I recently got some (plastic 😬) bottles for home.
Not proud of it. But anyway, I noticed a small design anomaly with them.
Normally, the neck of most bottles are only slightly shorter than their lids.
Now while these bottles are fine otherwise (except, plastic!), I wonder how many people who’ve bought them have unintentionally spilled water on themselves while drinking.
When we reach out for a bottle, we unconsciously gauge the height of the neck (also the mouth diameter), and the brain magically calculates an approximate “how much to tilt”…
But with these bottles, that seems a little misleading. You expect a taller neck than the lid hides, which means water will be out at a smaller angle of tilt than one expects.
Ideally, always either match or exceed (i.e. err on the safer side of) user perception.
This bottle’s neck design is like having a negative margin of safety.
Say a product has a 100 kg payload limit. It is designed with a margin of safety, meaning it will deform or buckle above 100 kg (maybe at 110, or at 120 or even higher), not exactly at 100. But then imagine another similar product with the same 100 kg payload claim, but one that buckles at 95.
This bottle neck is that. Not always desirable.
Dettol liquid soap’s refill packs (above) have a small flaw in their cap seal rings. The tiny ring that stays on the refill pack (after breaking off from the cap), is not secured in place, and tends to fall into the soap dispenser.
Lifebuoy liquid soap refills (above) on the other hand, seemed to have designed the spout in such a manner that it arrests movement of the seal ring once broken.
A small design element, but saves you from having seal rings in your soap dispenser. =)
In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
Looking at the above components:
Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat. My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience
Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.
In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats).
Possible advantages of my suggested design:
Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.
@MLS, like you, I am simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.
On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.
The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em. What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.
Last week, I was speaking with a post-grad design student who had just finished her Masters, and was trying to figure out her career options. She mentioned that most job opportunities on campus involved UI/UX related to mobile apps or websites. Something that wasn’t to her liking. My suggestion was not to obsess too much about industry lingo, but instead, try to figure out across industry sectors, what she would (and would not) like to work on instead.
In the recent years, industry lingo has made the job market murky, with plenty of keywords being irresponsibly thrown about. A few years ago, a leading digital transformation company with some very elite global clientele got in touch saying they felt I was a good fit for a senior role at their company. A note on the position had words like ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ used generously. I got back to their HR contact to request her to explain the role in more detail to me. Turned out, they were simply looking for someone to help them with UI/UX for the mobile apps they built. I spent some time explaining design thinking, UI and UX, so she would be able to identify potential candidates better.
It obviously wasn’t her fault. Many industry sectors are evolving so rapidly for the past many years; with new skills, new terminologies and jargon popping up regularly. So much so, sometimes even human resources of such companies have not been adequately explained what and whom they should be looking for.
For starters, one can simply define UX (user experience) as the overarching journey to create meaningful experiences for users. And UI (user interface…design) involves different components of a product or service itself that strive to make better UX possible. Of course, the term UI tends to get used largely in relation to web and mobile or related display contexts, but let that not limit us by way of examples.
Let’s consider more traditional products. Take a car for example; some of them have a footrest next to the clutch, that drivers can rest their left foot on when not engaging the clutch, especially on longer journeys (instead of straining the foot by resting it only on the heel). Here, the footrest itself is a UI element that is added to improve the overall UX for the driver of that car (by reducing driver fatigue by way of the footrest feature).
There’s good UX and bad UX out there in the world. But here’s an example of arguably the worst kind of bad UI & UX. The seemingly invisible kind.
This switch panel is very old. From long before I knew what design thinking is. If I remember correctly, back in the day, such panels came with fixed square slots. One such slot of two would be used by one 3-point socket, or would accommodate two switches.
The left plug is of the refrigerator, and the right one of the microwave oven. While it might appear perfectly normal to us, there is a small invisible UX challenge here. The fridge switch obviously needs to be on at all times. The microwave however, is switched on and off a few times each day. The close proximity of the two switches is where the bad UX layout is at.
In an ideal layout, the switches be on either sides of the two plugs, thereby reducing almost any possibility of someone accidentally switching off the fridge while intending to switch off the microwave. And most of us might not even realize something like this when going about our busy daily routines. However, in such cases, our semi-conscious mind tends to be in a state of partial alert whenever we reach out to switch on or off the microwave. Because we do not want to accidentally switch off the fridge, but at the same time, it is too routine a task for us to pay 100% attention to it. Sometimes, we might reach out for the switch while reading something on our phone, or while speaking to someone standing opposite to the switches.
The reason we might not realize the layout flaw is because it is subtle. We might accidentally switch off the fridge 1 in 50 times, but for the other 49 times, we are probably in a state of partial alertness, for a task which should not ideally require that alertness of us.
As a UX designer or anyone who wants to create a more seamless experience around this, would ensure the fridge switch was either placed away, or access to it was covered or restricted (by placing a partially blocking partition if necessary).
Of course, thanks to progress in the switches and related products space, products in more recent years do not have square slots like this one. Instead, you can place switches and plug points anywhere along a line as per your preference.
Which brings us to trying to imagine what good UX design might be. It is one or more UI elements that make the experience so seamless for the user, that they get the task done with minimal mental processing, especially with frequent use.
