Consider the pervasive Compact Disc Jewel Case. It is a terrible design: extremely fragile and prone to breakage. Never drop a CD. Somehow, these things are the most successful design, despite uncorrected design errors including:

  1. The hinges are extremely easy to break.
  2. The teeth that hold the inside of the disc break easily
  3. The front and back faces crack easily if pressure is placed on them
  4. Front booklets are difficult to get out
  5. Front booklets can be easily be replaced incorrectly, warping or tearing the paper

The thin dual-disk design Jewel cases are even more fragile. Some disks come in a sleeved cardboard "jewel case"; some of these are susceptible to scratching. The best designed case I have seen has a cardboard outer and a glued-plastic disk tray with hardened disk teeth. It resists all five design defects noted above.

My friends and I have a theory that jewel cases are purposely designed badly to make music consumers have to fork out even more cash.

The design errors you note are so blatantly obvious that they must have been put there on purpose. It costs a few UK pounds/US dollars for a set of 5 replacement jewel cases - and I find I always need some spare for ones that accidentally get broken. This is clearly a conspiracy - no one could design something so badly.

I store my CDs carefully and yet the central teeth that hold the CD in place seem to get broken very often. How this happens I don't know. I just pick up a case and hear that familiar rattle. I think it might be connected to lending out my CDs. :)

I find the teeth on the double CD cases is actually stronger. The bad design of the inlay booklet holder is also extremely irritating. If the artist tries to have anything more than a couple of pages, it inevitably gets ripped to shreds over time.

I am one of those people who, even if I own songs on MP3, like to own albums I like for the collection factor - the joy of owning the product itself. The crap design of jewel cases only serves to thwart my efforts.

The cardboard style of case, often used for limited editions, is, I believe, called a digipack. I hate these even more. Although they don't suffer from most of the plastic shattering faults of the jewel case, the fact they are cardboard means they get shredded very quickly themselves, just from general handling. They are also not liquid resistant.

see also Ben Elton's The Ministry of Crap Design

For the edification of the pedantic, here are my views on the major CD packaging designs. Note that originally, CD's were going to be sold in packaging that was just scaled-down vinyl album sleeves, but someone at Sony or Philips thought that this wasn't "classy" enough. Damn them.

Traditional jewelcase : The front is easy to crack, and the hinges just don't make any sense at all. The actual spindle thing is usually OK though. The booklet holder tabs are seemingly not standardised. Sometimes they mash up the thinnest of pamphlets while on others the gap is wide enough and the plastic pliable enough to allow the insert to slip in and out without problems. Much worse than this were the teeth used to hold the manuals in EA Megadrive game boxes.

CD Single jewelcase : now this is rather more like it. Sturdier and more compact, but generally at the expense of a crapper spindle thingy. And no room for large amounts of paper of course.

'S'-shape 2-in-1 double CD : These are remarkably stupid. Although they save space, the spindle grips are always ultra stiff and require the CD to be flexed alarmingly for it to budge.

2-to-4 CD Double Case : My personal favourite of the plastic cases, these behemoths are riddled with a completely different set of flaws. The spindle grips are too loose, resulting in a lapful of CDs when either compartment is opened. Also, if any form of booklet is inside, it will be held in by willpower rather than any form of tabs. You can get huge (100+ page) booklets in though.

DIGILOK housing : Now, I know that WyldWynd hates these, but I think they are damn nifty. The clever thing is, that the backplate that holds the CD is one chunk of thin plastic, and that can be glued onto any suitably flat construct you want. For reasons of weight this usually means a cardboard or waxed paper gatefold, leading to scuffing and coffee rings. They also look a bit floppy on a rack next to banks of jewelcases. The one that the original Quake came in was just about OK. I think a slightly thicker outside box like a blank VHS case would do the trick. The coolest thing about these cases (my favourite kind of CD case, you may have gathered) is that 1. The "teeth snapping off / spindle too tight / too loose" problem is eradicated by a popamatic triangular button, 2. The "mashed-up booklet" scenario is eradicated - you can either print all the stuff on the foldy thing or have a pocket for a booklet, and best of all 3. The waxed card ones smell really, really cool. I sniff CD cases. I admit it.

