October 17, 2012
Angled Measuring Cup
Bang Zoom Design and Smart Design for OXO, 2001
When the toy-designing cousins Michael Hoeting and Stephen Hoeting submitted their prototype of an angled measuring cup to OXO, the genius of the design was immediately apparent. The question, however, was whether the cup was a gimmick or actually addressed a relevant user problem. Alex Lee, CEO of OXO International, comments: "We went and got a bunch of users and asked them the question, 'What is wrong with your measuring cup?' And they would say, 'Since it is made of glass, it breaks if it drops; when my hands are greasy they are slippery; when I heat things up they get hot.' And we'd say, 'Okay, anything else?' And they'd say, 'No, we are happy otherwise.' So we'd say, 'Show us how you measure.' They'd pour, bend down, look at it. Pour some more, bend down, look at it. Four or five times. Nobody mentioned this as a problem, because this is an accepted part of the process of measuring. And we are happy when we see this kind of problem — this clear inefficiency that nobody articulates."
The form is functional but busy, remarkably uncompelling for an OXO product. The key innovation and attractor is the angled elliptical ramp inset from the inner walls that displays the common units of measure. This enables users to easily gauge the volume from the top, reducing parallax error and eliminating the up-and-down gymnastics normally associated with achieving a precise measurement. The innovation is not without costs — the ramp impedes stirring within the cup and exaggerates error when not held perfectly level — but these are quibbles overshadowed by a significant improvement in usability. The handle is what one would expect from OXO: imminently grippable.
Ramp quantities are presented red on white in cups and ounces. Contrast is good, but typography and layout are not — the markings appear slapped on, varying in size, weight, and alignment, and do not instill confidence in their precision. Perhaps because the cup is made of transparent plastic, the designers felt compelled to add traditional measurement markings on the side. This unfortunate decision undermines the innovation in the design, contradicts its intended use, and adds considerable noise to the form. These markings are relatively low contrast, and the vertical orientation of the lines and numbers distracts from the angular element, which is the product's key differentiator. The measuring cups come with a sticker on the base that reads, "Angled surface lets you read measurements from above." A sticker like this is required because the side measurements afford improper use. Eliminate the competing affordance and there is but one intuitive way to use the cup. The design would be well served to follow its stainless-steel counterpart and lose the side markings — and with it the sticker.
The handle is firm and grippy, extending the full height of the cup. It offers ample surface area for holding and doubles as a supporting buttress when the cup is set down. The handle is connected to the cup by an ergonomically concave thumbwell, perfectly sized and textured to support controlled pouring and minimize slippage.
I own a set of these, but they have not replaced my trusty, stainless-steel measuring cups. I don't cook a lot, and the OXO Angled Measuring Cups don't solve a real problem for me. The OXO design is clever and I like the idea; but I consistently reach for my stainless-steel cups, probably because I prefer their simple aesthetic and so they sit on an easy-to-reach, open shelf in my kitchen. Because of the interior measuring ring and clear cup, the OXO cups are more visually complicated and not as pleasing — so they get stored in a drawer, out of sight.
One of those innovations that comes across more like a magic trick than a design innovation because of its cleverness. Its value is immediately apparent and makes you thump your forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Nice in that it addresses the problem of either having to lift a measuring cup to read the level or to bend over and look at the level. The user can fill the cup to the required level easily without resorting to the aforementioned actions, thereby cutting a tedious step from the use sequence. Of course, it features the easy-to-grip handle as well. A simple, elegant solution to an unmet need, with a vast increase in the quality of the user experience.
Compared to technological and even aesthetic breakthroughs, human factors improvements tend to be incremental. In this case, the measuring cup smartly uses simple, 2D graphic design to effectively resolve a 3D usability problem.
Source: DECONSTRUCTING PRODUCT DESIGN