The Coca-Cola Bottle - greatest packaging design, ever?
Drunk by billions the world over, Coca-Cola is the undisputed heavyweight champion of branding the world over. Travel up the Amazon, to the most remote islands in the Pacific or even up to the highest villages in the Himalayas - chances are that you’ll either find a Coca-Cola sign, or somewhere to buy the fizzy black gold in a bottle. Sure, packaging technologies may have provided for a wider range of vessels in which the world’s most sold soft drink is available, but the classic Coca-Cola bottle has become its de facto ambassador. So much so, that it has even become included in the company’s range of brand icons.
The story behind the bottle design that has stood the test of time
The interesting thing about the Coca-Cola Contour Bottle is its history. For a start, the bottle wasn’t always the shape that so many have come to know over the past century or so (as you can see in the image above). In fact, the familiar shape was patented 98 years ago, in 1915. In order to distinguish its product from those of competitors, the Coca-Cola Company challenged its bottle suppliers to come up with creative new designs. At the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, the company president charged a team of employees to develop something iconic which made reference to the ingredients of the drink. These are, of course, the coca leaf and the kola nut from which the drink gets its name. Among the design team was Earl R. Dean, bottle designer and supervisor of the company’s bottle moulding plant.
The iconic Coke bottle: a wonderful result of mistaken identity
Seeking images of coca and kola at a local library (but unable to find any), Dean instead mistook the cocoa pod for coca. Inspired by the fluted oval gourd from which cocoa beans are harvested, he created a design with this in mind. On showing his design sketch to the company board, Dean’s design was approved. Initially, his design was too wide at the middle, which would make it unstable on a conveyor belt. The design was sent back for modification, and a new, slimmer version was finally approved by the Coca Cola Company. This is the shape you see above that has gone on to become the most iconic beverage package of all time. Over the years since 1915 the shape has been altered slightly in line with design modifications based on volume of contents, or new production methods. But even when Coca-Cola made the move to moulded plastic, the glass bottle continues to survive, both as an element of the company’s heritage but also as a leading example of excellent packaging design. Think about that the next time you sink a bottle of it! If you enjoyed this design article, take a look at the many others in our Great Design Monday archive!