Saturday, June 21, 2008

The amazing box

There is no shortage of things to be amazed by in this world. Flight, pi, and air conditioning are three that readily come to mind. And yet despite the myriad miraculous things that we encounter throughout our lives, there is one object that is sorely neglected.
The box.

Not the “Box,” as in the large metal shipping containers used for intermodal freight transport (seen on ships, freight trains, and 18-wheelers), but the humble cardboard box. Of course there is the basic and boring 12-panel box, widely used for personal shipping purposes. But box technology has advanced far beyond that. Many templates, such as the one seen above, are incredibly complicated. These rely on intricate, origami-like folding and tucking, and often use glue to hold reinforced layers together. This results in boxes with a variety of compartments and closures. Some are as sturdy as metal or plastic boxes, which, when one remembers they’re made of paper, is pretty impressive.

Clearly these complex plans are the result of expert design, based on specific guidelines for their eventual use (display, shipping, storage, etc.) Someone is being paid to constantly devise new box designs, pushing the limits of container creativity. Indeed, determining how various pieces should be cut, folded, perforated, etc. is no easy task. This person must have superior spatial-reasoning skills—and probably finds great pleasure in those tricky IQ test problems asking which template corresponds to which box.

Not surprisingly, compendiums of box templates exist for would-be packaging designers to gain inspiration and assistance from. To be sure, boxes are big business. Grocery stores accept hundreds of them each day, filled with wine, produce, and a huge range of further-boxed goods. Companies across the world rely on acid-free boxes to store important documents and records. And anyone who has ever moved knows how helpful they are in transporting one’s belongings.

Appreciate the box. It’s one of life’s most inconspicuous heroes.

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