My response to the ketchup bottle UX vs UI meme

We’re seeing more everyday, ‘UX vs UI’ memes.

They try to summarise a digital discipline or area of thought into one simplistic shareable image, are an insult to the complexity of those disciplines and the passion we have for them.

The ‘ketchup bottle’ meme arrived on my LinkedIn feed via a notification, a (shall remain unnamed) recruiter had added me to a misspelled post made by a ‘CEO’ of an online university:

“Very creative way to explain the diffrence between UI/UX.”

This is fundamentally wrong

What you see on the left is a product (ketchup) within a container. That container, which we can call the ‘user interface’, has been designed and built within the technological constraints of the time.

Remember; the product is the ketchup not the bottle.

Ask customers in the 1900's what they thought about the product and they’d most likely have high praise. Although now we deem this to be a poor quality user experience (knife in the bottom, slamming the bottom of the bottle etc), looking back I very much doubt that customers of the time thought it as such. All they want is this fantastic new product on their plates to enjoy and this user interface would have been adequate.

As time has moved on Heinz have continued to iterate their user interface. They’ll have iterated through multiple designs, materials, user research and usability testing to arrive at a squeeze bottle. However… not the squeeze bottle on the right.


Product innovation

It took 93 years to launch the first plastic squeeze bottle and a further 19 years to achieve the bottle on the right. That’s 112 years of product and container innovation. Heinz needed to innovate their product in order for this new user interface to even work.

This was a technological advancement in the way viscous liquids are stored in and removed from containers. These processes go hand in hand, when you innovate the product and the user interface in tandem it will lead to a greater user experience.

All this image shows us is the first (mass marketed) and latest user interface design. Simply changing the container does not instantly equal an improved user experience, if the ketchup had not advanced this most likely would have been an even worse user experience.


Has Heinz Ketchup lost it’s appeal?

You could argue that Heinz has lost that perception of premium quality, how many other squeeze bottle designs are there now on the shelf? The product may well be superior to their loyal customer base but do regular customers now just see a cheap plastic squeeze bottle like many others on the shelf?

There’s a sense of nostalgia with the glass bottle and even the action of bottom smacking / knife shoving as shown in their recent TV advertising campaign. Similar to KitKat and Smarties; remember the uproar when Nestle did away with the paper wrapping and traditional cardboard tube?

The user experience may be deemed ‘improved’, but is it what the user wants?


Sorry, but it’s not just about the user’s experience

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Heinz (or Nestle for that matter) improve their user interface designs purely for an enhanced user experience. There will have been powerful business strategy in play here; reducing cost and time are major factors in their forecasted iterations.

This is evident in the most recent iteration of their user interface, their newest packaging is the result of a strategic partnership between the Coca-Cola Co. and Heinz. This iteration of their packaging enables Heinz to produce its ketchup bottles using Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle packaging. Better for the environment, cheaper and faster to make for both companies.

The key question with any strategic innovation of product or evolvement of user experience is; what do Heinz want their customers to become?

Heinz want customers to enjoy their product and therefore use more of it, squeezing it out of a bottle in the easiest and quickest way means more of the product is consumed faster. Therefore customers will purchase more; bigger bottles, more regularly.

So what do their customers become? Obsessive.

They want customers to use so much of their product they ultimately rely on it; “No meal tastes right without Heinz!”.


To summarise

This image does not reflect the complexity or thought process a company, product manager, designer or engineer must go through to enhance the user’s experience… and crucially it displays the wrong interpretation of UI and UX.

If you’re looking for more about Agile, Lean, design and culture you can follow me on Twitter @ndxcc or read more on Northern Dynamics