Can packaging be “ageist”?

Writes Tony Watts OBE: A story in the Daily Mail (I’ve read it so you don’t have to) describes an online petition (the link is below!) hoping to get the Government to address the issue of packaging: in particular, its frequent inaccessibility to many older people.

The article quotes a Mr Colum Lowe, director of the Design Age Institute and former head of design at the National Patient Safety Agency, who said “he had been inundated with complaints from elderly people who had spent up to an hour trying to force their way into packaging”.

Child-proof bottles, blister packs, ring pulls and tamper-proof lids in particular were picked out for attention; and, apart from frustrating and upsetting those regularly left on the wrong side of the contents, some actually ended up in A&E after cutting themselves in their doomed efforts.

The survey of 2,000 retired and semi-retired people, carried out by the institute, found packaging left many feeling “old” and “incompetent”.

Mr Lowe adds: “People often feel stupid or blame themselves when they can’t get into packaging, but it is not their fault at all – it is needlessly bad design which is ageist. Many people have to use gadgets and tools to try to get into packaging, which are often potentially sharp and dangerous in themselves.

“That should not have to happen, and guidelines are being ignored, so we need legal rules to ensure packaging is accessible for everyone.”

As he goes on to point out, adjusting the packaging to make it more accessible isn’t rocket science. It just requires a bit of thought and a change in approach. Ideally, they would get in some older people to test it out first… His organisation is hoping to attract 10,000 signatures for their petition on minimum packaging standards, which would ensure a Government response. 

So far, so much common sense. And, in truth, it’s not just older people who often find packaging difficult. Anyone with restricted mobility might consider it an issue too. And, as we are (slowly but surely) trying to make our society more inclusive, you’d think this was a no-brainer.

Indeed, quite a few of the responses to the online story are supportive (again, I’ve read them so you don’t have to). But some of the feedback really highlights what an unempathetic world we seem to live in: “Selfish Baby Boomers always trying to change the world for themselves alone,” raged one person. “We shouldn’t surrender to idiots like these,” fulminated another. Nice.

I consider myself reasonably able-bodied and I often spend inordinate amounts of time trying to hack into packaging. And don’t get me started on microscopic labelling. My favourite memory is trying to get into the shrink-wrapped new pair of scissors that I’d had just bought, because the last pair in the house had vanished. The instructions told me to use scissors to get at my new scissors…

I’d love your views on this. email me at And, if you feel strongly about it, do sign the petition too! It is available at:

Unsplash image courtesy of Towfiqu barbhuiya

Please share: