is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Here’s one of my favorite design innovations ever: there is a subtle, dotted grid pattern printed on the backside of Hallmark gift wrap that serves as a guide as customers cut away the necessary amount to wrap presents. This allows you to shear away an amount of paper that’s much closer to what you actually need to wrap a gift, and to easily do so at more or less right (i.e., ninety degree) angles — in both cases, you save paper, which is good for you, the environment and Al Gore. Everyone wins.
What I like so much about this idea is that it’s not technologically driven at all — there was no mechanical reason this same idea couldn’t have been implemented decades ago. And it’s not particularly expensive, either — sure, it requires Hallmark to print a second side of the sheet where they had previously only ever printed one side, but I bet that’s a relatively minor cost for a company that prints millions of rolls a year.
Rather, this is a marketable and genuinely helpful innovation that, all told, can be summed up as almost purely a product of design thinking. Hallmark took a very simple product that had been in use continuously and without complaint for decades, identified a problem that everyone encounters and yet no one has taken seriously, and then created a wonderfully elegant solution for it.
That’s the key, so let me repeat it: the company saw a common problem that no one was addressing. How many gifts have suffered from poorly sheathed wrapping, or how many countless yards of wrapping paper have been wasted because of uneven scissoring of rolls without this pattern?
All it takes is a simple insight like this to distinguish a product from its commodity competition. It’s just such a simple yet powerful idea that it made me slap my forehead the first time that I saw it; I’m sure Hallmark’s competitors in the gift wrap market did the same. What’s more important, it’s engendered a loyalty in me that wasn’t there before. I never thought to care one way or another who manufactured a roll of gift wrap when I went to the card store, so long as I liked the design; now, I invariably look to make sure it’s got that Hallmark logo on it.+