The Obstructures Aluminium WaLLET

It's hard to imagine how you'd invent a new wallet, nor is the billfold something most of us have probably ever asked "why" about anyway.
13 July, 2017
Yet the team at Obstructures in the United States has done exactly that, and in April 2016 they were issued the patent to prove it.
But before there were ideas that became patents, there is the idea of Obstructures itself, an American company with a presence in three states that's a little hard to describe. Matt Hall, along with colleagues Brian Johnson and Nathan Matteson, created their design firm as an expression of art and philosophy.

One of them is a Harvard-trained architect on the faculty at Auburn College. One of them is an industrial designer who began his career in landscape architecture. The third has a University of Chicago MFA degree, but enough background in the sciences to spend his time designing web interfaces for climate policy and economic research. Together – along with a list of artistic collaborators that's worthy of a Reddit post – they create physical art installations and thoughtful writings, and also invented a wallet.
"All design projects begin with a statement of problem, and most problems we have are based on existing archetypes and how or why they are no longer satisfactory," they explain on their website. The problem of securing travel documents and protecting one's passport is how Obstructures came up with a metal-plate wallet that's an aluminium sheath – there is one titanium model too – that does both.

Naturally, the product is inseparable from a narrative that incorporates the team's artistic thinking. "We are interested in designs that are indestructible in their build quality with stripped down performance driven aesthetics," they explained. "With these issues on the table, we began to conceptualize."
Images: Obstructures
Once the trio decided on aluminium, they still had to figure out a way to make a passport, tickets and other travel documents easy to access. They looked at hinges and different kinds of pivots, but finally asked why the simplicity of a rubber band wasn't their best option. The Obstructures team decided on soft rubber O-rings that roll down the metal wallet's side when you open it, but just as easily snap shut.

After testing various iterations and wallet sizes to accommodate bills, ID and other typical contents of a wallet, they had the right recipe for a rigid aluminium wallet. Recipes in the plural is more correct, because Obstructures offers a few different styles of the wallet, all of them modified from the original prototype. And then they added an additional feature.

"Aside from the passport holder, we integrated a bottle opener into all the wallets," the team explains. "Just in case."
Images: Obstructures
All of the design problem-solving worked. Now, Obstructures wallets are made in Knoxville, Tennessee, where all of the aluminium laser cutting and anodizing is done – and where one of the team members live. The wallets are made from series 5052 aluminum, commonly used in transportation and consumer electronics goods, except for models made from grade 5 titanium.

It's a point of pride that the wallets are American-made and rely on local materials and manufacturing, although the O-ring closures are sourced on the international market. It's even more a point of pride to the creative seekers at Obstructures that their quest has led to a curiosity about other uses for laser cut aluminium, experiments on other products – and probably another patent for their next invention.
Banner image: Obstructures