Herbal Essences Designs Bottles for Visually Impaired

Procter & Gamble’s Herbal Essences hair care brand has introduced the first mass-produced bottles designed to help blind and visually impaired individuals distinguish between shampoos and conditioners by touch.

The bottles’ special features are simple: shampoo containers have four tactile vertical lines on the bottom of the back label; conditioners, which are packaged in an identically shaped bottle, have two rows of dots. This strategy lets visually impaired consumers tell the difference even if they don't know Braille.

An estimated 253 million people are blind or visually impaired worldwide, including 23 million in the U.S.

Sumaira Latif, P&G’s special consultant for inclusive design, was behind the initiative. Latif is an 18-year P&G veteran who is blind.

“As a blind person, you must do things using touch rather than sight,” explained Latif. “You don’t know which bottle the shampoo, conditioner or soap is. I used to put an elastic band around shampoo or sellotape on conditioner to remind me. It was important [that] we invent a universally recognizable tactile feature.”

While the new design is simple, the process involved in creating the bottle was not. “We process hundreds of bottles a minute, so changing a manufacturing process is complicated when you’re dealing with those quantities,” added Latif.

Despite the technical challenges, there was a solid business case behind the decision to re-engineer the bottles, according to Lynn Hicks, Herbal Essences North America brand manager. “Making products more accessible can improve the experience for everyone. We want to be sure everyone can experience the positive power of nature through Herbal Essences every day.”

“This new tactile feature enhances our independence and shows that the brand wants to truly serve all consumers," said Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "We hope other manufacturers will take note and work with blind people to find solutions that allow us to identify products quickly and independently.”

The new packaging will be available on Herbal Essences bio:renew shampoo and conditioner bottles beginning in January 2019.

P&G’s specialty designed bottles aren't just a first in the haircare world; they're a pioneering initiative for most of the packaged goods industry. While computer software, clock, watch and pharmaceutical manufacturers make some talking or Braille-embossed products, little exists in the world of consumables. The exceptions are Band-Aid and some vitamins and OTC medications.

In 2015, Coca-Coca mounted a Spanish-language “Share a Coke” campaign involving metal cans and bottle labels embossed with Braille text. The limited-duration initiative only ran in Mexico and Argentina.

The food service industry has been a bit more proactive. McDonald’s uses Braille on cup lids, while Cracker Barrel and Red Lobster provide Braille menus upon request.

Elsewhere, there is a bit of help in the kitchen: Tupperware containers have their measurements written in Braille. And several companies make timers, elbow-length oven mitts, measuring devices and other gadgets to assist visually impaired home gourmets.