Thursday, September 2, 2010

47: a critique assignment for which i got called out for not addressing aesthetics

artifact

I'm looking at a Poland Spring's Grip-n-Flip water bottle, available at most convenience and grocery stores for less than two dollars. As far as water bottles go, this one designed fairly thoughtfully (although I did encounter some issues with the flip cap).

good elements

Poland Spring's Grip-n-Flip design differs from other water bottles in that the bottom half of the bottle curves in slightly and has textures and grooves that are supposed to help users grip the bottle more securely. The little textured bumps and lines don't actually help me hold onto the bottle that much better; if anything, the two textured sides of the bottle add a level of comfort to holding the bottle (it's almost like a massage for your fingers), and improve visibility by indicating more clearly where I'm supposed to put my fingers (in contrast, the rest of the bottle is relatively smooth). This bottle also has really nice affordances - two of the curved sections on the side of the bottle have three very subtle indentations, a perfect fit for small semi-cylindrical objects, like your fingers.

Another nice thing about this bottle is that it has a flip cap (as opposed to a twist cap) that makes it much easier for the user to drink water on the go. The flip cap's clear blue color stands out and makes it very visible to the user that it is probably an important feature on the bottle. The cap has this slight ledge that possibly affords wedging something into it - in this case, if you put your finger under it and apply a little pressure, the cap opens easily.

bad elements

If you're not used to drinking from a bottle with a flip cap, then there's probably a learning curve. It's not obvious that you have to push open the cap to drink water because there's not really a natural mapping to it; in fact, Poland Spring even lists instructions for opening and drinking from the bottle on the label because it's not intuitive. Another element that sucks is the fact that the cap pops open SO easily - whenever I have this water bottle in my bag, I have to make sure it's standing upright because it has a tendency to snag on my notebooks and leak water all over my belongings, which is really, really irritating and a definite liability.

other stuff

Of course, in my critique, I'm ignoring aesthetics (I actually prefer a smooth sleek water bottle - picture VOSS and smartwater - to one that is textured and somewhat unusually-shaped), as well as cost/sustainability (apparently Poland Spring's bottles are supposed to be really eco-friendly... less plastic is used, which means the bottle is thinner than most and more flexible, and flexibility affords bending and crushing, which is good when you want to recycle stuff, I suppose). There's also the fact that my Poland Spring fits nicely into a cup holder on a car, which is more than can be said for those square FIJI water bottles...

redesign suggestions

The label on my water bottle says, "The easy grip sports bottle from Poland Spring is designed to fit naturally in your hand, and in your life," and I think the first part is true... the latter, not so much. Some easy redesign fixes - first, add a small bar of plastic in between the cap and the mouthpiece so that there's more friction to keep the cap from accidentally being jostled and opening. Second, instead of making the "ledge" go all the way around the cap, designers could cut off part of it so that the user has a clearer idea of where exactly to push to open the lid. The smooth dip in plastic seems to be the perfect size for a finger to slide along; that simple little detail guides the users movements and actions very nicely.

As far as helping the user grip the water bottle better, Poland Spring could add bumps that are more heavily textured or made from a different material, or even add a handle, if they wanted - though some people might consider this too bulky an addition. In general, implementing these design ideas probably wouldn't cost a ridiculous amount, but it would make the product better and maybe more valuable to the user.

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