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P&G caters to nearly 5 billion people globally, offering a robust selection of trusted and high-quality leading brands. The P&G community comprises 99,000 employees spread across approximately 70 countries worldwide.
In the United States, it is approximated that 10% of adults live with visual impairments, facing challenges in simple tasks like distinguishing between personal care products during use.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, there is a pressing ‘Braille literacy crisis’ in the US. Less than 10% of legally blind individuals in the country read Braille, and only 10% of blind children are learning the tactile writing system.
As one of the world’s largest and most esteemed providers of consumer and personal care products, Procter and Gamble (P&G™) acknowledges the importance of ensuring that its products and services are accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
For individuals with visual impairments, seemingly straightforward tasks present genuine challenges, such as distinguishing between personal care items like shampoo and conditioner bottles. Even for consumers with limited sight, identifying products in the shower or bath, where visual aids like glasses, contact lenses, or magnifiers are not commonly used, can be difficult. Recognizing this concern, P&G initiated an effort to find a solution.
“Most shampoo and conditioner bottles are designed to look and feel the same,” notes P&G’s Special Consultant for Inclusive Design, Sumaira Latif, who is registered blind herself. “We realized that we have a significant opportunity to enhance the lives of those with visual impairments by altering our products and packaging and encouraging other businesses to do the same.”
Herbal Essences™ bio:renew™
Collaborating with her colleagues at P&G, Latif conceived an innovative idea of incorporating tactile notches on the bottles to facilitate easy identification by touch. P&G initiated trials to implement this new tactile-coded design for the Herbal Essences bio:renew range of shampoos and conditioners.
“We aim to assist the world in perceiving through touch,” Latif explains. “A simple distinguishing feature not only aids individuals with low or no vision but also benefits those who do not have English as their first language or those who typically wear corrective glasses or contact lenses – you would be surprised by the number of sighted individuals without visual impairments who mention that they mix up shampoo and conditioner in the shower.”
To reduce design costs and minimize production impacts, Latif and her team at P&G sought a method to incorporate tactile markers onto their existing bottles, rather than manufacturing bottles with pre-existing markers. The team considered using a laser marker to engrave the markers during production as an efficient solution. However, they were mindful of the potential challenges in marking the bottles without compromising the packaging or causing significant production delays.
“While the goal is undoubtedly commendable, we acknowledged that for the new approach to succeed, it must not disrupt productivity. We handle hundreds of bottles a minute on each bottling line; altering a manufacturing process is intricate when dealing with such quantities,” Latif explains. “We required a solution that could seamlessly integrate into our existing production lines without significantly impacting production line speeds.”
Partnership with Domino – Embracing Laser Marking & Tactile Labelling
“We approached various coding and marking suppliers with the project outline, and Domino stood out as the sole supplier committed to genuinely collaborating with us to determine the most suitable design and solution for creating the markers,” states Kevin Higgins, Engineer at P&G.
Domino’s scientific expertise and the highly collaborative and iterative design testing process were crucial in identifying the optimal solution for the inclusive bottle design. The P&G team had the opportunity to visit Domino’s dedicated laser marking testing laboratories in Hamburg. During the initial discussions about the project requirements, followed by a two-day working session, they pinpointed the best possible solution.
“The initial request from P&G was to code the bottles with triangle, circle, and square symbols,” explains Dr. Stefan Stadler, Team Lead at the Laser Academy. “Upon initial testing, it was determined that these symbols would be challenging to distinguish by touch, so we proposed some alternative options that could be more easily differentiated.”
The selected design incorporates a row of raised lines on the bottom of the back of the shampoo bottles, with two rows of raised dots in the same position on the conditioner bottles.
The success of the project relied on ensuring that the laser marking did not penetrate the bottles or weaken the barrier strength of the substrate. The Laser team identified the bottom of the bottle, where the plastic is thickest, as the ideal location for tactile labelling. This ensured straightforward identification without compromising the integrity of the packaging.
In initial sample evaluations, Domino’s D-Series CO2 Laser coders confirmed the initial scientific assessment by effectively engraving the required vertical line and circle markers. This resulted in a tactile mark without compromising the substrate.
The Laser team at Domino used a 3D microscope to examine the depth of engraving on nine different coloured PET bottles (the substrate for Herbal Essences bottles) employing two coding modes: moving and stationary. The absorption rate of the coloured bottles was measured using an FT-IR spectrometer to assess whether there was a connection between the coding depth and the plastic colour.
Validating the Solution
To ensure the effectiveness of the new approach involving stripes and circles for consumers, P&G introduced the freshly marked Herbal Essences bio:renew bottles to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in the UK for consumer testing. Subsequent focus group sessions with visually-impaired consumers overwhelmingly supported the new inclusive bottle design.
With positive feedback from consumers, P&G adopted Domino’s laser solution to mark Herbal Essences bio:renew shampoo and conditioner bottles across multiple manufacturing plants in the US and selected contract packers, starting from January 2019.
The inclusive bottle design received widespread acclaim, earning numerous positive reviews from individuals with partial or complete vision impairment. Active bloggers and advocates for the blind community shared their positive experiences online.
“I always struggle to identify what I’m grabbing in the shower,” says Holly Bonner, Owner of BlindMotherhood.com. “These bottles are identical, but I don’t have to use a bump dot or a rubber band to differentiate what I’m going to be using… So, I think that this is an amazing idea.”
“While [P&G] are doing this with the visually impaired community in mind, this could also be great for little kids…[and]…people who are losing their vision later on in life…this is going to be very useful for them,” she continues.
“The best part about this whole thing is that a blind woman designed it. A blind woman who has worked for the company for 18 years designed it. So, it is not some sighted person that came up with this idea. This is somebody who is blind, who understands, who gets it. It’s amazing. I think that Herbal Essences has done a great job.”
Following the success of the initial trial, P&G implemented the inclusive design across its entire range of Herbal Essences bio:renew shampoos and conditioners.
Leading Transformation in the Beauty Industry – P&G’s Vision
On May 4, 2020, Latif took part in a webinar organized by the creators of BE MY EYES, a groundbreaking web-based application designed for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. This application enables users to connect with volunteers through video calls for assistance with visual tasks. During the webinar, Latif discussed the challenges faced by blind and visually impaired individuals in their homes and workplaces. She also emphasized the increasing efforts of companies, such as P&G with their newly marked bottles, to improve the accessibility of their products for people with disabilities.
“I was pleased to hear about the new and improved, tactile shampoo and conditioner bottles,” writes Blogger and BE MY EYES user Tia Wojciechowski, who participated in the webinar.
“Almost all shampoos and conditioners are in matchy-matchy twin bottles. I guess people like it better that way because it looks cuter in their bathrooms. Now there are bottles that are cute and tactile!” she continues.
“Herbal Essences… have added tactile lines on the backs of the bottles… Nothing that should inconvenience hair care product companies into spending a lot of extra money and make them have to jack up the price.”
P&G’s project has a lasting aim of inspiring other manufacturers to develop inclusive packaging designs for beauty and personal care items, frequently used by visually impaired consumers when glasses or contact lenses are unavailable. The straightforward icon method implemented in Herbal Essences bio:renew has the potential to serve as a universal means of distinguishing products, offering independence and confidence to millions of blind and visually impaired consumers, both in the UK and worldwide.