Thinking outside the box - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

3 June 2013

It’s a story that’s been repeated so many times it’s become a cliché. Parents buy child expensive and/or exciting present for Christmas. Child then proceeds to spend more time playing with the large cardboard box that the gift came in than the item itself.

The lesson normally gleaned from this fable is that children have creative imaginations and don’t need expensive gifts to bring them joy. Well, I think there’s something else hidden in there too. The lesson that I would like you to think about today is that good packaging makes people happy.

We recently ordered some new USB memory sticks here at Midori House. They could be a monologue in themselves – they were so ridiculously small I was reminded of the film Zoolander, where Ben Stiller answers his miniscule mobile phone. Needless to say, the memory sticks were all used once and then mislaid immediately.

But while I found their size bemusing, funny even, the packaging they came in enraged me. Firstly, it was unnecessarily huge in comparison to the pin-sized product it encased. Secondly, it was impenetrable. You know the sort – clear, vacuum-moulded tough plastic, the kind it’s become popular to present any kind of small electrical goods and toothbrushes in. Not the kind of object someone’s child would want to play in on Christmas Day.

As soon as it arrives it’s a battle: man (or woman) versus plastic. We’ve all been there. First you try to open it using your hands – you attempt to tear it, bend it, grapple around the corners in the hope of finding a point of weakness. Then you conclude you’re going to need a weapon to win this fight. You start off with those small scissors you’ve got in your drawer and feel the frustration rising when they fail to make any kind of reasonable dent against your shiny, smug opponent. So it’s time to bring out the big guns. After a 10-minute search you return with a huge pair of heavyweight scissors or a butchers knife, ready to finish things off once and for all. But it’s a close call and when you finally win the war, you’ve built up a bit of a sweat and a sense of hate towards synthetic materials.

The humble cardboard box may seem a bit passé but has numerous advantages: ease of access, ease of gift wrapping, reusability, its recyclability. And it is often with these more traditional materials that you witness the most creativity. Take Australian company Bellroy, for example. It makes wallets and when you order one it’s posted to you in its own beautiful brown-card envelope. Your relationship with the product and the brand starts the moment it arrives, not once you’ve battled your way through the packaging.

There’s much that can be learned from this – keep it simple and think about what it’s like to actually open it.

Katie Bilboa is a producer for Monocle 24.


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