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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Thoughtful pill boxes cut stress
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Making medicine packaging which is both childproof but easy to use has long been a tough design challenge.

But psychologists, engineers and designers have put their heads together to develop innovative approaches to make packaging child's play for adults.

Three different boxes requiring mental over physical dexterity have been made by the Faraday Packaging Partnership.

The hope is the "thinking designs" will protect children, as well as revolutionise how packaging is used.

Slide it and poke it

Slide, Tri and Poke is not a new dance phenomenon. They are the three aesthetically pleasing containers based on the premise of "thinking before opening", almost like simple puzzle boxes.

If manufactured on a large scale, they could cut down the frustration more than 90% of us experience while wrestling with pill boxes and bleach bottles.

This is particularly an issue for older or infirm adults, many of whom rely on medicines daily, according to the Faraday Partnership.

"These designs are cognitively difficult to open rather than physically difficult," explains Pauline King from the partnership.

These are not bottle tops, they are containers in their own right and are aesthetically pleasing to carry around with you. This means it is not openly obvious that they are drugs
Pauline King, Faraday Packaging Partnership
"The traditional ones are often based on something physically difficult to open. But this is difficult for an aging population."

The result is that many attempt to decant pills into containers which are easily accessed by children. About 10,000 cases of accidental poisoning are reported each year.

The designs have grown out of a much softer rather than a hard engineering approach to the problem.

"We have been doing lots of research looking at consumer insight - how they behave and interact - so we are looking at the psychological with the engineering side by pulling research groups together," Ms King explains.

Through user-diaries and watching people's behaviour, the psychologists were able to work out exactly what people wanted from their packaging.

Aesthetically pleasing

The resulting designs would not look out of place as coffee-table puzzles, and the three containers take into account the potential physical requirements of users.

"The designs looked at hand sizes and length of adult fingers and child ones, hence the poke design where you are putting fingers into the mechanism to release it," says Ms King.

"These are not bottle tops, they are containers in their own right and are aesthetically pleasing to carry around with you. This means it is not openly obvious that they are drugs."

The Slide design
The Slide is a flat container with three buttons which have to be aligned correctly in order for the flip lid to open. Different pills can be kept safe in the separate compartments.

The Tri and Poke concepts test an adult's puzzle-solving ability, but are also designed with the size of children and adults' hand and finger sizes in mind.

As a long tube with the pills at the bottom, the spring-loaded catch in the Poke can only release the goods when pushed by an adult's digit. Obviously, this kind of dexterity would not suit all adults.

The third design, Tri, is a flattened sphere which is easy to handle and grip. It can only be opened when two buttons are pressed simultaneously.

Although primarily based on boxes for pharmaceuticals, the concepts could be relevant for wider use.

The added benefit to the new designs is that they are reusable, something which environmental waste campaigners like the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) would encourage.

"We welcome innovation in packaging as long as sustainability is considered at both the design and manufacturing stages," said Mark Barthel, director of the waste minimisation programme at Wrap.

"This means minimising material use to ensure resource efficiency and building recyclability into the design, so that waste packaging can be easily recycled into other useful products."

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Department of Trade and Industry-funded work was created by a partnership of expertise from the Universities Leeds and York, and Pira International.

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