04/52: Instant

The power of a tangible object


Each week for a year, I’m going to be designing a shirt and releasing it on my Threadless store. This is the fourth design of fifty-two.


My daughters got Fuji Instax cameras for Christmas. The idea of an instant print was a novelty to them.* We’ve documented their lives with digital cameras. We bought our first DSLR the month our oldest child was born so our kids have always been able to see pictures immediately after they are taken. But an instant print is different and they fell in love with taking pictures, trading shots and labeling them.** Photos have largely become digital things for this younger generation of kids. They didn’t grow up with shoeboxes full of prints and negatives. It was fun to see them interact with photos as physical objects.***

As I looked at the stack of pictures they took, I noticed the familiar white frame of an instant print. There are a wide range of sizes and proportions of instant prints, but almost all of them share a similar, logical structure. A white frame around the top, outside edges and a wide bottom containing a packet of chemicals that develop the image. (The wide bottom also doubles as a place to caption your image.)

I guarantee you that the engineer that created the shape of the print had no idea that he was creating such an iconic shape. He was simply solving a problem. Yet, the iconic shape became so valuable, that when Polaroid declared bankruptcy, the shape, proportions and size of the most famous instant film print size — the Polaroid 600 — was part of the intellectual property that was sold to a holding company for licensing agreements.**** The design of the frame had more perceived value than the business they were in.

This week’s shirt is an instant print frame. Just the frame and nothing in it. For me, the instant print frame serves as a reminder that in today’s digital world, tangible things still have magic.

You can buy “Instant” on my Threadless store. It’s available is virtually every color they offer.

* I pondered the future of the instant print in a smartphone world in a post in 2008. Funny to see me describe how awful the first iPhone camera was. My iPhone 7+ camera is completely amazing.

** They were less enamored with having a limited number of shots and the cost of the film.

*** Now I desperately want an instant camera. Either the new Fujiflim Instax SQ10 or the Leica Sofort, which is a glorified Instax Mini 90, but with Leica style. And I’ve always wanted a Leica.

**** Which is why everyone who uses the instant print shape — including me — avoids using the exact proportions and size of an actual Polaroid print.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.