FEATURE : Designs you know, Designers you don’t

There’s a bit of mystery surrounding who designed the iconic Coca-Cola bottle. A prevalent myth holds that the shape was mistakenly based on the cacao pod. Another credits famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy for the shape, but he didn’t start working for the soda giant until after the bottle was put into use.

The design of the “hobble skirt” bottle actually sprang from a marketing need. Coca-Cola sought a container that would make their product stand out from other sodas, even if the label fell off in the ice bucket. The company challenged its bottle suppliers to a design contest in 1915.

At that time, Earl R. Dean was a supervisor of the bottle molding room at the Root Glass Company, one of Coke’s bottle suppliers. He decided to participate in the contest and wanted to base his design on one of the two key ingredients of Coca-Cola: the kola nut or the coca leaf. Alas, the local library contained no information or pictures of either item. While conducting his search, however, Dean noticed the cacao pod and its striations. Inspiration struck, and the hobble skirt bottle was born.

Although Dean’s design won the contest, his original prototype never reached the production line. The shape was too wide in the middle, which caused the bottles to fall off the conveyor belt. Dean modified the bottle a bit to make it more stable, and now it is an integral part of Coca-Cola’s brand.

Not only is the story of the hobble skirt bottle an interesting one, but it also shows that sometimes, great design results from happenstance. And, even though Dean’s prototype had to be adjusted, it didn’t lose its beauty or practicality. The hobble skirt bottle, Raymond Loewy said later, is “the most perfectly designed package in the world.”