The Bic Cristal

Picture the scene. In this modern world of smartphones, computers and near universal internet, you have to do something incredibly old-fashioned – write something down on paper. So you pick your trusty, fine parker pen, the sort that lasts for years, a fine piece of design and engineering, a family heirloom perhaps.

Except no – you don’t really do this. No-one really does this. You instead reach for the cheap, easy to hand disposable biro. Like this one

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This is a Bic Cristal, possibly the world’s most mundane design classic. They’ve been churning out these little French buggers since the early 1950s, and over 100 billion have been made. Mass production and competition means that these can now be had for mere pence. A packet of 10 rarely reaches the dizzying heights of £2.

This isn’t the first ballpoint pen by any means, but like all ballpoints, it boasts fast-drying ink and an incredibly precisely machined ball in the nib. This one though is ingenious for its ease of hold (it’s got a hexagonal cross section like a pencil) and the clear barrel (the thing that goes round the cartridge) so you can see the ink level. It is also very cheap and easy to mass-produce, with many parts being injection moulded plastic.

It’s not a perfect pen by any stretch of the imagination – it’s not the most comfortable for writing at length and its ink delivery isn’t quite right. But it is good enough (unless you’re doing calligraphy) and the Bic Cristal (and its copies) are available everywhere, all the time. If you break one, who cares? Plenty more where that one came from.

This is just one example of good enough being well, good enough, and perfect being largely irrelevant. Expect more examples of this is the weeks to come.


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