Using your own products

August 11, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

One of the delights of Apple products is their packaging. Easy to open, clean, simple, and elegant with a promise of more joy to come with the product itself. If the packaging is a joy think how nice what’s inside must be.

What’s worth talking about is just how far removed they are from everyone else. For the vast majority of consumer products, packaging is an afterthought designed to look expensive or slick but rarely a joy to open. How many times have you had to fight to remove the little clear sticker holding the top and bottom of the package together? Or worse, find a knife or scissors to hack open a blister pack?

I often wonder how many people involved in the design of a product ever try it themselves as end users. My guess is not many. I’ll bet that as the size of a company grows the chance of a single end-user having a say over product design or packaging diminishes proportionally.

This is what makes Apple so unusual. A giant company that uses its own products.

But this isn’t a rant about Apple. No, this is about how products from smaller companies like PS Audio are, in the end, used and approved by a small handful of caring people with the power to send it back for a redo. It is about how we make products we would want to take home and use for ourselves. How we send back to engineering a design that does not better the performance in every respect from the product it is replacing or the others in the field.

Isn’t this what you expect from companies that make high-end audio? Speakers that have been listened to death and labored over until every last detail is the best it can be. Amplifiers that have been measured and listened to until their performance is beyond expectations.

I have no doubt this is exactly what happens in our small community of like-minded companies. It is what you expect.

It is what you deserve.

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53 comments on “Using your own products”

  1. Exactly my thinking!

    It starts when we buy a sandwich, which is plated with cheese or sausage in a way that it looks great in the show box. As soon as we try to eat it, we recognize that it’s not possible to eat it that way. I bet no one in a bakery or at the butcher, who are selling such sandwiches ever eat one of them.

    1. Sandwich packaging is very carefully designed, so that the customer can see the product inside and so that the box provides a tray when opened as they know they are usually eaten without a plate.

      In the 1950s TetraPak reinvented how to package liquids and it now has revenues over €10 billion per annum.

      The hardest packaging to break into are things like razors and batteries, for reasons of safely.

      Audio packaging generally has to be double-skinned board with at least 5cm between the inner board and the product, otherwise carriers won’t handle it. It adds a lot of size and cost, but is necessary.

      1. Yes, but my comment was not related to packaging, instead to the often just display but not consumption orientated design of the sandwich itself 😉

    2. Hey Jazz, ask them to remove most of the white from the bread roll before they make the sandwich. It’s not all that good for you anyway. The contents of the sandwich will settle in the hollowed-out roll and the sandwich will be easier to eat. 😎

      1. That might solve things 😉
        Usually the content is moved so much to the show front of the sandwich, that it falls out anyway before you can make the first bite. Recently an employee selling them admitted it’s quite impossible to eat them, but they have to do so for optics.

  2. I don’t think Apple is unusual. It probably stands out because so many of the products were conceived not by electronics engineers, but by Jony Ive, a British product designer, who copied many of Rams’ designs. Rams worked at Braun for 40 years, for a long time with Reinhold Weiss, and you will see that Apple’s packaging is pretty much the same as what they did for Braun. The Mac Mini box is much the same as Braun headphone packaging from the late 1950s.

    As it happens, my son’s first job was designing Verizon USA’s packaging for their Samsung products. This was a major contract with a leading design agency (in their London office, they have offices in the USA as well) ands taken extremely seriously. When he started in with a manufacturer of an audio product, he worked on the packaging for the best part of a year.

    My office is fitted out with Vitsoe furniture, designed by Deiter Rams in the 1960s. It is wall furniture designed to be portable, easily removable with packaging that can be stored and the product easily repackaged if you move home. The packaging is intrinsic to the product.

    If you’ve ever worked in the cosmetics and personal healthcare business, packaging is often as important as the product itself. Just look up Jean Paul Gaultier. Even Picasso designed perfume bottles (his daughter Paloma is a leading light in the Perfume industry).

    So far from being far removed from anyone else, Apple are simply following a minimalist concept that was developed over 60 years ago.

  3. Great sense of humour Paul.
    After all, the packaging gets thrown in the trash…or hopefully in the recycling.
    I would much rather the manufacturer spend the money on the product & not
    so much on any glitsy/glamorous packaging.
    People who get sucked in to fancy packaging really deserve what they get.
    Whatever happened to, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”??

    “If the packaging is a joy think how nice what’s inside must be.”…for real??
    That’s not a guarantee Paul.
    Do you have any idea how much crap has been sold simply on the strength
    of fabulous packaging??
    ‘Monster Cable’ products, just as an example.
    “You can roll a turd in glitter, but it’s still a turd.”
    However, that’s not to say that some great products should not be wrapped in
    terrific packaging…it’s just NOT a guarantee of a premium product is all I’m saying.

