Wrapped up tight as Fort Knox

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So why is Fort Knox the model for product packaging? by David Brussat

Wrapped up tight as Fort Know - but why?

by David Brussat, Architecture Here and There

Fort Knox, officially the United States Bullion Depository, in Fort Knox, Kentucky, holds a large portion of the U.S. gold reserves. Designed by the architect Louis Simon in the Art Deco style, it received its first gold shipment in 1937. In its time it has held an amount equal to 2.3 percent of all the gold refined around the world and throughout history. Aside from being next to a U.S. Army base, it is said to be legendarily hard to break into, so much so that its name is a synonym for impregnability.

So why is Fort Knox the model for product packaging? I just tried to liberate several inmates from one of four caches of crackers in a box of Ritz. What could be more innocuous? But it was like trying to break into Fort Knox. The plastic wrapping would not be forced. Almost drove me nuts! In fact, the phenomenon has grown so ubiquitous that it has a name, “wrap rage.”

Think of aspirin that forces you to align the “arrows” on the lid and bottle, and once they are in line it’s still hard to pry the lid open. It seems designed to strengthen a headache. The “clamshell” packaging of many products, as it’s called, no doubt in recognition of a clam’s interest in its own impregnability, is impossible to open by hand. You must seek some sort of mechanical assistance from the basement, or stab the product with a heavy pair of scizzors, as if it were some sort of home invader – at some considerable risk to product survival and personal safety. Packages that arrive from Amazon or other services are often wrapped with such inviolable skeins of industrial-strength tape that the joy of getting a package is entirely deflated. Consumer Reports gives an annual “Oyster Award” to the most difficult-to-open packaging. There must be a lot of contenders.

Yes, keeping medications from children, or complicating the task of the shoplifter, are valid reasons for packaging overkill, but does this genuinely require making packages as difficult to access as Fort Knox? Manufacturers are allegedly working to find a happy medium, but the earliest detected use of the phrase wrap rage was in 2003. I do not think I’m the first person to wonder if aggressive packaging is really about power. The production of packaging that wants to be Fort Knox is a problem that ought to have been solved years ago. Fort Knox is not nuclear physics; neither is packaging.

This is a design issue and thus within the purview of this blog, or at least it is this evening. To be sure, wrap rage is safer than road rage. While road rage happens at 60, 70, 80 miles per hour on the open road, wrap rage occurs on your living room couch or at your kitchen counter. That is less hazardous, but no less frustrating or debilitating to one’s amour propre. Congress passes many unnecessary laws. Let it outlaw packaging that thinks it is Fort Knox.

Has anyone successfully broken into Fort Knox? Nobody has even tried since it opened in 1935. So for all we know, product packaging is even harder to break into than Fort Knox.