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Why Do We Wrap Presents?

An Ergonomic Look at Why We Wrap Gifts

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Why do we wrap presents? In order to apply good ergonomic principles to make a task more efficient and comfortable (and therefore more fun) we have to understand that task. To fully understand any given task we have to know why we are doing it. So why do we wrap presents?

You may have a specific reason for wrapping a present that others are not aware of, but in general we wrap presents for these reasons:

  • To conceal what it is
  • To present the present in a pleasing way
  • To enhance anticipation
  • To spread the festive atmosphere, whether it is Christmas, a birthday, wedding, etc.
  • For traditions sake
Successful completion of wrapping a present, the task, only occurs when these reasons, or parameters, are satisfied. Satisfaction criteria varies in degree, and if you really want to get into the ergonomics of wrapping a present you can rate the success of each parameter, add them all up in a weighted formula, and come up with a number, or metric. Do this for each package wrapped and you'll know which package was wrapped most successfully.

Please don't do that. It'd take all the fun out of it. But you should establish your satisfaction criteria.

Concealment

How do you disguise what the present is? Is this even important to you? At the simplest level you simply throw some paper around it. If you are like my mother then this is the most important aspect of wrapping a present.

My mother was not satisfied unless we had absolutely no idea what any given package was. She would change boxes, deform packaging, tape odd things together to alter the shape, add bricks to give a false weight, anything she could think of to confuse you.

Me, I once gave her a toilet seat (it was what she wanted) that when wrapped showed every curve and split it had. It even hinged. Concealment wasn't important to me.

The levels of satisfaction for concealment are:

  • Not Concealed - Package identity is readily apparent
  • Obscured - Package is wrapped, but no effort was made to alter the shape, feel, weight, etc.
  • Disguised - Package has been altered to make it difficult to guess when handled
  • Completely Befuddled - You lay awake for countless hours staring at the package trying to get a clue as to what it could be
Presentation

Have you ever gotten a present that looked to good to open? Have you ever gotten somebody important something so insignificant that you spent more money on the wrap job than the item itself in the hopes that they would be impressed any way?

Presentation can make the gift. Just look at a gift basket. It looks really good until you start taking it part and realize it is full of junk.

The levels of satisfaction for presentation are:

  • Ugly - You quickly rip the paper away so that no one sees what it looked like wrapped
  • Ho-hum - they made an effort, barely
  • Nice - the package looks good by itself, but soon blends in to the pile
  • Jaw Dropping - so good you don't even want to open it, you stick it on the top of the pile so that every one can admire all the pretty ribbons
Anticipation

One of the key reasons to wrap a present is to hide what it is. You want somebody to know they are getting something, but not what it is. Not until the last minute, that is.

Anticipation is hard measure before it is actually tested, but certain things usually help. Good concealment is a key. You can't anticipate if you already know what it is. An intriguing shape or weight usually peaks the curiosity.

The real measure comes when the gift is given. The satisfaction criteria for anticipation are:

  • Ignored - you almost, or actually, forget it is there when it is time to open presents
  • Interested - a present is always good, but it is just one of the pile
  • Front of the line - it is one of the first you grab at the appointed time
  • Hand Warmer - you are so intrigued you can't put it down, you find yourself subconsciously stroking it a referring to it as "my precious"
Spreading the Spirit

Wrapping a present is one way to embrace the festivities. The amount of energy you put into wrapping the present can now be spread to those seeing it. How would you feel if your next birthday present had snowman wrapping paper on it?

The satisfaction criteria for spreading the spirit are:

  • Humbug - it is in a plastic bag that has "Thank You For Shopping" on it
  • Toe the Line - it has appropriate paper and maybe even a stick on bow on it
  • In the Spirit - Very nice, I see you spent a lot of time on this, I like the sparkles
  • The True Meaning of - - This thing is out of this world, it even has trained, tap dancing mice squeaking out your name to the tune of Indagadavida on it
Tradition

Traditions are personal. You're on your own for this one.

What Now?

I know what you are thinking. "This is all very education Mr. Ergonaut (and very well written I might add), but how does this help me wrap presents?" Well, now that we know why we are doing the task we can develop a task analysis that will guide us to comfortably and efficiently satisfying all the criteria we nave chosen as important.

And now the Gift Wrapping Gross Task Analysis.

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