Bureau of Ergonomics - Design Bureau

Bureau of Ergonomics

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Illustration by Alli Berry

Q: Why do kids’ toys come inside plastic packaging that seems to be impossible to open?

A: I’ve heard various theories about why packaging designs that cause “wrap rage” exist: to provide more jobs in the packaging factory, to prevent theft (both in the factory and in the store), and to make the toys more visible, but secure. Also, keep in mind that toys were among the first mass-produced products to be shipped from overseas and all that packaging protects the precious cargo during the long transit. However, my favorite rationale is that it forces the parents to destroy the packaging, thereby preventing returns once the kids lose interest in a couple of weeks. In truth, some industries (e.g. meds) require tamper-resistant packaging, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be simpler to open. Consumer pressure is causing some manufacturers to improve their packaging accessibility, as is the eco-trend to go from plastic to cardboard and other greener materials, but don’t expect change to come quick enough.

Q: Is voice recognition, like Siri, the future of interface design?

A: Voice recognition is one of those trends that seems to come around every few years, but never lasts—kind of like electric cars or professional baseball in Washington, D.C. Although voice interaction provides great usability advantages over all other types of interfaces, it seems to suffer from the social stigmas of talking to an inanimate object, as well as a lack of privacy. I expect that voice interfaces will continue to be offered as an alternative option, but it will always be paired with manual controls. In the long term, I’m anxious to see further development of subvocalization interfaces that can potentially detect commands from silent speech patterns (like when you read to yourself). 

Rob Tannen holds a PhD in human factors and is a Certified Professional Ergonomist. He is the director of research and interaction design at Bresslergroup, a product development firm in Philadelphia. For more help with design and ergonomics, visit Bresslergroup.com.