Thinking (of Placing the Handle) Inside the Box

Carrying large and heavy cardboard boxes can be awkward. In some cases (no pun intended), the very contents inside the box can inspire a solution to this problem.

We recently bought a new vacuum cleaner. At first glance, the box that the appliance came in definitely was of the awkward-to-handle variety. The designers of the packaging had come up with an ingenious idea to make it much more convenient to carry this large and heavy box.

They had placed a little cut-out lid on the short side of the box right “above” the location of handle of the vacuum that was packaged inside. There is even a semi-circular hole to easily pull out the lid with a finger.

The lid on the side of the box is pre-cut on three of its four sides and bears a graphic that illustrates how to open it, and what to grab on the inside.

By reaching through the opened lid, you can get a solid grab on the vacuum’s handle, and carry the entire box and its contents around without too much hassle or effort.

By reaching through the opening, you can grab the handle of the vacuum that's inside the box.

A Progress Bar For a Bus Ride

Progress bars are a staple of user interface design. They let you check the progress of a lengthier process — like copying a large file — with just a quick, cursory glance. And by observing how quickly the bar moves, you can intuitively estimate how long it will take for the process to complete.

Mac OS X's file copying progress dialog contains a prominent progress bar. Additionally, it displays detailed information about the name of the copied files, the copy destination, the amount of data already copied and remaining, and an estimate of the remaining time required for the process to complete.

Progress bars — they’re not just for digital devices

At London’s Heathrow airport, you can find progress bars in an unusual setting: Namely, on-board the shuttle buses that run between the airport’s five terminals.

The buses feature monitors that display useful information on how to transfer between terminals. At he bottom of the screens, a progress bar visualizes the route from one terminal to another.

A monitor suspended from the bus' roof displays comic-style people on an escalator and states,'On arrival follow the purple connection signs'. The progress bar at the bottom shows that the bus has already gone three quarter of the way to its destination, Terminal five.

The number of the destination terminal is shown at the end of the progress bar1. A nifty bus icon represents the vehicle’s current position along its route.

Although the bus icon does not move along its path all that smoothly, seeing it progress at all does help ease that infamous “Are we there yet?!” feeling — especially when you’re worried about making your connection flight.

When (your users are) in a rush, stop cycling screen contents

Here’s an interesting detail: While the bus is moving, the display cycles through several different information screens. Once it approaches its destination, however, it settles on a single screen, which announces the terminal you’re just arriving at.

Once the bus arrives at Terminal five, the screen shows 'Terminal 5' in large type and displays a large icon that indicates connecting flights. As expected, the progress bar has completed, the bus icon is now hidden, but the T5 indicating the destination is still visible.

By making the display static towards the end of the journey, all passengers immediately get off the bus, instead of possibly blocking the aisle while waiting for another screen-full of information to appear.


  1. Note how the direction of movement in a progress bar is from left to right, at least in our part of the world where we read and write from left to right. I wonder whether someone who grew up with a right-to-left script would consider the opposite orientation “more natural”. 

A Simple and Effective Mechanical Status Indicator

Very high up on my list of things to avoid is being hit in the head by something heavy and rigid flying through the air. Like, say, a car’s trunk cover enclosure, a specimen of which you can see in the photo below.

It’s that pretty hefty bar below the headrests that runs across the full width of the car:

Station wagon's trunk with retracted trunk cover.

This enclosure houses a (horizontal) trunk cover — to shield whatever’s placed in the trunk from prying eyes — and a (vertical) divider net — to make whatever’s in the trunk stay in the trunk if the driver needs to brake hard.

Thanks to folding rear seats, this car’s cargo area can be extended. When you do so, the cargo cover needs to be mounted in a different location further towards the front of the vehicle.

To that end, the enclosure sports buttons on either side that, when pushed down, will disengage the enclosure from its bracket.

Push button on trunk cover enclosure.

When putting it back into its regular mounting position, it is essential that the enclosure properly snaps back into position in the brackets — lest it morph into that heavy and rigid flying thing mentioned earlier.

A feedback mechanism, literally

Whoever designed this part has come up with an ingenious method to unambiguously notify the user whether she has properly mounted the cover enclosure.

Note the bright red bar on the mounting bracket.

Trunk cover mounting bracket with a red bar on its inside surface.

When you press the unlock buttons on the cover, they will remain in the “pushed-in” position. Only when the locks are properly engaged, will they pop out again.

Consequently, the red bar remains visible until you fully push the enclosure into position so that its locks engage and the buttons pop up to cover the red bar.

Push button on trunk cover enclosure. The button is down, revealing the red bar on the enclosure's mounting bracket.

By cleverly utilizing the mechanics of the cover enclosure’s unlock buttons, the designer has created a very simple, very effective status indicator.

And it doesn’t even use electricity!

Let’s make it a design pattern!

The same approach is found in the handles for unlocking the folding rear seats: A part of the tumbler handle is colored red, and this part is only visible while the seat back is unlocked.

Handle integrated into the rear seat back in the unlocked position, revealing a red area on the handle.

Push the seat all the way back to engage the lock, and the tumbler handle will move into a position in which the red surface is hidden.

Hand on the rear seat back with two fingers inserted into the unlock handle and pulling the seat back towards the car's front.

Besides the clever status indicators, the seat back unlock handle’s mechanical design is note-worthy, too.

Two interactions for the price of one

Your hand’s natural motion for folding down the seat is to pull the seat back’s top edge towards the front of the car. The seat’s unlock handle is recessed into the top of the seat back, and the surface against which you have to push to operate the handle is the one towards the front.

That is, it lies directly in the path of that natural motion for folding down the seat, so to speak! Therefore, instead of operating the unlock mechanism with one hand and moving the seat back with the other, you place two fingers inside the handle and pull forwards. This one motion first unlocks and then moves the seat back.

IMG folding down rear seat back

Very simple, very effective, just like the “status indicators”.