Think about what it takes to open up a standard package for a new controller that you’ve ordered online. First, you have to cut through the packing tape of the shipping box. Then, there’s another box, probably with more tape. (Or the nightmarish, anti-theft clamshell packaging accessories still come in, which would likely require a strong pair of scissors to rip into.) There’s smaller plastic labels on its face. Twist ties bind up wires. All these are easy to overlook as minor speed bumps, if you have two working hands and 10 nimble fingers. But if you’re living with a physical impairment of any sort, those speed bumps could become roadblocks that are harder to ignore.
When Microsoft revealed its Xbox Adaptive Controller in May, it aimed to be the first commercially accessible solution for people with a variety of physical impairments to play games. But that groundbreaking idea couldn’t make as big of an impact if it was boxed in by typical game controller packaging.
Microsoft has completely retooled the packaging for the Xbox Adaptive Controller, based on feedback from the same testers that helped it develop the controller. Microsoft packaging designer Mark Weiser said that the team used 3D printing and other techniques to present testers with dozens of prototypes, which were developed in tandem with the controller. They learned hard-to-tear packaging was out, especially for portions of the testers who may use their teeth to open boxes.
“We wanted something that had multiple access points,” Weiser said. “We learned loops were an important component factor. if you have low dexterity, you can get your appendage in a loop and get leverage.”
Loops and leverage points are all you see when you unbox the controller, which Weiser and Kevin Marshall, creative director of design, global packaging and content for Microsoft, did for Polygon on a video call. That even starts with the outer shipping container, which has a loop at the end of a strip of tape, making it easier to pull off. Those loops continue to be a theme; the piece of tape sealing the controller box has a loop at each end.
There’s a sturdy-looking piece of ribbon to open the box’s top flap, which can be grabbed with teeth or looped around your hand. There are no twist ties bundling the power cord; it’s wrapped with packaging that unfolds. Even the controller itself can be lifted out of the box gingerly with the flat of a hand or a foot, Weiser said, thanks to the large amount of negative space below it.
“Every step of the process we wanted to make as simple as possible,” Weiser said. “But the product box looks like any other Xbox product box.
“We didn’t want to create something that felt othered from our different experiences. We wanted it to feel like a family product in our ecosystem.”
It’s not clear if these design choices will carry over to package design decisions for other Xbox products, but Marshall said the team hoped to evolve its approach by leveraging what it has learned from the process.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller will be available from $99.99 sometime in September.