There are things in life we take for granted---some for good reasons, others make you wonder why. One of those how-come-I-never-thought-of-this moments came about a year ago when asked to design a better spice container. Are you kidding me? I didn't know there could be such a thing as a better spice container. What's wrong with all the tin cans and McCormick bottles everyone grew up with? OK, I know they are not the sexiest items in your kitchen, but they are, without a doubt, functional and have served you well for ages. Or have they?
The issue at hand was usability. It became evident to me when I was asked to precisely measure a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, my most favorite of them all, out of a glass jar made by you-know-who.
I have been buying these like clockwork for years and never gave them any thought. Well, just because certain things stay the same for forever doesn't automatically make them right. Now, to spoon the cayenne pepper out, I need to, of course, remove the cap, tilt the bottle, carefully insert my spoon horizontally and make sure my spoonful doesn't touch the lip of the bottle on my way out. Upon reflection, that is very awkward and not easy.
An obvious solution would be a shallow container with a super-sized opening. That is not exactly rocket science. Although my academic training may have made rocket science a natural career progression, all kinds of functionality problems intrigued me. So solving an everyday problem in almost every home for every meal challenged me and resulted in lots of time and thoughts about the design, materials, and manufacturing for the SpicePuck. I thought it would take me between one and two hours to come up with a design that's going to revolutionize the entire spice industry.
Well, not so fast, as it turns out. The devil is always in the detail. Spices deteriorate when exposed to light. One of the early decisions was to make the entire package opaque to the UV spectrum minimizing light-induced damage to spices.
Next, to make the container feel good in our hands, it has to be the right size with a decent amount of heft. We tested different weights and ended up having to resort to expensive stainless steel to hit our weight target. No compromise here. Now, a few 3D printed prototypes later, we found out that one needs three hands to spoon something out from our new-and-improved spice container just because the door wouldn't stay open by itself. OK, that is not going to fly. We went back to the drawing board and designed a spring-loaded door that snaps open when rotated beyond a particular angle.
If you want to use one word to describe why we went back-and-forth when we designed, tweaked, and fine-tuned every single, minute detail of our spice container, that would be usability. Usability, in my opinion, is the holy grail and should be the driving design guideline for any consumer product.
Speaking of usability, how useful would these spice containers be without an efficient and elegant way to organize them in your kitchen? That is another story for another day.