When it comes to innovation, even shipping cartons can be improved upon

Innovation isn't just about flashy technology. The entire user experience can benefit from innovation, especially the areas we all take for granted, like shipping cartons.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

At ZDNet, we spend a lot of time talking about innovation. Because our focus is technology, we see new and innovative products every day. We spotlight new gear, new technologies, new updates, and new toys, but we rarely look at something as common as the cartons used to ship our tech.

Also: DIY-IT Project: 3D printing discovery series

As it turns out, there's room for innovation even in the lowly shipping carton.

A few weeks ago, I received Ultimaker's latest and most impressive 3D printer, the S5. The S5 is not only bigger than previous Ultimaker 3D printers, it also boasts a number of innovations, from its front panel display to the way filament loads in the back. I'll talk about all those features as we explore the S5 in coming months, but not today.

Today, I'm going to talk about the shipping carton for the S5.

I see a lot of shipping cartons. In fact, disposal of all that cardboard has turned into its own logistics problem here at our new HQ. Normally, all 3D printers -- and pretty much everything else -- have been shipped using a very standard formula: You open the top of the carton, and you remove the gear. No matter how big or small the piece of equipment is, I'm always opening the top of the carton and extracting the device.

With 3D printers, that's sometimes a problem, because they're so big. So I -- and, judging from many YouTube box opening videos, just about everyone else -- tip the cartons on their sides and slide out whatever device is contained therein.

The slide-out operation doesn't always go smoothly and, invariably, there's a kerchunk sound as something breaks free of its styrofoam docking sleeve and drops onto the bench top.

Not so with the Ultimaker S5.

(Image: ZDNet)

Ultimaker shipped its machine with a set of brackets (called clamps) at the bottom of the shipping carton. You snap open those clamps, and then you can lift the the carton up, exposing the printer, still perfectly protected inside its foam cushion. Check out the accompanying video. You can see the clamps up close and the smooth box removal, in action.

Now, I know this isn't as exciting as, say, a Star Trek replicator. But it should be. Product design isn't limited to the product itself. Every aspect of the user experience needs to be considered -- including the shipping cartons.

That's what Paul Heiden, SVP of product management at Ultimaker told me. He said, "This new way of packaging is more ergonomic and convenient for our customers, allowing them to easily take the cover off to reveal the Ultimaker S5 versus lifting the printer, our largest yet, out of a deep box."

As you read this column, I'd like you to think about projects you're working on. Here are some questions to get you started: 

  • What aspects of your design are taken for granted? 
  • What do you do the same way, because you (and everyone in your industry) always do it the same way? 
  • What minor inconveniences can you eliminate? 
  • What causes extra support calls and how can you innovate in your designs to reduce them? 
  • What can you do to delight your customers, especially in places where they have absolutely no expectation of being delighted?

Think about it. There's a reason design-oriented companies like Apple and Ultimaker are leaders in their markets. They sweat the small stuff.

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Stay tuned. We're coming back to the Ultimaker S5 with some very big projects, including a giant print of the Star Trek starship Discovery, printed in its on-screen copper color as seen on TV. Big thanks to Colorfabb for providing a big box of filament for the huge printing projects we'll be spotlighting over the next few months.

What products have delighted you in recent months? What subtle features or well-considered design elements made your day easier? Let me know in the TalkBacks below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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