The Back Of Cafe’s Aren’t The Only Place Milk Crates Are Being Stolen.

I’ve read a few articles on the theft of intellectual property and one of the most recent was ‘Is it time to redesign the law around ‘replica’ furniture?’, in which lighting designer David Trubridge expresses his frustrations of the theft of his designs by saying ‘…I don’t think a respectable company should do something like that’.

 I didn’t ever expect it to happen to me. I feel like it’s a clichéd mentality, but when it does happen, it sure does rock what I believed were the ideals of the design industry, specifically the small portion that operates (designed and made) within Australia. I assumed that if an idea or product was going to be copied, which I hoped it wouldn’t be, I thought the crime / impertinence would at least be disconnected by oceans and continents and not merely by states and a measly 1681 kilometers.


I produced the original ‘Plywood Milk Crate’ design in 2006 as a student at the Australian National University. It took me just under 6 months of design development, prototyping and refinement to perfect the interlocking system. It was a piece that was well received by my peers, but more importantly by my teachers and mentors. Since this time it has been published in a handful of magazines and blogs (including Inside Out magazine and Indesign Live) and it has even travelled all the way to London in representation of Noddy Boffin (my brand) for the ‘London Commonwealth Exhibition’ in 2012. Finally, if you Google ‘Plywood Milk Crate’ you’re sure to find my version easily and it is in its public exposure that I had false security in the assumption that others would respect my intellectual property.


So when I was perusing the July ‘Finder’s Keepers Market’ here in Melbourne (2015), I was shocked to be confronted by a knock-off of my very own ‘Plywood Milk Crate’ design. My product is an appropriation of a plastic Milk Crate, so granted, it is in a manner of speaking a copy already and the concept of the humble milk crate has been the point of inspiration for others, embraced by a number of Australian designers each putting a unique spin on the aesthetic and manufacture. ‘Like Butter’ and ‘Page Thirty Three’ are two such Australian companies that have both produced high quality, high integrity versions of the molded plastic milk crate used commonly in the transportation of milk.

Intricate examples of two different and unique versions of the plywood milk crate. Left: ‘Wooden MilKcrate’ by Page Thirty Three. Right: laser cut Plywood Milkcrate, stocked by Cotton On.

Minimal Plywood Crates by Like Butter

Beautiful Wooden Crates by WAAM Industries.


A very small (tiny tiny tiny 1%) part me is flattered that somebody feels my design is worthy to be copied, but mostly (99%) I feel appalled that somebody has stolen my design and decided to produce it, and what disgusts me most is that the ‘design thief’ has taken the idea, the dimensions, the system of assembly and put it all together using the worst quality pine plywood you can get, seemingly un-sanded and with plywood manufacturers print still visible. The five parts that make up the box are far-removed from crisply cut computer milled shapes and the joinery is physically and visibly poorly fitted, the entire unit has crudely cut chamfered edges, which looks more like it was attacked with a blender and lastly the product is sold unfinished, without a clear protective coating, left for the elements and with the pretense that a DIY savvy person to do themselves.

Brisbane based Catherine Roberts of ‘Showroom’ and ‘The Spring Blog’, falsely credits herself as the designer of the Plywood Milk Crate. I contacted her via telephone and she was quick to accept credit as the designer, until it was disclosed that it was a Noddy Boffin design and she had stolen it, at which point she passed the blame onto the manufacturer, pleaded ignorance and being unaware of the original product… which I find difficult to comprehend.


Catherine Roberts’ ‘Showroom’ slogan is ‘Where creative + design lovers meet’. I pose this important question to Catherine regarding their slogan… Does being ‘creative’ and being a ‘design lover’ mean copying and stealing from other designers? Which I would retort with, Theft of intellectual property is neither creative nor is it for love, it is clearly opportunistic and unmistakably motivated by money.

“Now let’s look at the real elephant in the room. Living designers are being ripped off every day. As soon as a design is successful it becomes a likely candidate for the copyists. Just when years of study and hard graft are about to pay some dividends, well received products start to appear as cheap unlicensed copies with no funds going to the designer and no return on investment by the original manufacturer”. (‘Design Daily’, The Wrecking Ball That Is Replica) 


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