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The Barbie Ultimatum

Wed, 08/05/2009 - 10:15am
by Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director, IMPO

Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director, IMPO

Today is my daughter’s birthday. For the most part, this is great thing. I know she’ll eat way too much sugar, but her friends will help burn that off with constant laps around the swing set, kitchen table, adult supervisors, and any other object unable or unwilling to move as 10 giggling six-year-olds assault the house and yard. And in addition to having fun with her little sister and friends, she will also get showered with presents – presents that I think offer an interesting perspective on approaches to new product design and manufacturing.

Without going out on too much of a limb I will guarantee that at least one of the gifts she receives will be a Barbie. And just to be clear, I really have nothing against the blonde-haired American icon. However, every birthday and Christmas I’m tempted to launch my own personal vendetta against the individual responsible for designing the packaging products used on Barbie and many of her playtime cohorts.

You see, my job for today will basically be to make sure no limbs are lost, no calls to the fire department are needed when engaging the birthday cake candles and, finally, to remove (and possibly assemble) many of the gifts as my daughter waits in anticipation of playing with her new collection of ponies, dolls, and board games. After I struggled with removing (which I was repeatedly told took forrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever) all the clips, plastic wire type fasteners and whatever those really thin rubber string deals are from her first batch of gifts Sunday night, my thoughts drifted to the genesis of their design.

In essence these clips, strings, etc. do their job. They keep the toy well-guarded through transport and distribution while also serving their retail master well in the way the toy is displayed on store shelves. Also, any frustration, while taunting their patience levels, doesn’t alienate the target audience. And, admittedly, I actually get somewhat of a sadistic kick out of watching other dads deal with the same packaging issues when I’m on the other end of the situation.

Still, to me this situation offers an interesting perspective on product design. Not unlike many new product introductions, the focus with this packaging was on the final result – an untarnished toy, as opposed to customer convenience. In my opinion one of the driving factors behind everything from new features in automobiles to consumer electronics and even industrial equipment is the implementation of intuitive controls and simplified usability. Essentially, the focus is on convenience and making everything about the purchase as easy and enjoyable as possible.

These packaging materials, while playing more of a supportive role, are still individual products that are designed, manufactured, and implemented like any other. What I found interesting is that they offer a contradictory vantage point in that the focus is not on convenience, but in delivering the final result. While performance has been the antithesis for innovation since the first schematic of a wheel, the drive for added convenience in product design has been around since people realized that more could be carried in a basket then with their hands. I guess I just found it interesting that Barbie has become as much a slave to function, and not as polarized to form.

We’d love to hear how you feel about balancing user convenience and end product performance. Send me an e-mail at Jeff.Reinke@advantagemedia.com.

 

IMPO’s weekly e-newsletter, the IMPO Insider, will soon become your daily source for manufacturing news, comprehensive editorials, and innovative technology. Check out the first edition of the IMPO Insider Daily next Monday, August 10.

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