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Household  – Meal Preparation

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Preparing a meal at home is an important daily activity for everyone to maintain a healthy and independent lifestyle. It includes a variety of activities such as shopping for food, preparation and cooking in the kitchen and clearing up afterwards. Inclusive design plays a key role in enabling the widest range of people to prepare meals effectively.


As trends point towards smaller homes and more single person households in the UK, design of both multi-functional space and multi-functional appliances in kitchens is becoming more essential.

Many single occupants are independent older adults. Inclusively designed kitchens are crucial to enable these people to maintain their independence at home as their dexterity and visual acuity both reduce.

But independent meal preparation also depends on other design issues – such as those related how food is packaged in supermarkets.

Barriers to opening packaging

Nearly 50,000 UK consumers need hospital treatment each year from injuries sustained through opening grocery packaging. There are three basic barriers that make packaging difficult to open:

Physical barriers: Many food packs need physical strength to open. As we steadily age, there is a gradual reduction in muscular strength.

Visual barriers: Food preparation often depends on reading labels and instructions. As we get older, our static and dynamic visual acuity declines, our near accommodation and contrast sensitivity decreases and our resistance to and recovery from glare deteriorates.

Cognitive barriers: Food preparation requires cognitive interaction with packs, ingredients and instructions. As people get older, there can be a ‘terminal drop’ in cognitive function.

Full cycle of consumer interactions

Research has shown that the cycle of consumer interactions with food packaging can be represented – from shopping to disposal – through five stages:

One: Shop & Select

At this stage, packaging design can play a role in enhancing the consumer’s senses and in facilitating their choices in the store. Packs can demonstrate the freshness of the product and enhance the user’s skills in picking the best produce. Packs can also provide clues for use, confirm the authenticity and heritage of a product and reassure the consumer that the product will stay structurally sound while it is transported home.

Two: Open & Access

Here the packaging can give visual signals that support intuitive approaches to use – so overcoming physical, visual and cognitive barriers to access and meeting the expectations developed in the store.

Three: Store & Decant

This stage addresses such issues as pack integrity once the pack is opened, ease of storage whether open or unopened, and ease of decanting the contents into other vessels

Four: Prepare & Consume

This stage addresses how packaging can enhance the experience of preparing and consuming food. Does the pack give the user control, aid enjoyment of the preparation process, facilitate cooking through clear information, and aid the serving of food?

Five: Dispose & Recycle

This final stage is all about helping the consumer to dispose of and recycle packaging. Visual clues and materials are both important to prompt a culture of re-use in the home or recycling.




‘Because I’m tall, I reach the top shelves and I make sure I look for the freshest date on packs’ - Young professional shopping in her local supermarket

‘I like fiddling with food and displaying it’ – mother of two teenagers, UK

‘I am scared to let go of the handle, the grill seems shaky which concerns me as I could spill oily water on myself when pulling out the grill’

‘Why are there all the corners and spaces that dirt to get into.’

‘When the flame is small I can’t see it and it is difficult to tell if it is on.’

‘I haven’t read the manual as it’s too complicated, so I learn as I use it. I don’t know many of the features.’

Quotes from older housewives, Japan

‘That’s my most pleasure first thing in the morning, reading the newspaper and eating breakfast, at my kitchen table, I have a lovely view of the garden and I get a lot of sun’ – 82 year-old man

‘I‘m happy because I’m not sharing which is good… Even if it is quite small, it is like my own flat, it has my own kitchen facilities which is important for me…It is totally mine, is it OK to live in a bed-sit, I definitely won’t share a kitchen, I’ve got a big window so my room doesn’t smell when I cook…’ – French student and part-time hotel receptionist

‘I have an open kitchen which is part of the living room. I have a few friends around for dinner every week, and I like to cook different cuisines for them… the living room changes from dining room to work space to home cinema… this design is space saving but I like the fact that I can do different activities at the same time.’ – Architect from Hong Kong in his 30s

Case studies

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Small Print

This project set out to improve visual information on supermarket packs for older consumers.

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Home Comforts

The designer looked at ways to make Unilever’s Home and Personal Care product range easier for older people to use in the home.

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Opening Up

This research programme set out to redesign Waitrose food packaging to make it easier for older people to access.

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On a plate

This project created a design tool to measure the usability of food packaging, in collaboration with Marks & Spencer.

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Inclusive Konro

This project produced a set of design guidelines to improve kitchen stoves in Japan, in association with Osaka Gas.

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Kitchen Tales

This study explored how changing perceptions of ‘luxury’ can be translated into affordable kitchen designs for those living alone.

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Factory Wares

This project created an inclusive saucepan with modular handle to make it easier for older people to cooked meals.

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A rethink of how you boil a kettle and make a cup of tea so that such a task become safer for people with dexterity problems.

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Handle with Care

A project to inclusively design a cup and holder to make it easier to handle hot drinks.

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A design project to make the standard milk carton easier to open and use for people of all ages and abilities.

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A project to develop an accessible graphic system based on symbols for food packaging to enable consumers to quickly and easily determine the ingredients of any product.

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A redesign of the shopping environment to create a more inclusive experience, making use of new technology.

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The design team developed a simple device for older shoppers that redistributes the load of the shopping bag away from the hands and wrists.

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This project developed a new system to help older people transport heavy goods into and out of car boots.

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