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18 December 2012

Design Classic No. 52: The Bic Cristal Ballpoint Pen AKA 'the Biro'

Today's design classic is perhaps not one that would immediately spring to mind, as it is so commonplace that it can be easily overlooked. However, many design classics achieve their status by working so well that they can be taken for granted.

The humble Bic Biro was invented in France post WW2 and by 2004 had sold over one billion units. The beauty of the design was its efficiency and ability to work 'first time, every time'. Remember the Biro was an alternative to the fountain pen, which could be messy, required frequent refills and was relatively expensive.

According to Wikipedia, 'The Bic Cristal's industrial design has been acknowledged by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of the museum's permanent collection. Its hexagonal shape was taken from the wooden pencil and yields an economical use of plastic along with strength and three grip points giving high writing stability. The pen's transparent polystyrene barrel shows the ink-level. A tiny hole drilled in the barrel's body keeps the same air pressure both inside and outside the pen. The thick ink is pulled down by gravity from a tube inside the barrel to feed a ball bearing which spins freely within a brass/nickel silver tip. In 1961 the stainless steel ball was replaced with much harder tungsten carbide which is vitrified by heat, then ground down and milled to an accuracy of one tenth of a micron between spinning plates coated with industrial diamond abrasives. Since 1991 the pen's iconic streamlined polypropylene cap has had a small hole. This hole serves two purposes: first, it minimises the risk of suffocation if the cap is inhaled by a child; second, it equalises pressure inside and outside the pen to prevent ink leakage. The pen is also one of the world's most efficient pens, able to write over 2km or 100,000 words'

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Design at SoVibrant

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