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How Degree redesigned deodorant for people with disabilities

Degree Inclusive is a winner in the 2021 Innovation by Design Awards.

How Degree redesigned deodorant for people with disabilities
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Putting on deodorant is a simple daily ritual for many people. For others impacted by age or disability or illness, it may not be quite so easy—and it may not be possible at all.

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Degree partnered with the creative agency Wunderman Thompson to completely reimagine deodorant with inclusivity in mind. The roll-on deodorant features a wider bottle than traditional bottles with inlets at the base, making it easier to hold for individuals with physical disabilities. Additionally, it has a magnetic cap with a hook that makes opening and closing the bottle easy. A clicking sound occurs to aurally confirm that the cap is on securely. Large text and brail are displayed on the front to accommodate anyone with vision impairments. Designed with sustainability in mind, the deodorant bottle is also refillable.

The project, called Degree Inclusive, is the winner of Fast Company‘s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards in the packaging category. It was developed and spearheaded by Christina Mallon, head of inclusive design and accessibility at Wunderman Thompson. She pitched the idea to Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, which oversees Degree Deodorant. Surprisingly, this was a concept that had never been brought up before, and it was met quickly with enthusiasm. “I really wanted to focus on personal care because personal care is not personal when you can’t do it yourself,” Mallon says.

[Photo: Degree]

Mallon became a champion for accessibility when she began to lose the function of her hands and arms due to a car accident that caused motor neuron disease over a decade ago. “The hardest part of being disabled is the preconceived notions around disability, which is that you can’t do anything,” Mallon says.

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To kick off the design process, Wunderman Thompson joined forces with Sour Studio, a design firm focused on social and urban problems. Together they got feedback from an occupational therapist and conducted research and interviews with disabled individuals about what changes would make a deodorant bottle more usable for them.

The information they collected resulted in three prototypes. One was a complete redesign, while the other two modified the current designs of a deodorant bottle, featuring a roll-on and a stick version, to be more accessible for those with disabilities. When tested with disabled individuals, the prototype that received the best responses was the basis of the redesign you see here.

[Photo: Degree]
Currently, the product is in beta testing. Consumer feedback will help the designers tweak the bottle to ensure a successful launch, tentatively scheduled for fall 2022. “It’s important to really identify the proof to the users, in order to be able to create design that will best address their needs,” says Pinar Guvenc, partner at Sour Studios. Over the course of a person’s life, their ability can be impacted  from aging, injury, or changes in lifestyle like having children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults has a disability that impacts major life activities. Degree Inclusive is meant to be accessible to everyone, regardless of ability.

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But as Guvenc says, “The actual achievement will be when this new concept becomes the standard.” In this way, Degree Inclusive has become more than a deodorant bottle prototype. Mallon says it has inspired other companies to reach out to Wunderman Thompson and Sour Studio to make their products inclusive, too. “I get probably an email a day from a different brand,” Mallon says. “Because they saw the work that I’ve been doing and say, ‘We want to ensure that this is going on at our brand because we had no idea about this issue.'”

See more from Fast Company’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new book, Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas That Transform the Way We Live and Work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.