Let’s design a box

Designing a box should be simple. Like all simple things, it’s too complex when you start thinking it even a little bit, and even more so if you have an aim to reach with the design. So take a pen and paper to go with this little exercise and let’s see what kind of results you’ll have just by going with words.

Our aim is to create a handy SCART switch box with a selector for normal customer use in households. As such, the box materials and the switch should be made of cheap materials, so we’ll go with either plastics or metals. Remember that it needs to be sturdy and have some weight, but also high quality in feel and appearance. It should also be design with utilitarian approach.

No indicator lights or anything that would require electricity, as we’re trying to go a bit cheap; all things should be work either mechanically or via SCART cables, so need to design power cord placements or anything similar either.

The box should have more width and depth than height to make it fit into any AV-table. However, let’s say that it should have eat least five SCART sockets; four for inputs, one for output. The lack of physically connected SCART cable should lower the costs, but also allows the customer to use select their own cable. As such, you should design the box to house these contacts. Keep in my that the box should be small nevertheless, and thus should be able to be easily lifted with one hand and not strain the user’s arm, so limiting the width would be ideal, but not by adding too much height so that even the small handed customers can grasp the box’ side easily. Now, find a proper placement for these five sockets on the paper as mentioned on the paper. This should give you an idea on the size of box’ front and back silhouette.

The sides sides should be simple, but have the screw that hold the box mostly together. Design the housing so that it can be disassembled for upgrading, modding and repairing. As such, the casing should be able to be removed easily, but also be put back together with ease. Think this through and draw how it should be.

Next, let’s think of the switch that we’re going to have on the box. To keep the box shape we will no have any coming out from the box to place the buttons on. Also, we need to think whether or not we want the box be able to stand on its side or not. If so you wish to make it able to go vertical, remember to make the sides symmetrical as you need to make some sort of legs for balance. You also need to think how the cables are going to go and whether or not it’s worth the trouble finding a good center gravity spot.

But back to the switch. If we’re going to use buttons for the four SCART inputs, the buttons should be easy to push, but not too easy. However, we need to take account the easy of use, and if we push something, it’ll move. Whether or not you can find (or design) buttons elegant enough that the box itself doesn’t nudge when a button is pressed, go with buttons. We could go with dial, as with dials we don’t have to worry about the box will move. It’s weight should be more than enough to stay still when the dial is turned. As such, the dial should also be loose enough not to require strength, but also have an audible click with each selection. It should be very tactile experience to turn the dial, not mushy. Mushy feeling with any electronic device is a sign of low quality and distances customers away from future products. Now design the buttons/dial on the box’ front. You might want to include some sort of way to mark down the inputs.

Finalize your design.

Now compare it to this one.

Removed logos and all that for your pleasure

Now, how much does your design differ from the above? If none, good. If it does, good.

With this simple (and compressed) exercise I hope to give a small insight in one form of design process. Each stroke you’ve done on the paper should have had a thought behind it, and every line should represent either one part of cohesive idea, or be an idea in itself. If you added excessive lines to create more form, congrats in failing the design.

I also would like hear whether or not you left the corners sharp, or did you chamfer then in any form to avoid cuts. A smooth, curvy surface in most cases feels better than rigid 90-degree corner.

We could add possibility for further ideas; the bottom could have places for bolts so that the box could be mechanically attached to a surface, or a battery slot for the lights you couldn’t add. However, doing anything more than that would cost more money, and we wanted to keep the cost down. Let the innards cost more.

If you decided to go with plastics I’d love to know what kind of plastic you would use. Same with metals. Plastics would have plus side of being light and somewhat sturdy, but we wanted weight. How would you add the weight? Well, the bottom could’ve been metal. However, with metal all over the shell could be thinner than with plastics, and it could have the same weight and smaller profile than the same design with plastics.

Next time you see a box of electronics or something, you can bet that someone had loads of work to design it. While the process might be relatively simple, it still demands work and thought process. I can admit that I have fought with a box design when I made my own arcade controller. While the controller works, the design is pretty bad. Horrible even. But it’s a box that I literally fought with a week straight every single day more than eight hours, sometimes physically and sometimes in my mind.

So yeah, designing a box isn’t that simple as I thought.

But now ask yourself; how much creativity you used? Is that art what you have on your paper?

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