The SoVi app detects a digital watermark on the packaging and acoustically communicates important information. (Image: SonicView)
Designing barrier-free packaging
Packaging performs important roles in the movement of goods. While product protection is certainly the priority, communicating with consumers comes a close second. What exactly is being sold here? What ingredients does the product contain? What are the disposal requirements for the packaging? The list of questions that can be asked of packaging is almost endless.
This communication primarily operates on a visual level through labels and printed information, colours and lettering. But there are people who are severely or sometimes completely limited in their ability to see. These impairments may be due to illness and injury or even simply old age. Designer Meike Seidel has developed the SonicView (SoVi) app to make the information that’s provided on packaging accessible to the visually impaired as well.
"I’ve been working in this field for eight years and already won a Newcomer Innovation Award in 2015 for my idea to encode the entire packaging to make it easier for the visually impaired to scan the products and so enable them to shop for their groceries independently.“
Meike Seidel, SoVi developer
Digital watermark provides the necessary help
The way the app works is as simple as it is effective. Users are able to scan a product they’re interested in with their smartphones, which then provide audible feedback telling them what product it is. And the highlight: It doesn’t matter at which point the product is scanned. The decisive factor is not, as one might assume, a barcode but a digital watermark. The inventor collaborated with the U.S. service Digimarc and uses its Digital Watermark Code (DW Code) solution for marking materials in the SoVi app.
The code is applied, invisible to the eye, over the entire packaging, which accordingly does not need to be turned. But the combination of the DW Code with the app offers even more benefits besides the already excellent one of making packaging more accessible to the visually impaired. Users who perhaps may, for instance, suffer from allergies, intolerances or other restrictions are able to store a personal nutrition profile in the app. The app then lets the users know immediately when products are not suitable.
It accesses two databases to this end: It first queries Atrify’s verified GDSN data pool when it’s used to scan products. That’s where manufacturers enter their product data themselves and are obliged to maintain the data so it’s always correct and up to date. If this data pool doesn’t hold the appropriate data, the app will then access the open-source OpenFoodFacts database into which users themselves are able to enter product information and so make it available to everyone.
‘Analogue’ solutions also help
Digital watermarks are just one way of assisting consumers with impaired vision. But sometimes just small changes to the packaging make a big difference. At the end of 2021, for example, the Cologne-based Gaffel brewery started printing a clearly recognisable symbol of the fruit used to flavour its Fassbrause – a beer-like soft drink – on the caps of its bottles. Previously, the various flavours could only be distinguished by the colour of the caps because the labels looked very similar to each other. That posed problems for consumers who had difficulties telling colours apart, i.e. who suffer from red-green colour blindness or who are totally colour blind.
Analogue solutions also help: The Cologne-based Gaffel brewery has been printing a symbol of the fruit used to flavour its Fassbrause – a beer-like soft drink – on the caps of its bottles since December 2021. (Image: Gaffel)
There certainly remains scope for packaging manufacturers and users to implement improvements in many areas where barrier-free communication is concerned. But examples such as those above demonstrate that even little changes often achieve a big impact and that they can be highly significant to consumers.