• Son Luu

Make a Project Enclosure

Updated: Jan 10, 2019

Presentation is such a crucial part. For an physical interactive project accompanied by electronic components, it doesn't have to look absolutely beautiful inside out, but if its components are at least well organized, that not only makes the project look nice and neat, it better represents you as a creator. Furthermore, more people may want to interact with it. This is particularly true when a project has a lot of electronic wires, connection outlets/inlets sticking out (which often get tangled), or even unlabeled buttons randomly displayed, people may prefer not to interact with it. As a result, an enclosure would be a good friend for your next electronic project. 🗳🗃🎁

Role: individually owned project

Tools: all paper materials and hand-held tools

Timeline: one day

Problem Statement | Defining Objectives

By the end of this project, I will solve my own problem! I need a simple enclosure to:

  • store electronic components of a typical small-scaled Arduino micro-controller project.

  • The Arduino micro-controller must be able to technically function while being stored inside this enclosure.

  • The enclosure can be opened and closed easily, so that I can troubleshoot conveniently as needed.

Design challenge:

"Resource constraint": In addition to the above requirements, the cost of making and material must stay within a budget of less than $10, made out of an environmentally friendly material, and and can be finished within one day.


Arduino micro-controller's key characteristics:

However the enclosure is designed, at a minimum, it needs to address the following two features:

  1. The UBS outlet attached to the controller is almost always in use as a power source as well as a port for data transmission. Without this outlet, the electronic system cannot function.

  2. In a simple, typical physical control project, there is always a light or a button connected to the controller. The light or the button represents an outer physical component that is connected to and powered by the Arduino micro-controller.

As shown in this image, the UBS outlet is at the top left, mounted on the shorter side of the Arduino. On the breadboard on the right-hand side, there are LED lights and buttons connected to the Arduino via electric wires. These lights and buttons can be various in size depending on the projects.

Material options:

  • plastic: not environmentally friendly, requiring drill to drill holes and laser cutter to cut into desired shapes, costly

  • wood: environmentally friendly, nice-looking, requiring drill to drill holes and saws to cut into desired shapes, costly

  • paper: environmentally friendly, may or may not require special heavy-duty cutting tools depending on thickness.

  • metal: requiring special drill and saw to cut and drill through, a good option for re-purposed steel/aluminum containers to be re-designed into a project enclosure


  • Budget constraint: it is expected to cost more to buy plastic and wood to make an enclosure from scratch. In addition, additional material will need to be purchased in case of re-work or re-designing

  • Finding existing enclosure that can be re-purposed: unfortunately, I did not find any type of containers that I could use for this project. They were all too big and/or heavy.

  • Limited timeline: I only had less than one day to create something from designing, collecting material, to making, not to mention possible re-work if the design didn't work out, or the fabrication process didn't go as planned.

Design Process

I decided to go with paper as the material of choice for this product design project. But, first of all, I needed to build a prototype of the enclosure and test its fit for my Arduino micro-controller.

Building and testing prototype:

I started off by making a prototype with scrap cardboard. I drew the schematic of the box on the cardboard, using with some assumed size measurements of the micro-controller.

For any part of the prototype that didn't work, I marked an "X" on that area on the prototype. I needed to pay close attention to these areas of misfit when making the actual final product.

Obtaining materials for building final product:

Paper was the right low-cost solution. I went to an art store and found a type of colored paper cardboard that is not too thick to cut through with utility knife or a pair of scissors. Everything cost less than $8. I even think I had some paper left after using what I needed for the enclosure.

The store staff recommended a precision knife, which was a new cutting tool to me.

I got some thin colored cardboard. It was about 1 mm thick. The precision or "exact" knife did a good job for cutting with the chosen material..

Fabrication of Final Product

Step 1: Draw enclosure shape on the material

It is important to leave extra room to the exact size of your components. This will allow just extra components that need to fit into the enclosure. Doing this on the width or the height of the enclosure matters. This is because I may want to fit more components later on width wise as opposed to height wise.

Consider leaving extra room inside the enclosure on every dimension for unexpected components to be fit in later on.

