Project Management Institute

Outside the Box

Organizations Are Launching Projects that Reimagine Cardboard Containers

Cardboard boxes have been largely unchanged since the 1800s: useful, bland cubes intended to fulfill a company's delivery logistics and destined for a loading dock or stockroom. But the recent e-commerce and fast-shipping boom means deliveries are now piling up on people's doorsteps instead. And some companies are responding with projects to improve on the humble cardboard box.



When Target rolled out free two-day shipping in 2018, it pitted the company directly against Amazon. To stand out from the pile of corrugated cardboard, the retailer launched a design initiative. “Rather than doing what many other people do in this space, which is identify a pattern or the wordmark of a company and put it all over, we took a different path,” Target Chief Creative Officer Todd Waterbury told Fast Company. “What if every one of those boxes could be a different story?”

Creating one-off illustrations for every box size and shape imaginable seemed daunting—until the project team calculated that three box types account for 70 percent of the retailer's shipments. Focusing its attention on those three models allowed the team to move swiftly from concept sketch to final design—and eventually to consumers' doorsteps.



During a 2018 project to redesign the packaging of Amazon's Kindle, the team eventually decided to do away with the box altogether. Instead, packaging engineers at Amazon Lab126 designed a “boxelope.” The sturdy paper package is designed to be tucked into a padded envelope, reducing the amount of material used and the cost to produce the packaging and ship the product.

The redesign's success, the packaging engineers shared at an industry conference, is due in part to the team's willingness to step back from the old assumptions. Rather than layer in new functionality or design features, the team switched forms entirely. Requirements management also proved crucial, as the team's early homework on padded envelopes ensured the final design was slim enough to fit through global mail slots.



Meal kit delivery was a US$2.5 billion market in 2017 and is expected to hit US$8.9 billion by 2025. But all those pre-chopped dinner ingredients also come with an awful lot of cardboard waste. Otter Products, the company behind ultra-durable phone cases, recently finished a project to design a better system: a reusable box lined with vacuum insulated panels to keep contents cool longer. The box is designed to be returned to the meal kit company, cleaned and reused up to 75 times. Otter Products finished a pilot in mid-2018 and is now launching a larger rollout of its reusable boxes.

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