Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers' Notes

Resource created by Unilever Archives.

This resource explores the design and development of the washing product, Persil. By studying the products and how they have changed over time, students can examine how developments in technology have helped make a common chore easier and more efficient. The design of the packaging and adverts gives an interesting insight into changes in society and in particular the role of women over time. The product design is also reflective of Unilever’s interest in the environment and provides a case study and starting point for discussion and the development of activities in designing products which have less impact on the planet.


Curriculum Links

  • KS2 & KS3 Design and Technology:
    Analyse the work of past and present professionals and others to develop and broaden their understanding.
    Understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment.
  • KS2 & KS3 Art and Design:
    Evaluate and analyse creative works
    Increasing awareness of different kinds of design
  • KS2 & KS3 History:
    Changes in an aspect of social history in the 20th century
    Understand historical concepts such as cause and consequence, continuity and change etc.
    Understand methods of historical enquiry

Learning Objectives

  • To explore how design makes a product appealing to consumers.
  • To use packaging design to understand how the appeal of products has changed over time.
  • To consider how product and packaging design reflects the changes in society over time.
  • To explore how products have been developed in line with the inventions and affordability of home technology.
  • To consider what impact the changes in products and technology have had on people’s lives - in particular women and families.
  • To understand how and why the products used today are different from those used 100 years ago.
  • To consider how products and the packaging they come in have changed in light of increased awareness of environmental impact.

Discussion Points and Activities

Designing products for people

  • Look at the design of one of the first Persil products from 1937 and compare it to a non-bio liquigel capsules.
    What is the same and what is different about these two products?
    Who do you think would want to buy each of these products?
    What makes the product attractive to those people? Think about the size, cost and any other information on the packages.
    Are either of these products something you would like to buy? Why / why not?
  • Compare the Persil packets to other products that you like e.g. toys. Describe what is different about them to the products that you like.
  • Imagine Persil have a campaign to get children to wash their own clothes. Design a new Persil package for the campaign. What would the packet look like? What would make it attractive to children? Think about the colours, images on the box and shape. Create a set of slogans/messages that would appear on the packet that would persuade children to wash their own clothes.

A product and its reflection on society at the time

  • Compare the size of these Persil products: the first 1937, 1971, 1995 and one from today. Why do you think the sizes have changed over time? Use the images and captions to help you find the answer.
  • Do you think the invention of washing powder has made people’s lives better? If so in what way?
  • Think of a household chore that you do regularly. Design an invention to help you do the job more quickly and efficiently. How will you make your invention environmentally friendly? Think about the materials you will use to make it, how it is powered and whether it can be recycled.

Compare and contrast today

  • What is the same and what is different about early Persil washing powder and the product that you use at home?
  • Compare washing powder and washing liquid. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Advertising and design in the 1950s

  • Look at the 1950s advert and the design of the 1951 packet.
    Who is being encouraged to buy the product? What do you think the advertising and design is trying to make the people think and feel about the product?

Environmental impacts of products

  • The Persil product has been changed over time to try and limit negative impacts it might have on the environment. What changes have been made to Persil over time to make more environmentally friendly? Has anything changed which has made it worse for the environment?
  • How might Persil be made in the future so that it is better for the environment? Think about the packaging and the product.