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Usability Disaster – Clearly, not much thinking went into designing this product.

March 8, 2009

I have a long way to go in terms of cutting my environmental footprint, but I am trying. Baby steps, right? I bought and use reusable cloth bags to carry my groceries from the grocery store, I don’t use disposable plates and utensils in my household and I also bought a reusable coffee mug and have been using it  during my daily morning commute.
Recently, I’ve been on a lookout for good quality reusable food containers for packing my family’s lunches. I’ve been successful in finding a few that

  1. succeed in keeping my food sufficiently hot/warm for extended periods of time
  2. can fit inside my daughter’s small lunch box and
  3. are also easy to clean inside my dishwasher.

I am sure you can find a few additional requirements that are important to you. It might be price, eye-pleasing design, or something else.
Last week, I took all of my requirements carefully into consideration when purchasing the “Fuel” reusable soup container from my local grocery store. It passed with flying colors because it was small in size, microwave friendly and it was affordable. Win-win-win for me.
Unfortunately the product failed miserably the first time we tried to use it.

Strike 1:

hot_food_container_aThe round flat design fit easily inside a small lunch box, but proved to be impossible to grasp by my 8-year-old whose hands are still tiny. As a matter of fact my hand was barely big enough to touch the opposite sides of the lid in order to turn it.

Strike 2:

hot_food_container_bThe container’s lid was slick, shiny and sporting a very nice bright green color.  Did I also mentioned that it was so SLIPPERY  that none of us could grasp it without our fingers sliding right off of it. Yes, I tried opening the lid at the store, but the lid was never closed tightly enough which is necessary to keep the liquid from leaking. We ended up using a rubber grippy rag (used for opening jars) to finally get the lid off. What happened to a ribbed edge to improve the grasp? Was not “slick” enough?

Strike 3:

After we got the lid off, the rubber seal used to prevent leaks came off completely which made my decision to get the container out of my kitchen that much faster. At least I recycled it.

Clearly not much thinking went into product design for this soup container. How many were sold so far? Probably thousands since the product was attractively priced and occupied prime retail estate at the front of the store. How many were thrown out? Probably equally that many since in order to eat the soup one must be able to open the soup container (what a concept).
When will we realize that environmental stewardship does not begin with product recycling but with product design? And I am not only talking about designing energy efficient appliances here, but about designing every-day products that are mass-produced without any consideration given to their usability and accessibility.
Dear “Fuel” soup container maker,  I don’t want my money back. Please use it to hire a better product designer and usability tester.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 12, 2009 1:05 pm

    That’s a funny story. Not everything that’s environmentally friendly is user friendly. Another thing you could do is instead of using paper towels, use a reusable towel like the Sham Wow. If you stick to it, it really reduces paper wastes and works much better than paper towels anyway. Also, you know it was made right because it was made by the Germans. 🙂

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