The Stanley Flask – Emotionally Durable Design

Stanley Classic Legendary Bottle, 1970 vs 2018

As we become more aware of the impact we are having on the world, there has been a shift towards environmentally friendly design. One of the clearest signs of this shift can be seen in the rise of the reusable drink bottle. Whether it be a plastic bottle, a travel mug, or a coffee cup made from coffee cups – almost everybody has one.

Whenever I look to buy something like this, something I will carry every day, I do research. A lot of research. And being a keen hillwalker, I am attracted to performance and efficiency in everything I carry. This led me to looking at vacuum flasks, and lots of images like this…

A comparison of flask heat retention by Outdoors Magic

Chilly’s may have had a stroke of genius when they called their flask a ‘reusable bottle’ and made it resemble a disposable plastic bottle, but it is nowhere to be seen on the flask leaderboards, so I ruled it out.

I ended up with the Stanley Master Unbreakable Packable Mug.

The Stanley Master Unbreakable Packable Mug

This is a 500ml flask stainless steel vacuum flask with what Stanley calls their ‘Quad-Vac’ technology. This means that there are four layers of steel in every wall instead of the usual two, providing improved insulation. It will keep your drink hot for 16 hours – by far the longest time of any single-lid flask. As you might imagine, it’s heavy. It weighs 508 grams, which is heavier than the water inside! A 500ml chilly’s bottle weighs 380 grams, while a plastic bottle can be close to 10 grams. So this is definitely not a winner on the sweaty-back front.

But I still think it’s great. I love the perfectly cylindrical shape, the materials, and just the attention to detail. The black section is sandblasted and painted steel for excellent grip, while the accent at the top is brushed and unpainted for a more comfortable drinking experience. The lid has a large and incredibly solid handle. Opening the lid, you’ll find a deep thread with a rubber gasket. The fluid-facing side of the lid has a steel insert to ensure your drink never touches plastic, as plastic may slightly alter the taste. It is BPA-free and conveniently dishwasher safe.

Stanley Master Mug with open lid

The steel used is 1mm, 18/8 stainless steel. 1mm of steel. Four layers. By my maths, that’s 4mm of steel on every wall. No wonder it’s so heavy. The advantage to this is durability. I have only owned my Stanley for a year, but it still looks like the day I got it. But don’t take my word for it, as Stanley’s brand is built upon durability.

In 1913, William Stanley accidentally invented the steel vacuum flask. He worked as an electrician, and one day discovered that his welding process could create a vacuum between two steel plates. He almost immediately founded the Stanley Bottle Company, then died just three years later.

Until this invention, vacuum flasks were made of glass. These worked well until you dropped one and it smashed. The equivalent of £150 down the drain. In comparison, there are several stories of Stanley bottles being run over by trucks and not even popping a leak. The image at the top of the page compares a Stanley bottle from 1970 to the same model bought in 2018. By the way, those big Stanley flasks will keep your drink hot for 40 hours… not bad. Could you imagine making coffee on Friday night before a camping weekend, and it still being piping hot on Sunday afternoon?

I’m attached to this bottle and I want to keep it forever. Stanley loves to associate themselves with images of family camping trips and being passed down generations. They know people love their bottles in an almost obsessive way. Carrying a Stanley bottle is something to be proud of.

Why do people love it so much? I think this is a great example of emotionally durable design.

Emotionally Durable Design is a book published by Jonathan Chapman – an English design professor – in 2005. In this book, Chapman establishes the idea of emotionally durable design: to make products that will not become obsolete, impervious to changing trends. This is not about products falling apart or breaking, but simply being discarded too soon because the owner fell out of love with it. It is about reducing consumption. A product can be made ‘emotionally durable’ by not chasing current trends or fashions, and it should be designed to become more endearing with age. A scratch or blemish should add to the character of the product and remind the owner of the experiences they have shared together.

A Stanley Flask ran over by a truck – still holding coffee!

Physical durability certainly plays a part in this. But, critically, Stanley is not afraid to show you a beaten bottle. This image can be found on their website. This communicates that they expect their product to be beaten up, and they are normalising that. You would never see a smartphone advert show someone using a cracked phone, as that would normalise cracked phones, and the company wants you to buy their new phone next year regardless of your current phone’s condition.

Chapman sets out nine key aspects of emotionally durable design, the first four of which are:

  • Design for Narrative – create a feeling of nostalgia
  • Design for Integrity – ensure quality, durability and reliability
  • Design for Relationship – create a ritual or habit
  • Design for Materiality – age with grace
Emotional Durability Design Nine by Jonathan Chapman

Stanley bottles’ combination of timeless design, emotional branding, and the ability to wear scratches and dents as a show of pride all work to cement their permanence. It’s no wonder you’ll find one on display in the Museum of Modern Icons in Milan.


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