Square paper envelope with a window : as seen on driver CD's. Somewhat useless. Generally come with some virulent glue to stick them down to your desk.

CD-dom : A thin, D-shaped plastic envelope. Used for recent Logitech CDs. Totally impractical but they look kinda cool.

My own design : I designed a CD envelope that doesn't require any glue. It can also be constructed from an A4 sized sheet of paper or card. making it easy to print on. Kind of like simplistic origami, but with the problem that a dedicated fiddler could pull it apart quite easily.

A final point. Why do computer mags insist on sellotaping a jewelcase to the front cover ? It's such a pain fighting a load of stringy tape and a broken box just to get at some demos.

August 2002 Updates.

The most common style of DVD packaging incorporates the locking mechanism of the DIGILOK housing mentioned above. Also, a new type of jewelcase has been spotted, the ultra-slimline CD single case. (These are used for PC Format's cover disks.) This is easily the coolest of the plastic jewelcase-form cases. The back piece is made of nicely textured black plastic, the front is clear plastic, and the whole thing is about 3mm wide. You could easily fit two inside a box narrower than a DVD case and still fit a booklet in there too.

Due to exceptional demand, I will shortly update this writeup with instructions to make my paper CD case, but warn you in advance that you will be disappointed. The slimline CD-single case is the best.

DVD cases (I'm looking at Grand Turismo 3 while writing this) seem to have resolved the errors of CD cases but are somewhat bulkier. They are made of a tougher plastic and have an improved disk locking mechanism consisting of three large teeth connected by a button, rather than a whole lot of little ones. The case lock is stronger so you don't need to worry about it slipping open and spilling everywhere. The booklet is held in by a pair of large clips which grip the booklet's spine (this does require fairly thick booklets to work though, GT3's is about 50 pages with a thin card, rather than paper, cover). If you want to insert your own cover art or move it to a different case (in case the origional is damaged), then it is quite easy, the outside of the case has a sheet of clear plastic secured at the ends, when the case is open it goes loose and you can slide a sheet of paper underneath.

On the down side, the hinge is flexible plastic, given enough openings and closings it will eventualy snap (This has not yet happened to me though). When open, there is a posibility of the cover art sliding out. It is also MUCH bulkier.

I have further designs to add:

North American Sega CD/Saturn cases: A hybrid DVD case and jewelcase. In other words, take the basic components of a jewelcase and expand them to DVD-case dimensions. The result is a huge piece of crap that won't fit into any existing rack for any sort of media, plus the extra large plastic face is weak and prone to cracking. Still, it allows for a decent sized manual, and also has facility for a second plate for multiple CD games, like Ground Zero Texas.

European Playstation (and some Japanese) Playstation cases: A mutant jewelcase, but not quite as large as as a 2-to-4 double case. Holds the CD in place and allows for a title slip seperate from the manual. Unfortunately, the manual is not held in by anything and tends to fall about annoyingly until it is lost.

European Dreamcast cases: A further evolution of the idiotic Euro Playstation cases above, these are the same basic size and shape but with far more moving parts. These feature two flaps around a central piece, so they could theoretically support four CDs (or should I say, GD-ROMs). The front compartment is meant for the CD, while the back for the manuals and such. This works well until you notice the back liner slip isn't held in, and opening the back compartment will result in it probably coming loose and then being smushed when you close the case again. Nicely robust, though.

What baffles me is that for the North American Dreamcast and Playstation, and Japanese Saturn releases, normal jewelcases were adequate. Europe is already cursed with PAL conversions of games, why force these poorly designed muto-cases on us?

Update 29/10/2004: Gunghir suggests the bizarre cases are to accomodate the several European languages you get with PAL games. I can see the value in this, my Canadian copy of Jet Grind Radio had to have the legally-required French manual shrinkwrapped to the back of the CD case. However, living in Europe for a long time now I've noticed bizarre things about which languages are included - I've had English, Finnish and Swedish (for a hockey game), English, Spanish and Portugese (for a strategy game). It must be galling, though, to be Danish or whathaveyou (one of the 'less popular' European languages when it comes to games translation) and turn past the English, French and German to find a single page telling you to look on the game CD for a PDF of your language's instructions.

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