By Aaron Heskes

Welcome to the design blog!

Here, we don't just talk about our world of consumer products and services, but also the thinking behind them. 

Every artifact has a specific purpose, and the initial presentation and packaging of it is usually essential to understanding how to use it properly. Unfortunately, it's often the simplest objects whose proper uses are neglected because people assume they already know how to use them.

Last week I was doing something I do a lot at my day job and this thought stopped me in my tracks. I was preparing a coke (actually it’s a pepsi, but no one would order it if they called it that). I don't have much to say about soda since I'm in no position to judge a sweet tooth, but I caught myself committing a minor hygiene violation.

I’m talking about straws here... plastic drinking straws with tidy paper wrappers to keep them clean.

These fancy straws are great for individual use because the crisp white packaging tells the end user, the soda drinker, where that straw has been. Its condition ensures that they’re the first one handling the straw.

This all falls apart in a restaurant setting.

I had to stop and think as I was preparing this “coke” because I realized that by tearing off most of the wrapping and leaving just an inch of sanitary wrap on the tip of the straw, I was defeating the purpose of the wrapper. Since tearing off most of the wrapper before serving it to a customer seems objectively illogical, I think an explanation is in order.

Restaurant staff do everything they can to make the patrons believe that they’re special and that the food/service/serving-ware is sanitary. While this is largely already true, sometimes working to uphold a perception of these values works against the end goals.

The paper wrapper communicates cleanliness so well that leaving a bit of it on the tip elevates the perception of cleanliness in the entire restaurant. This detail tells the patron that the server has considered their health.

Unfortunately, tearing off the wrapper forces the server to handle the straw more than if he had used an unwrapped straw.

All products have an intended life cycle, but few are interpreted properly at every step of the way. It’s important to understand whether or why people may misuse something as simple as a paper wrapper to design a complete process that actually accomplishes what it sets out to do instead of encouraging the problem.

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