How Usable is Your Teapot?

Usability can be applied to pretty much every created item. When someone creates something, it is often meant to fulfill a certain purpose. Different items have different levels of success when it comes to their usability. There is one item that I use on a regular basis that plays an important part in my life that I would like to investigate.

Teapots. There aren’t a lot to them and they all have essentially the same purpose. Put in tea, fill with hot water, brew, pour. Amazingly, though, there are a myriad of different tea pot designs and some are better than others.

Lets investigate what a good teapot really looks like. It might not be quite what you think!


Image by roberts87

Firstly, this beauty has the shape of a classic teapot. It’s got all of the standard characteristics of a teapot, but it contains one fatal flaw. It’s made of metal. Metal is a conductor, not an insulator, so not only will the water inside that teapot lose heat, but the handle will also be hot and could be incredibly uncomfortable to touch.


 
 

Image by Archie2

The original classic teapot. Simple, elegant, and much more cumbersome than necessary. When you go to pour this, you have to stick your elbow out almost at a right angle, meaning that you need to have space to pour it as well, lest you give your tea loving companion an elbow in the face.


 
 

Image by SBisson

This teapot will probably not burn you as the handle is made of a non-conductor, but you will most likely  be elbowing people in the face again, and the spill potential is quite high since the handle of the tea pot is not a stable one. Because it is not attached directly to the main teapot, it is hard to control and likely to swing a little. This could get quite messy. The aesthetics of this teapot, though, are incredibly appealing. It is probably the prettiest one so its self-contained glamour may distract you from any trauma resulting from use.


 
 

Image by Learza

And finally, how to get it right. This is the perfect teapot design. The handle is ceramic so it will be a little warm but not in a way that could burn the user. It is also likely to be an insulator. The handle is not only attached to the teapot, but it is in the perfect position. One can simply grasp the handle and turn the wrist without sticking out elbows or losing control. This teapot is not only pretty, but it is also perfectly usable. Bravo to the Japanese. They got it right!

So next time that you look to purchase a teapot, think about your entire user experience. Make sure that this object will be fulfilling in every way.

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Comments

  1. I’ve been collecting tea pots for years now and I have one for every mood and purpose.

    My steady go to’s are a stainless pot that pours famously and a Japanese inspired pot with the side pour.

    The usability of my pots has never been a concern and now I’m going to re-evaluate ;)

    Congrats on the site and looking forward to seeing it unfold.

    Best.

  2. @Khayyam: Thanks so much for visiting and being a fellow tea lover! Also, congratulations on being the first commenter for UX Booth!

  3. Where’s the masochist teapot from the cover of “The Design of Everyday Things”?

    I’m a fan of insulation over all else, thick clay pots can keep tea a pleasant temperature for over an hour. Compared to reheating, careful pouring is a minor inconvenience. But only important if you are getting seconds.

  4. @Sam Schenkman-Moore:

    Hi Sam!
    Yes that certainly would be an example of an unusable teapot.

    Here is the masochist teapot.

    I think that one of the big reasons I favor the last teapot so heavily is because it does keep the tea warmer for longer. The easy pour does counteract the additional weight of a heavy teapot, so it’s just an all around good item.

    Thanks so much for commenting!

  5. haha. nice. this is going to make me look at things differently now!

  6. Awesome article! I’m looking forward to more reviews of sites and everyday items. And I have to agree with Khayyam. Our collection of 20 teapots or so is now seen with a new eye. ;)

  7. Ah trust the Japanese to design the perfect teapot after thousands of years designing them for rituals and domestic use.

    Its actually not that easy to find one which doesn’t drip when you pour a cup… that’s enough for me to smile about a new teapot. I liked the one in Norman’s Everyday Things which was on it’s side. But yes your japanese teapot is the object of our undying envy this morning. Excellent.

  8. Thank you for your review on usability and I agree with your approach and concepts. I do disagree with your conclusion and believe a key point was missed with regard to good design – regardless of medium – and that’s understanding the user group for whom the product is being created.

    Your favorite tea pot is a great design for a younger person but not for the elderly. As one gets older, wrist strength and dexterity is significantly diminished and the motion required to pour with this tea pot design would not be easy or comfortable for an elderly user. Think of the door handles you see in newer public buildings – they are not ‘knobs’ requiring a twist, but handles that only require minimal weight of a hand/arm to be pushed down – This change in standard door design was done to support all ages of users.

    I don’t pretend to have the answer to a superior designed tea pot, nor one design that would meet all user’s needs but think that if the user group testing this design included the elderly, the results of the review may be different.

    My point is that as designers, we tend to think of ourselves as great test subjects to determine if a design is successful but sometimes fail to define our intended user group, include them in our testing and make the necessary adjustments.

  9. Haha, the design of everyday things. A great insight! There’s a great book on this sort of thing by Don Norman (http://www.amazon.com/Design-Everyday-Things-Donald-Norman/dp/0465067107).

    However, the Japanese teapot is *not* an example of perfect teapot design. I could name a number of features of the teapot itself that hinder usability, such as the ability to grip the handle (requires a strong grip because it is not a loop handle), the fact that the lid looks like it could easily come off etc.

    Bottom line is though, as touched upon above, that there is no ‘perfect’ teapot. It’s usability and utility is completely dependent upon who needs to use it and exactly what it will be used for. It’s the first thing we tend to forget :).

  10. Today I read this article 10th time. So I thought that I must comment too. Usability is walking with open eyes, all the time. Off late I have started seeing usability in every thing. Thanks for this great article Redd

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