Would you believe me if I told you that the U.S. Post Office has trouble handling square envelopes? Well, it’s true, and moreover, the post office will actually “charge you a 17-cent surcharge for squareness.” This is called “shape-based postage.” (Wall Street Journal, 15 November 2007)
Why the surcharge? Because the post office sorting machines, “built for oblongs, can’t find the address on a square envelope. [Hence,] people have to do it.” In fact, “at a Manhattan post office…a window clerk…took one look at a square envelope and said ‘nonmachinable. I would not use that shape, period.’”
This is crazy isn’t it; we can put men on the moon, but we can’t send a square envelope easily through the mail system of the United States of America! (FYI, squares are not a problem for the mail system in the United Kingdom.)
I knew that being “square” in the seventies was a bad thing, and maybe even an insult, but what’s up with square now and how does this jive with users needs?
Well in the article, an owner from a graphics company states: “Squares…are the most current and most exciting product in paper communications.” Incredible, that the post office can’t meet their customers’ needs.
Even if squares are still a relatively small percentage of the overall mail (and according to the article they are), that may be because the post office can’t handle the shape versus the overall popularity of it with customers. As another sales rep states: “The post office cracked down…people had bad experiences with square cards. [And] if you put a stigma on something long enough, retailers aren’t going to deal with it anymore.”
So when the post office can’t handle the user needs, the card makers have innovated: “the shop has devised an oblong envelope with a middle pocket that squares slip neatly into.”
This is sounding almost like the post office is making us put a square peg in a round hole.
Just for the record, we shouldn’t blame the good men and women of the U.S. Post Office for the problems with the sorting machines. However, I believe this is clearly a job for User-centric Enterprise Architecture to align post office technology solutions for handling square envelopes with the business requirements for them. Clearly, it’s time for square equality.