In my book, I mention one about TV remote design – how some have buttons so well laid out (UI) that after initially familiarizing yourself with it, you can operate it without needing to look at the remote each time (UX). Well designed remotes follow a simple logical layout that makes it easier for the user to recreate a spatial position of essential buttons in their mind that are built around a central reference point.. A tacky button layout will have an inbuilt resistance, preventing the user from creating (and from remembering) a mental picture of the remote, and therefore being unable to use it without needing to first look for the button.
With a glaringly bad UI feature, a user almost instantly knows and doesn’t like it. However, with the seemingly invisible bad UI, the glitch might not be very obvious, and the inconvenience to the user too, might be brief and occasional. In such cases, the user might tolerate the product or experience, never at peace and enjoying it, but also unfortunately not aware enough to change it, unless a better product and the need to replace the old one comes along.
2. stuck with trying to create the next great product or service
…but don’t want the hassles of appointing consultants to help you out..
Till 14th September, I’m at the Innovation & Design site to be a sounding board for your growth or innovation challenges.
I’ll simply help clear the chaos and confusion, and nudge you towards possible solutions your team can work on.
How does this work?
On the site above [or is it below 😉 ], are specific services for leaders & managers (one-to-one) and for teams.
Pick the one that suits you best, pick a convenient day & time slot, and we’ll discuss your challenge and ways to solve it on a simple call (or video call).
The services have been priced to be affordable especially for those passionate changemakers whose company innovation budgets simply mean ‘out of pocket’. No hassles of long, expensive consulting assignments.
What after September 14th? The services move to my new company website, with more innovation-focused offerings.
This here is an ancient shampoo dispenser that broke last month. It was a crappy design for a few reasons. Firstly, because of how the pumps are placed (at the bottom). It would not stand on its own when you needed to refill. You either had to prop it against something, or hold it with one hand while filling it with the other. Small detail, but clearly ignored.
Secondly, it didn’t take much to take it off the base plate (2nd pic). Which is exactly how it fell and broke…because of an accidental tap that easily took it off its hooks.
Then came the replacement dispenser.
Certainly a better design. And one that stands independently. It allows refilling without risking the unit toppling over (and spilling liquid soap).
Only problem with this one is that someone did not think the back support design clearly. That side of the white panel (with the lines) should ideally have faced the wall, and the more smooth side faced forward.
Another good thing about it, is that you need to slide it the entire height of the support panel to fix in place or remove. Which means accidentally knocking it off is not easy.
Now I came across this liquid soap dispenser at a restaurant recently. It looks like any other dispenser (pic 1 below). Oddly though, it dispenses from under the black pump button (pic 2 below) and not the steel body, as one might have assumed.
Ordinarily, this dispenser design might still have been ok if it was for a single basin. You would be standing almost directly in front of it, so most likely, the soap would land somewhere on your palm. However, here, it was placed between two basins, so you would tend to limit yourself to the area in front of your basin, especially when others are around. Your hand will therefore approach the dispenser at an angle (unlike if it were right in front of you). What happens now is that when you press the pump and hold your palm under the steel body, soap will fall onto the ground from in front of your hand. Hopefully not onto anyone’s shoe.
Simply making the black button in the shape of an inverted triangle it might have made it far more evident.
If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.
And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.
Ava and Dr. Jimmy Patell, dear friends of mine, were extremely kind to gift me a poem that they wrote about my book on design thinking, Design the Future.
The poem itself is more priceless to me than the book. Really humbling.
Here it is.
Design the Future, what does it portend What does it say, what message does it send Does it help Managers in their work place Or a simple layman in his home space
How can the processes that evolve A family’s day to day problems solve Or is it just solely business tools Being espoused in some management schools
Well to clear the mystery of it all Shrutin Shetty has taken a call And made things clear by writing a book That may well become the subject’s handbook
Friends, it may help giving the book a read It may assist you in your hour of need Solve the problem before others do And get credit that is due to you.
– Ava and Jimmy
If you haven’t picked up my book yet, you can use the code JIMAVA herefor a 25% off on the paperback. Paperbacks are also available across leading online bookstores worldwide, and ebooks on Amazon and Kobo. If you do buy the book, would appreciate a review on Amazon once you’ve read it.
Look forward to your views. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
Why are some brands killing the obvious in packaging design?
If anything is better than the taste of orange marmalade in the morning, it is the sight of it in the jar. Like a beautiful sunset. With strands of peel as if in suspended animation.
However, some leading Indian brands, and probably many others too in India and abroad, tend to put an ugly plastic label all around the jar, with the pictures of oranges and probably some marmalade too on it. Why not just let the product you’ve created, speak for itself?
A beautiful looking product like that, in a transparent jar, would sell itself. So why take the trouble to cover it up completely? Not like it is an excuse for the design, marketing and packaging folk to justify their jobs and salaries. It’s like those people who order an exceptionally tasty dish at a restaurant, and instead of diving right in, spend the next few minutes getting a perfect snap of the food. And then eat the food while distracted by the editing of the picture for social media.
Look at the bottom of the bottle, at the marmalade below the label. That’s what I’m talking about.
Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.