01 February 2011

Location, Location, Location

Today's design lesson comes to us from the local grocery store. Let's start with a photo, shall we? Who can tell me what this is a photo of?

A gold star to anyone who said "an example of terrible design." Other acceptable answers include "the worst location in the world for a cup holder" and "a Customer Inconvenience Device that blocks placement of certain grocery items." Minus ten points for anyone who even thought the word "innovative."

Now, it may be a bit hard to tell from this photo, but that is indeed a cup holder. It is awkwardly far from the part of the cart you push to make the cart go forward. As in, it's so far away that the handle doesn't even show up in the photo. I promise, it's well out of reach if you're standing behind the cart. And while you can't tell from my photo, that thing definitely gets in the way as your cart fills up.

Personally, I usually manage to survive a trip to the grocery store without needing caffeine, but for those who do appreciate a cup of joe while strolling the aisles, this device offers no assistance at all. I've got to wonder what people were thinking when they designed, sold, bought and installed it. I suspect somewhere along the way they congratulated themselves for being innovative ("It's a cup holder! On a shopping cart! We're so clever!") From experience, I know what people are thinking when they use it: "Hey, I can't reach my coffee from way over here," and "Dang, this thing is in the way of my groceries."

This is not an example of innovation - it's an example of superficially satisfying the requirements. Somewhere along the line, someone said "Hey, wouldn't it be nice if our shopping carts had cup holders?" Someone else said "Hey, great idea!" But insufficient thought was put into answering questions like "Um, where should we put the cup holder? Does it need to be accessible from the typical cart-pushing position? Does it matter if it blocks the groceries?"

It's not like they don't have options. The photo below shows a very simple cup holder from a different store.

This one is positioned perfectly for the convenience of someone who's actually pushing the cart. Now, it's also within reach of any toddlers who happen to be riding along and are interested in splashing themselves or others with hot coffee, but that's a topic for another post. For now, I'd better go put my groceries away.


Anonymous said...

Bad on Safeway!!

Anonymous said...

Oh yea, when you turn the corner, your Starbucks goes flying out the little whole in the cup.
I say this from direct experience.

Peter Modigliani said...


Great story. I'm sure the original design had a cup holder near the handle, but after initial product testing someone's infant who is sitting in the cart stuck their hand in the hot java (and sued McDonalds). So some lawyer in the shopping cart production factory dictated that all cup holders must be beyond the arm length of any child in the seat, thus rendering it useless. While parents should know better than to put a hot drink next to a 9 month old, the new design accommodates the least common denominator of parental intelligence.

Phil said...

sure it's not for holding a bouquet of flowers?

The Dan Ward said...

@Pete - Good theory! I could totally see that happening.

@Phil - That's what Kim suggested too, but I'm pretty sure it's a coffee holder. There's a little icon (not visible in the photo) of a coffee cup. Not sure what those two slots on the side are for though...

Phil said...

I was wondering the same thing about the slots and small holes...perhaps a place to hold your pencil and shopping list notepad? Good grief?!

John said...

@Dan & @ Phil,

Perhaps the slots are for the biscuits, and the holes for the stirrer.

A beverage without a biscuit is simply too wet.

David Haddad said...

Reading the first few pages of your blog it seems to me that a lot of your posts relate to user experience design, a subject that I think goes quite nicely with project management.

So the cup holder in the first pic is fixed? If it could be moved as desired and then locked I would think it would be better. The cup holder in the second pic looks to me like it has its own issue - I can see that causing all sorts of collisions due to it sticking off the side.

The Dan Ward said...

@David - Welcome to RPL (and thanks to Glen for the plug!).

I have been hitting a lot of design topics here lately - and I'm glad you concur it dovetails with project management. I've known all too many PM's who never quite manage to talk about the work at hand and don't understand the design implications of the decisions they make. Of course, it's possible for a PM to be TOO involved in design... I should probably write something about that too.

And sadly, the cup holder in the first pic is indeed welded in place. I'm sure the second one is responsible for all sorts of bruises and dings because of its location. Maybe the right answer is to have a little design restraint and just skip the cup holder altogether. :)

David Haddad said...

Hi Dan, I not only think it dovetails with PM, I think they are tied at the hip. It would probably be good for anyone who focuses primarily on one side of the equation to spend some time focusing on the other. Of course PM already has methodolies that ostensibly help to address UX, but I think focusing on UX can help one to see the world through a different set of eyes.