The User Experience Blog

May 6, 2009

Benjamin Floyd, The User Experience. Stop and Think

Filed under: Uncategorized — theuserexperience @ 5:12 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stop and Think

Why didn’t someone stop and think 10, 20 years ago for the following recent “inventions/improvements”?

  • Ketchup bottles being inverted, easy to squeeze, no watery liquid?
  • Baby strollers with built in bottle holders?
  • The customer service needed button in large department/box stores?
  • Square headed screws instead of “flat/Phillips” screws?

Why are manhole covers always round? Because over 100 years ago the designers stopped and thought about the problem they were solving. And the geometric shape of a circle is the only design that can be used and NOT have the cover fall into the hole.

When looking at your product or service, stop and think: How will the user actually use this product? How can our product/service be re-designed to make the simple change that makes a big difference in the use/outcome?

For example, why does a brand of shampoo and conditioner come in identical containers? Brand identity and recognition. Great. But why not make the caps different colors so you can tell them apart? Or a raised letter “S” and “C” on the shampoo and conditioner impressed on the caps? Why do you have to stop and read the bottle each time?

Stop and think.



  1. Ah, durable, flexible plastic for squeeze bottles. Hard to believe it’s only been an economical material for disposable packaging in the last 20 years, leading to these new formats.

    And do you remember the ketchup wars of the 80s, wherein ketchup itself (still often spelled catsup at that time) changed to a thicker substance, more likely to separate into watery components?

    I remember the baby stroller we had in the late 70s, with fabric pockets and compartments for our cloth diapers, chew toys, formula canisters, and bottles. Of course, it weighed a ton, contained no plastic, and was made expensively in the USA, where they had more than a century of experience to inform them of what people liked in a product.

    Then there were the flip switches on customer service lights in places like KMart. Not sure how long ago those started, but very common 30 years ago. You’d flip the switch on the light, which would flash, and someone would come over to help you. New stores came in during the 80s with direct connections to the intercom system. I think I will forever have those overhead pages burned into my brain. “Customer service needed, in the…Hardware Area. Hardware Area.”

    Then we have the screws. Robertson screws have been very common in Canada for a long time. A quick check shows that they were patented in 1909 and have been in common use in industry ever since. There are around 20 major types of screw heads, and hundreds of derivatives, each with a slightly different purpose. But really, how many screwdrivers to you want to keep around?

    Microsoft’s use of the manhole cover question in interview is famous, and hundreds of reason have been proposed for it’s shape, though in reality, there are many covers in other countries which are not round. And there are shapes other than round which can not fall in as well.

    Once again, practical considerations applied to standard usability study and experience, guides most industrial design in the commercial world. When seeking to change things, the first question that must be asked is not, “How can I make it better,” but “Why is that way in the first place?” The good engineer may never get better without asking the first question, but he will never become a good engineer at all without asking the second.

    Comment by Paul — July 22, 2009 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

    • Good points!

      Comment by theuserexperience — July 22, 2009 @ 11:47 pm | Reply

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