The Elegant, And Disastrous Design Of Mailboxes
You know that feeling. The feeling of waiting for a letter, check, or package to arrive in your mailbox. The excitement you get everyday as you open up your door and walk down the driveway to then open up your mailbox and find what you were waiting so eagerly to arrive.
It’s the best, however, have you thought much about the experience of opening your mailbox and how you access the mail, or how easy it is for the mailman to deliver it to you and pick up your outgoing mail? I have, and I’ve found some great examples to show you, of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So you’re super excited about the mail in the box, but do you get excited by the action of opening the box or is it a nightmare because the metal clasp is slightly bent so you have to pull it 5 times as hard to finally open it up. Then, when you want to close it you have to basically get in a boxing match with it. This is something you do daily, or maybe 2-4 times a week, nonetheless, it’s a regular occurrence so shouldn’t the experience be delightful?
Let’s start out with the status quo, the standard mailbox (Fig 1.). It’s metal, opens in the front, typically with a little 90 degree angle bent handle that is not satisfying to grab. Then, we have our red flag that notifies the mailman of outgoing mail. I swear my whole life I never understood exactly how that works. I mean yeah it’s kind of intuitive, but it just made me feel unsure if the mail will get to Mailman and if you forget to put it up, well, does he know to grab it? It’s just a terrible way to do it, wouldn’t you agree?
Now some mailboxes are just horrendous. They don’t open easily, some look gaudy as all hell, and others are just confusing.
One of the wost mailboxes are the ones that are vertical and hang on the wall. They often have hooks for newspapers that I’ve never in my life seen used. These mailboxes are often way too small and can’t hold large amounts of mail. Which 1) sucks for the mailman, and 2) lets the world know that “you’ve got mail.”
Some great examples
I noticed this type of mailbox was pretty common as I walked around Central Phoenix. There’s a little flap where it says mail, this is obviously where the mailman drops in the mail. Your mail is also safe because you can keep it locked. It’s simplicity is pretty on point, however there’s a few reasons this isn’t the ideal mailbox.
First, (Fig. 2) it’s not super easy to get the mail in the slot. That thing is a heavy piece of metal and needs to be pushed pretty hard to get the mail in. it also doesn't drop right in on some of them, the slot behind it catches preventing a few of the letters from falling in. There's also no easy way to indicate outgoing mail, not even a confusing little flag. We should really do our best to make the mailmans life a bit easier and organized, wouldn’t you agree?
So to be honest, this next one (Fig. 3) is just really aesthetically pleasing with the metal, CLEAR NUMBERS, and rusted metal door. So well done. Just please, please make the numbers on your hose easy to read. Deliveries are huge now, and if the numbers are small and hidden then it makes it harder for the delivery people to find your house quickly. I beg you to put big easy to read numbers on your home. When consultants like myself arrive we don’t want to have to take an extra 5 minutes to find your house when we are close.
This mailbox also has a lock, which sucks for the mailman, but is good for you, and can fit a good sized package! It also is just a hole so the mailman can drop the mail in with one hand.
I absolutely love the way this mailbox (Fig. 4) was designed, although the big downside is that it’s not clear it’s a mailbox, but indeed it is. Theres an easy to grip handle that runs the entire length of the mailbox’s width. If you’re going to make the mailman open the box, make it easy for him.
The top, above the gap, is where the mail goes, then there’s a whole bottom part that is for packages! I know, someone was smart and considered packages. The only issue is fedex, and ups, even probably the mailman won’t know it’s there unless told. This leads me to assume it never gets used. I find that sad but what can ya do?
First in (Fig. 5), there is a clear distinction between outgoing and incoming mail. The designer created affordances so the user will know what to do on top of labeling each hole in case it’s not super clear. The slit in the top left is normal incoming mail drop which is clear because everyone has a mental map of putting mail in a slit similar that.
Then, the open box to the right is outgoing. Boom, right there, easy to see and grab so there is 0 confusion for the mailman, no flag needed, just hey, mail is here to go out, please easily grab it from this big hole.
Next, there is also a place for packages. If the mail doesn’t fit in properly then the mailman can open the bottom part and put a much bigger package inside there. So proud of whoever made this mailbox.
Let’s give a big round of applause for the builders of 5838! 👏🏽
The ideal experience
Now that we’ve looked at some great examples of what exists today, let’s take a journey inside our creative minds and draw out what might be an ideal mailbox experience for both the mailman and the homeowner.
So first off we really don’t want to be walking out to the curb, I rarely go out to my mailbox and it’s not even that far. So the first system to implement is a tube system like the jetsons, or a better example is the one they have at banks. It will run underground, or maybe in a cool copper pipe above ground for an interesting design aesthetic. With this feature your mail will always show up right in your kitchen. If we want to get super futuristic we get a robot arm to read through and sort what might be very important mail, normal mail, and then junk mail. Saving you extra time.
Next is what to do with packages. Here, we probably can’t suck them into your home with air so we'll have to be satisfied with using smart lock and having a large enough space for bigger packages, maybe it can double as a bench. The lock will have a code just for Mailpeople and will keep your packages safe from thieves. You’ll also get a nice little notification to your phone wherever the door has been opened so you know a package has arrived and can get excited to get home that day for daily Christmas.
There will be two tubes in the system so that one is incoming and one is outgoing. The whole enclosure will be covered and would open up automatically via a motion sensor when someone is standing right infront of it. The one on the left will be labeled incoming and the one on the right outgoing so if there is a tube sitting in the right one the Mailperson knows to grab it.
That was fun wasn’t it? Now thinking about what your mail delivery experience is like, could it use work, or is it awesome? I’d love to hear about it. Shoot me an email or reachout to me on instagram at @uprelief.