Design Indeterminacy: Stacking Boxes was my initial exploration of indeterminate outcome in design. How might I design a functional object whose final form & aesthetic are beyond my final design control.

My stacking box idea began with a concept sketch. The wing nuts represent the ability to easily disassemble and reassemble a collection of components into a progressively greater number of compositions thus making the final design outcome less predictable, i.e. a single blue component = one possible configuration, a blue and a green component = two possible configurations, etc.

My stacking box idea began with a concept sketch. The wing nuts represent the ability to easily disassemble and reassemble a collection of components into a progressively greater number of compositions thus making the final design outcome less predictable, i.e. a single blue component = one possible configuration, a blue and a green component = two possible configurations, etc.

The project's proposed 5 stacking storage boxes can be rearranged meaning that I as the designer had control over the materials, dimension and form of the individual boxes, but I had no control over the configuration of the boxes.

Being slightly math challenged, I left the math behind the project’s indeterminacy to my then 14 year old daughter who did the initial calculation of number of possible reconfigurations. Five factorial or 5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120 is the number of possible box configurations. The boxes each have 4 unique sides which means that the number of possible configurations is = 5! x 4 to the fifth power = 120 x 1024 = 122,880.

Being slightly math challenged, I left the math behind the project’s indeterminacy to my then 14 year old daughter who did the initial calculation of number of possible reconfigurations. Five factorial or 5! = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120 is the number of possible box configurations. The boxes each have 4 unique sides which means that the number of possible configurations is = 5! x 4 to the fifth power = 120 x 1024 = 122,880.

To push the idea of design indeterminacy as far as I could, I gathered all of the scrap materials in my shop locker and restricted my choice of materials to what I happened to have rather than what I might go out and purchase. I felt that this took away a bit more of my control of the final outcome since I couldn’t necessarily predict or design what the final palette of materials might be.

Five unstacked stacking boxes from above.

Stacking boxes partially stacked.

Stacking boxes one configuration out of 122,880 possible configurations.