instance, have been designed using this approach.

Bix points to efforts at The Center for Universal Design, an initiative of the College of Design at North Carolina State University. According to its Web site, “Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.” The site lists seven guiding design principles: equitable use; flexibility in use; simple and intuitive [design]; perceptible information; tolerance for error; low physical effort; and size and space for approach and use.

MSU will hold a seminar on Universal Design on June 16–17, 2004. Bix, professor Hugh Lockhart, and Javier de la Fuente, a graduate student working as a research assistant, are inviting people with disabilities to talk about their difficulties with packaging. Other voices will be from cognitive psychology and biomechanics researchers, who will discuss how aging affects a person’s ability to use packages. Speakers from CPSC and an independent firm that tests for child resistance and senior friendliness are also invited. Finally, an expert from the Universal Design Center will benchmark the packaging industry against others that have used the approach. “We want to address the tensions between child resistance and utility,” Bix adds.

While Universal Design may be a new approach for drug packagers, designs that appeal to senior intuition are not. HCPC clearly appreciates the importance of design, recognizing several packages a year for their ability to encourage regimen compliance. Many of these employ innovative child-resistant, senior-friendly features, like Merck’s Fosamax, a package HCPC cited this year.

Universal Design, however, does encourage drug packagers to do something new—to consider every user during design. Even CPSC’s test protocol doesn’t do that, leaving out of its testing the oldest of seniors. Perhaps Universal Design will help refine today’s packages so that no one is left behind.

Daphne Allen


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