At The Intersection Of Molds, Manufacturing, And A Smooth And Comfortable Shave

As absurd as it may sound, I think I am going to write a letter or an e-mail to the company that makes my shaving cream. I have some constructive feedback about the design of the container.

Columns From: 4/1/2005 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

As absurd as it may sound, I think I am going to write a letter or an e-mail to the company that makes my shaving cream.

I have some constructive feedback about the design of the container. At one time, I wouldn't have bothered. I would have assumed that a lone, quiet consumer could never have anything useful to say to a giant consumer products company. But today I have a different view. My attempt to share this information would not be pointless (not necessarily) and it may be genuinely helpful. Studying and reporting on so many businesses and manufacturers has led me to a variety of insights about companies, and some of those insights are relevant to my dissatisfaction with a container.

First, every one of us works for a small organization. This is true of the employee who works for a tiny family business, but it's also true of the employee who works for the consumer products giant. It is not “The Company” that designs my particular shaving cream container, it is some small and discrete group inside that company. This group no doubt consists of quirky, regular people who interact with one another every day, and who probably would really like to know how their product is being received.

The second thing I can say about companies is this: While the people who make up a smart and responsive company may understand what the company is doing right, it is very difficult for even the best organization to perceive what the company is doing wrong. Seeing what is right means seeing the good that exists. That's hard enough. Seeing what is wrong means seeing the good that might exist, if only the proper change can be made. That is, seeing what's wrong means seeing the invisible. And in the glare of any company's culture and daily bustle, the invisible can be tough to make out. As a result, the outsider who sees even a small detail about what the company should be doing differently is quite likely to be seeing something that those within the company do not.

A third insight relates to mold making, the topic of this issue. Molds are heavy, serious and expensive pieces of hardware that, ironically enough, often serve flighty and ephemeral whims. While any old core and cavity might squeeze out a functional part, it takes subtle design, along with a mold that is exquisitely well made, in order to create a product that is so attractive—so touchable—that the consumer is inspired to pick up that particular cheap and inconsequential item and carry it to the check-out counter. In our buying urges, designers and mold makers earn their keep.

The canister of shaving cream I've been using certainly does have that aesthetic appeal. However, when the sleek plastic cap of the canister gets wet, I can't get a grip on it to get it open. I have struggled with this enough times now that I won't buy the same product again unless the problem is fixed. I can hear what you're saying now: Who cares?

The answer is: Someone cares. And it's possible that no one has ever bothered to share this intelligence with him or her before.

Whether my letter gets to the right person in that company is another matter entirely. Relaying information among the various discrete groups in a company is a different challenge—we shall see. But at the very least, I know that my assistance here is potentially valuable. I am a fan of those who make their livings by making things, and I want to offer what help I can.

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