    Anything worthwhile in this world is worth fighting for, so gimme that knife or
    scissors & let me hack at it, because once it’s off it’s going into landfill or into the
    ocean, depending on how hard the wind is blowing on that day 😉

    The rest of your altruistic rant I totally agree with 😀

    Long live plain, eco-friendly brown-paper packaging! ✌

    1. In the case of companies like Apple, PS Audio, etc, they aren’t weighing product quality options vs. packaging. I don’t think Paul is rolling out a product thinking “If I drop this in a crappy brown box, I can upgrade the capacitor in this part of the circuit.”.

      It’s about presenting your product in a proud way. After all, the package is the first thing a person sees when they receive the product.

      1. Reed,
        Firstly, you know by now that most of my posts are tongue in cheek.
        Secondly, I know that’s not what Paul is thinking.
        Thirdly, when I buy a great product the last thing that I’m wondering
        about is how clever the packaging is…but hey, that might be just me 😉
        I always appreciate your posts ✌

  4. Re the sandwiches, should have gone for the veggie option, no such problems. 😉
    Except when the tomato juices all down your shirt. Talking of which, amazing the response from the horticulturist’s to yesterday’s post. Im still pondering the link to the audiophile though, where’s the common ground?

    I know many here aren’t keen on the term ‘audiophile’, which got me thinking. ‘Horticulturephile’, it doesn’t sound too bad, but I’m not sure that ‘audioist’ is a viable alternative for us.

  5. I love the simple PSAudio packaging of the PSA gear I have ordered with the cardboard framed, flexible clear plastic retaining sheets that allow the item to virtually float, avoiding the shocks of transit. No bubble wrap, styrofoam peanuts and other mess to have to deal with. And so easy to send an item back if needed. Brilliant packaging.

    1. I absolutely agree. I was so impressed and so grateful for the packaging design when I received my first PerfectWave product. And even more so when I shipped my Dac to PS Audio for an upgrade!

  6. I think a company has to do everything (even something as small as packaging) with excellence and pride. If you don’t take that attitude, you are fostering an attitude of “selective excellence”. If I was running a company, I wouldn’t want everyone having to figure out what matters and what doesn’t. It’s too easy for that attitude to propagate.

    An “everything with excellence” attitude keeps you focused, honest and consistent.

  7. Right on target, Paul. The first interaction with a new product is its packaging and presentation. It reflects the attitude of companies toward their products. When buying a new product, mediocre or careless packaging always makes me cringe and sets doubts about what to expect from a new product. For those who do not
    understand this concept, maybe an analogy is required. You go out on a blind date. He/she is poorly groomed, has bad breath, or worst. He/she may be your soulmate but the “presentation of the package” makes you cringe.

    1. Ha, yes, but of course the opposite could be true. The package is perfectly presented and it’s only when you unwrap the package that you are disappointed. 😉

      1. But of course. Another analogy is warranted. You go out on a date. She is a solid 10 but she turns out to be a bitch. “The horror, the horror…”

      2. I thought it was a delight to unpack a “southern peach”.
        Eco friendly reusable packaging…
        Easy to remove. Packaging removable even in the dark…
        Free range organic 😉

  8. Actually I was just discussing this with friends yesterday. We all think that packaging design and implementation has in fact increased due to the Apple influence.

    So many items we can think of are presented and packaged quite well in contrast to what we think they used to be. Yes, you do still need to get the scissors to cut through those two pieces of sealing tape but after that some of the ways that designers get the products into the packaging is quite ingenious with items coming shipped in high quality bags, with cleaning cloths, full compliant of tools to assemble with, etc.

    I was watching a video of the manufacture and packaging of the Western Electric tubes and was marveling at how they are presented now (fancy wooden box and everything) compared to the old days of a cheap cardboard sleeve they were inserted in and held by pressure alone.

    Don’t get me started on tools or many items from the big box home improvement stores. Yikes, those blister packs are so hard to get into, so frustrating ha ha. If you thought a paper cut or a cardboard cut was bad, wait until you get a blister pack cut.

  9. Packaging in many cases is designed to protect the product during shipment. If it’s designed to be reused then that adds another layer of sophistication.

    No matter how fancy or good looking you can be assured that you the consumer has paid for it.

    As Paul stated it’s what went into the product that’s in the packaging that counts the most.

    To state it another way, in the case of audio, great aesthetic packaging and poor sound doesn’t cut it. Generic functional packaging with great sound is probably better received by most posting here.

    The phrase all show and no go comes to mind also.

    1. This is where I am too on audio gear packaging. First, and foremost, it must protect the gear during shipping. Second, it should be simple ( and logical ) to open and remove the gear. Instructions that are on the box ( i.e. “Open Here First” ) are a big plus. Finally, the packaging must be reusable so that it can be store and used again to return the gear if it needs factory repair or it is being traded-in or I decide to move.