Step 2: Cutting ✂️

This process can be done with different equipment. One to consider is a laser cutter, or a pair of scissors, depending on what material you are working with . In this case, I used a precision or "exact" knife to cut through the cardboard. Depending on what cutting tool to be used, be careful not to cut through any parts of the enclosure where they're not supposed to. I made many mistakes of this type on the prototype. It was indeed useful to make a test product or a prototype prior to handling the real material.

Step 3: Fitting your electronic components on the enclosure

Since I am making an enclosure to store my electronic components, the next step is to do some fitting of those components on the enclosure. The bottomline is that the enclosure needs to be fit-for-purpose. Ask yourself questions: where does my outlet wire go? what direction will my circuit board be facing? where should I place the button A vs button B, or toggle C, etc.?

We use buttons quite a bit in our physical control projects, so I decided to go with a button. I also chose a bigger button as the hole will allow for smaller ones to fit through if I need to use smaller buttons later on.

Step 4: Cut out the outlet holes

Step 5: Glue the sides of the enclosure together

This step involved using glue (hot glue or wood glue) to keep all the sides of the enclosure intact.

Step 6: Add an important final touch

After finishing making the shape of the enclosure, I realized it was difficult to open the lid because the surface and all the edges around the enclosure were too flat, too "clean-cut" for me to lift the lid and open the enclosure without damaging its shape in the long run. This was a design flaw. I quickly thought of adding an extra detail that acts as an assistant to help lift the lid up easily. It was a string of thread I found and made it into a short cord, then attached it at the front edge of the lid. With this added "final touch", I would be able to open the enclosure easily when I need to fix the electronic components inside. Now, the enclosure is ready to be put to use.

Final Product

Here it is, a simple, yet sturdy enough enclosure for my electronic components. Specially learnings from the making process:

1. Choice of material can become critical in terms of the cutting process. For example, if I had chosen acrylic instead of paper, I would have needed to use some fit-for-purpose types of drilling tools or laser cutter for cutting through the material. In addition, sizing the electronic components to fit into the enclosure would have required much more precision to avoid having to cut through the surface multiple times.

2. Thinking ahead of time what are all components that potentially need to fit inside the enclosure and leave more than enough room just in case.

3. Cutting through cardboard can be tricky. Carefully examine the material and the intended shape of the enclosure so that you don't cut through the parts where you are not supposed to. If a knife is used for cutting, consider appropriate pressure to be applied for complete cut-through, or half-way cut. Similarly, if a laser cutter is used, setting options would need to be specified for either engraving or cutting through of material in Adobe Illustrator.

  1. Lesson about user-focused design: 🤷🏻‍♂️Designing for this project, I am my own customer. I am the end-user of the final product. I represent a typical student who cares more about utility than fancy look, who has budget constraint and a strict timeline. The biggest lesson I learned was having a good understanding of what an end-user's wants and needs from the product. I learned to appreciate instances where I knew very little about my customers when designing a product. No mater what product or how big or small the design job is, knowing little to nothing about a typical end-user of that product I am designing for, can be a highly risky approach. Taking the time necessary to research about my customers, using human-centered thinking approach while being innovative with design options, will all pay off later on. Sometimes, all it takes is putting myself in their shoe. When I care enough about, and having empathy for my customers' wants and needs and the associated challenges, that's a good start in the right direction to meaningful experience and product design.

  2. Competing priorities: 📊It is useful to know what are all the required parameters of the final product. However, I also learned that knowing the priority ranking of those requirements can be helpful. In reality, there will always be constraints of some sort. As a result, some of these required features will compete for the designer's attention. Visual design may compete with functionality ⚙️. Functionality may compete with budget. Often, budget 💰 and timeline ⏱both compete with other parameters. At the end of the day, knowing what is important to the end-user is important, but exploring how important, or different levels of criticality of each parameter, can become crucial to the success of a product. For example, budget and timeline were both my top priorities for this project. Next, functionality prevailed visual design in the end. Then, having the enclosure made out of an environmentally friendly material such as wood may have been nice, but if budget didn't allow wood to be an option, paper was a great substitution.