Designed boxes

Designed BoxThis box is an artifact of my former days as a homebrewer. When I moved, I dumped the bottles into the recycling with only a pang of regret. I’d refilled them with new beer many, many times in the past, but I’d quit doing that as a regular thing, and if I decide to brew up a batch, I can always get more bottles. Those were the really good ones, of course, created back in the day to be served at some bar somewhere, then dropped empty back into their boxes and returned to the brewery for refilling. At one time, it did apparently make sense to do business that way, and these ‘returnable’ bottles were better for homebrewing than disposable ones because the thicker glass reduced the likelihood of a shrapnel event caused by too much priming sugar at bottling time, generating excess carbonation. Flying glass can be a risk on such an occasion with throw-away bottles.

But hey, those were after all just bottles, and I wasn’t going to schlep them across the western United States only to pay storage for them. So out they went, but for some reason, I decided to hold onto the boxes. I told myself it was because they’d make good book containers — about the right size to hold a lot while still keeping the weight of each box in a manageable range. Now the books are up on shelves (finally!) and I’m still clinging to these stupid boxes. I realized the other day why.

These things are actually significant design artifacts. Heavy, waxed cardboard resists spills, which were all too likely in the intended use cases. Brass-stapled corners stand up to the rigors of careless handling, and those hand-holds cut into the ends save some bending and probably reduced risk of dropping a whole bunch of glass bottles in their original use. But the tops really make the system work. They fold down between the center rows, which helps keep bottles from wobbling, and they grab just well enough to stay closed when you want them to while still being easy to open.

These stupid boxes represent a lot of thought and experience in a way that makes them beautifully suited to their intended task. They quietly contribute to the process of getting beer from the brewery to the barflies, and in a way that facilitates the return trip that completes the cycle. I like that the boxes embody a set of functional requirements in such a simple, unassuming way, and I want to keep them just to have that design presence around. They do something for me that disposable, general-purpose slabs of cardboard don’t. Maybe it’s just the reminder to think through even the simple things that I value.