      I know someone who went to college at the University of Michigan ( my memory is not what it used to be so I am not 100% sure it was U of M ). In their mechanical engineering department they have a group the specializes in packaging design that offers several courses in this area. Students who take those courses always get multiple job offers year after year.

    1. Yes, but it is usually only the most expensive gear. My Magnum Dynalab tuner came in a flight case. I ordered eight M-Pod feet to upgrade my S7 speakers. They came in a flight case. At $1K each ( 😮 ) they should have included a technician to install them. Fortunately what the M-Pods did for the bass and the sound stage made the worth their price.

      Magico speakers and I think Wilson Audio speakers are shipped in wooden crates.

      Constellation Audio ships its really big amps in Anvil Cases. These are what the roadies use to ship big amps and speakers used a rock concerts.

      1. In year 1999 one day I came home from work to find a 48″x 80″ x 68″ crate with my name on it that had been left on a pallet in the parking garage of my apartment building. It was my Johannus three-manual digital pipe organ console from Holland. In order to squeeze it into the elevator and get it through the 35″ clear-width doors of the building and my unit, I had to uncrate it and balance it on furniture dollies. I worked long into the night, slowly progressing along the long path from garage to my unit. The security guard scratched his head, wondering what that shrouded monstrosity was. I now live in a house in another city. Fortunately, for the relocation I had experienced movers to build a new crate and do all the work for me.

  10. If companies could just get rid of those price / unit stickers that do not come off. I’ve got dishes that are probably years through the dishwasher and yet…

  11. You know me. Always mentioning up the negative for examination. But, a lot of packaging, I believe, is designed to protect the retailer. There’s so much shoplifting and similar crime going on. My favorite is buying something at that big orange home store and getting home to find a part missing from the box. Someone tore a gasket or other soft part during the installation and needed a replacement. Of course, it’s easily replaced. Just go back to the store and lift one from an unopened box, placing the box back on the shelf for some other less than observant customer. This is probably why you feel you need a battering ram to break into an Apple blister pack. Anything with an Apple (substitute your favorite brand here) logo is highly desirable, especially when it’s free. PS Audio is lucky in this sense as they don’t need to manage inventory accessible to the general public. And, they get your money up front.

  12. One of the worse were CDs during their peak years. The shrink wrap, the adhesive circle, the hologram. It was awful. I always wanted one of the hosts for the Grammys to call all of the Record executives for the albums nominated for the Album of the Year award up on stage, hand them each a CD of their nominated album and then see who could open it first!

    1. Took me a while but I eventually learned the trick the artists would use at the merchandise table at concerts. They would take the shrink wrap off and then unhook the hinge end of the CD. That would remove the top cover but leave all the adhesive parts in place. They would then sign the CD or the cover and reassemble it with the hinge.

      Sometimes if they wanted to remove the adhesive they would utilize the same method and then pull the adhesive off using the leverage of the cover instead of a small fingernail piece. That method did prove over the years to be much easier.

  13. In the age of Amazon Prime, we keep a box cutter (utility knife) close at hand in the tool drawer in the kitchen. It gets used a lot! I’m more concerned that a product arrives undamaged than it being in an elegant package and easy to open. 😎

    1. Lp,
      Back in the day, when I would deliver & set up a new system for a customer, I’d use one of the keys on my key-chain to slash along the tape, to open the boxes.

      1. That’s because they never had to be shipped back to the factory for repair or upgrade, or to a new owner as happens with high-end gear. The clean cut of a razor blade in a utility knife makes it easier to re-seal the box.

        1. Ah, well, I got pretty skilled at using a key like a knife…another 3 – 5 years of practice & I swear that I could’ve done open heart surgery with those keys 😉

  14. Consumer product companies have it easy because employees use the products.

    Companies creating products for enterprise, for example healthcare or HR software, have a vastly bigger challenge.

    Most people don’t realize this and think consumer product design is somehow magic.

  15. “Never judge a book by its cover”. I love Apple products and the packaging is great but, it is still fairly affordable even with the packaging. If packaging increases the amount of the purchase to the point of no access then what have you accomplished? It is a balance. What happened to Audio Kits? At least you could save some expense with great packaging. Dynaco, Scott, Heathkit, Harmon Kardon. Great sounding. You know if you made a mistake putting it together it is your responsibility. These are tomatoes grown by you, in great packaging. You get the seeds. You get the reward. When audio becomes mostly looks relative to the sound, then what? Yes, you can have a great work of art, but if you can not afford to see it, what good is that. Just like Apple there is a range of products for everyone in a wide range of prices. Options is the key. If I can save a $100.00 in a great “looking” package, but still get a great product, I would go for it. Then more people can afford it.

  16. In audio, we say “shut your eyes”, “turn the lights dim or off”, “or put a curtain between you and the speakers. So, what do we have? No visuals only sound. Make a product look simple or non existent to the subject and produce sound with quality. Blind persons can not see with their eyes but can hear the difference with their ears. Packaging is not as important to them.

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