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Customer Experience and Design

An Unnecessary Bottle Opener: A Digital Experience Story

A couple of years ago I walked into a sporting goods store in my area because I love the feeling of optimism I get while looking at mountain bikes and thinking that this will be the year I do XYZ.
I have yet to do that, but I digress.
While there, I purchased a pair of sandals. I’ve worn them almost every day from May to October for three-ish years now, and they’re proving to be one of my better purchases. They’re durable, comfortable, style-neutral, and easy to maintain. The only downside is that they have fallen into a common trap; the manufacturer tried to shoehorn a piece of design into their product without really thinking it through. In this case it’s a bottle opener built into the sole of the shoe, right at the arch. When I bought them, I didn’t even know it was there. But now, every time I wear these sandals, I think about that stupid opener and wonder why it’s down there.
I sort of understand the inclusion. If you’re at the beach and need an opener, having one built into something you’ve already got is useful. I’ve seen them on hats, sunglasses, buckles, shorts, coolers, rings, and just about everything else, so why not flip-flops?
My issue is not with its existence, but how it was executed. In the overall purpose of the product, it makes no sense. The placement, flat on the bottom, right at the curve of the instep, is terrible. You can’t get proper leverage on a bottle. And whatever was on the bottom of your foot (ew) is now on the top of your drink (double ew) and your hands, since you’ve got to take the shoe off to use it.
I live in the South and my yard is littered with the spiky seed pods of a sweetgum tree. And that little opener is the perfect size to wedge a pod or rock or bit of mulch into, making for an awkward waddle until I can pry it out. Stepping in anything viscous is an even bigger issue. The opener itself is cheaply made and doesn’t perform well. I am convinced that someone who never wears sandals saw the inclusion of churchkey in other products and thought “We should do that! How hard can it be?”

So how does this relate to digital experience?

This is an easy trap to fall into, especially in the digital realm. A new piece of tech or design comes out every few weeks, it seems. It’s shiny and cool. Including it will make your site or product feel cutting edge. The component already exists. You can see an opportunity for it.  How hard can it be?
But as any designer can tell you, sometimes less is more. Recently, it felt like every site used parallax scrolling. And in some instances it worked beautifully, giving depth, emotion, and movement to a design. But there are also plenty of examples of bad implementation, where it doesn’t add anything to the page, bogs download, or leaves the user disoriented.
It’s the job of the entire team to look at each element, and consider whether it’s helping achieve the goal of the product.

  • Does it add to the overall look and feel of the design?
  • Does it gel with other elements?
  • Is its inclusion bringing a significant benefit to the design, or is it just there because it’s new and exciting?

These seem like obvious questions, but it is so important to ask them every time, and really consider the answers before moving forward.
Getting it right brings a new solution to your user’s problem. Getting it wrong just leaves sand in their drink.

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