Archive: Jun 2010

Smooth the flow

I’ve used Google Reader to subscribe to RSS feeds for a long time. Every single time I click on an RSS feed and choose Google, I am presented with this option –



The thing is, that every single time I’ve been presented with this choice, I have always chosen the Add to Google Reader option. So over the course of my usage, I’ve gone through this process about three hundred times, every time choosing the same option. But Google will not learn from my history and do this automatically nor will they offer me a little check box that says “Always choose this option”.

Will doing that involve a bit more product design, some thought on how to let users change this decision in the future, and a bit more code? Sure. But it will also offer a much better user experience for a majority of their users.

When you design products, you should always give the user ways to make the process more efficient. Removing friction is the goal of good product design.

Reuse and recycling

Plastic water bottles and coffee cups drive me crazy since they are such one-time use products. I never buy water in plastic bottles – I have a little metal water bottles and I just refill those.

I was excited to see Fast Company’s article on water bottles which lays out the landscape but also brainstorms ideas on how to change consumer behavior.

Some of the ideas like the Drink Tap Water bottle tops are great in terms of design and functionality. It’s also so easy to carry around by the tap on top. Wonderful.

I also really liked the LUNAR Elements design of a bottle that a consumer returns at the supermarket and it get’s etched with a news headline of the day – over time, the bottle “ages” with more and more headlines. Really cool (check out the article for more details).

I like the design and the thinking, but at the end of the day, I think the change has to be driven by cost and ease. My metal bottle was about $18. Not cheap. But that’s only about 9 bottles of water – something I might have bought in a couple of weeks. So it was worth it.

The next issue is ease – if you forget your water bottle, what are the options but to buy… What if the water companies used metal like soda cans instead of plastic. A thin metal can of water instead of a plastic bottle. I’d buy it.

As a frequent coffee shop visitor, my next pet peeve is coffee cups. I was excited when I saw the Starbucks Coffee Cup Challenge. The idea of rewarding every 10th person who bring in a reusable cup is a great idea – reward for good behavior will likely change behavior.

But for the other 9 people who don’t bring in a reusable cup, what’s the alternative? The cup itself doesn’t bother me so much because it’s in paper, but what bothers me is the lid.It’s entirely in plastic. Do we need the whole lid to be plastic? What if just the area within the red rectangle was plastic – the area where a customer’s mouth touches the product and where the hot liquid touches the bottom of the up. The rest could be heavy cardboard couldn’t it? At least that way you’d eliminate 60% of the plastic…

And the cold beverage cups at Starbucks? Entirely plastic with a huge plastic dome of a lid to accommodate the whipped cream. Total disaster. Why can’t cold beverages be in paper cups too? Am I missing something here?


Image of Drink Tap Water – All rights, Fast Company

Image of Starbucks Lid – All rights, Rantwick

Starbucks – back to its roots

When I was at eBay, Howard Schultz, the Chairman and founder of Starbucks was on the Board and he came to speak at one of the leadership meetings. They also handed out his book, Pour Your Heart Into It.

He was such an exceptional, inspirational speaker that I went home and read his book immediately. I loved it. It was the story of an entrepreneur. The story of a man who wanted to build a third place where people congregated – not work, not home, but a comfortable other place where they felt welcome.

When Schultz was no longer the CEO, it felt like Starbucks sort of lost its way. They tried things halfheartedly, became totally cookie cutter, and in fact, became a the soulless chain Schultz always wanted it not to be. But because of the talk and because of his book, I stayed a loyal Starbucks customer1.

The news release that Starbucks is going to offer free wifi is, to me, Starbucks going back to its roots. People today are ultra connected and their third place needs to be connected, comfortable and free. Starbucks is doing that. And it’s doing more. Not only is it free, they are welcoming you with a free paper – premium subscriptions through the Starbucks Digital Network.

Everyone talks about how this is very smart. And yes, it is. But, really it’s just Starbucks going back to the roots that Schultz always wanted for it. Welcome back to the helm, Howard Schultz. I hope you reclaim the company you started and steer it back on course.

  1. In fact, after not being in New York for a week, this morning I lost my FourSquare mayorship of my neighborhood Starbucks