Making & Breaking the Travel Coffee Mug Design Model

Think of a travel coffee mug. What do you see?

Maybe a cup that looks like this:

Maybe a lid that looks like this:

How did this design model seep into our minds? Maybe because since the “beginning of time” for travel coffee mugs, we’ve observed and duplicated this model ad-infinitum.

Why did this original model stick? Is it because the thick lids (or a variation of the lid protruding out of the cup) keep the liquid insulated better? Or maybe it protects the liquid more. What is the reason for the bulky lids? Why does the lid always have to be protruding out of the cup in an effort to keep the contents insulated and protected?

The probable reason is that the model was “fine”. It worked. Why fix what’s not broken, right? Well, these travel mugs are created by the thousands, with people like me purchasing several to keep up with their coffee/ tea/ hot liquid habits. These mugs are usually good for a couple of uses until the lid inevitably starts to leak. Every. Single. Time. Its safe to say…this design model is broken.
So, why hasn’t anyone fixed these yet? Are travel mugs that grey area in innovation that no one feels a need to tackle? Why haven’t companies like Starbucks, known for their focus on solving for the needs of their coffee-loving user base, figured out a leak-proof and easy-degradation-proof solution? Is it because they want our mugs to break? Uh oh. Here comes corporate conspiracy. Let me side-step that real quick.

And then… I saw this beauty at my local Peet’s Coffee Shop.

AHA! MOMENT…

The lid of the travel mug is INSIDE the mug, which reduces its need to be thick and bulky for insulation and leakage control. GENIUS!

Klean Kanteen’s simple and effective product design for an everyday product that floods most retail stores, illustrated something significant: Sometimes, re-invention needs to happen regarding the thinking around a design. When we re-evaluate our mental model of an idea, we re-evaluate the why and how. Better questions always lead to better design solutions!



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Have you reconsidered your mental model around a design process? I’d love to know! Comments below are waiting for your thoughts…


Shilpa is a User Interface Designer currently pursuing her masters at University of California, Irvine.More at shilpatripathi.com.