Last week we got a new shipment of beautiful clear blue Nalgene BPAfree OTG water bottles to Idealab. I picked one and filled it with water from the cooler in order to drink at my desk. When I reached to my desk I tried to open the top with my thumb in what I thought was the right way to open based on the lid’s design (pic below).
Surprisingly, nothing happened. I applied more power using my thumb but the lid refused to open. I looked closely at the lid’s opening mechanism to make sure I got it right. I tried to push it in a different angel but it remained locked. As a desperate move, I tried to push and squeeze the black rubber that covers the top of the lid, just because it looks “press-able”. Nothing happened. I spent a good 30-45 seconds trying to open the lid in all sorts of ways, applying more and less power, trying to pull the cover away from the lock yet it did not open.
I almost gave up and was about to unscrew the lid and drink the water directly from the bottle. But then, as I was holding the lid using two fingers and gently squeezing it between my fingers, it poped and opened (picture 2 below).
That was a eureka moment for me and from that point I “adjusted” the way I open the bottle. I am not sure exactly why it did not work originally. I can only assume that for a brand new water bottle the lid had to be opened 20-30 times to make the mechanism loose enough to work as intended but what is clear is that the product does not “Allows for easy one handed operation” out of the box like its web page says.
I wanted to test if it was only me who could not open the bottle so I asked two colleges to try opening it (of course without telling them what is the right way to do it) and they both followed the same steps I did and quickly got pretty frustrated that the lid did not open. They also applied more and more power and nothing happened until they concluded that “something is wrong with this bottle”.
Why am I telling this story? Simple. To remind product managers and designers to always evaluate the intuitiveness of their designs and whether it actually works in the real world.
I am sure that if the Nalgene designers were sitting next to me while I was struggling with their water bottle, they would go back to the drawing board and work on a new design that actually works.
For anyone who is in the business of designing and building web products and services things are a lot easier than to those creating physical products. There are many great tools that let you see exactly how users use and interact with your website. All you need is to install and use them. Beyond the obvious Google Analytics, I also recommend ClickTale, a great service that records user behavior and lets you watch complete user sessions as videos. And finally, let friends and family try the product and watch, like a fly on the wall, how they interact with it. When they are done completing the tasks you gave them interview them and see how well they can describe what they were doing and how they were using your website. You will learn a ton from it and probably have to change a few things to make your product more intuitive.