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How You Use a Straw Matters to Us (Kind of)

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You know those plastic cups that have the screw-on lids? The ones that come with the plastic straw with that little bump on it? Ever wonder if that bump is supposed to go above the lid or below it? I know someone who wondered that and did something about it.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I work in Human Resources and about 18 months ago we formed the first User Experience (UX) team dedicated to HR work. In fact, because we’re in HR and employees are our “users” (obvious once you think about it), we actually call it “Employee Experience”. We look at how we can make HR products and services a better experience for employees. It’s pretty cool to know you’re making Intel a better place to work for our employees—and in turn, ourselves! (See how I closed the circle there… )

The main thing that makes the Employee Experience team awesome is the people. We have a mix of skill sets but we all work together on challenging projects. Sort of like The Avengers, but without the spandex. Ahem. Anyway, we have actual UX experts, data analysts, content strategists, and even a visual storyteller.

Okay, let’s get back to the plastic cup. One of our UX experts, Kate, randomly sent this to the team one day:

My cup came with a straw. The straw has a bump on it.

See the bump_ See the bump?

The purposes of this bump are much-debated. Two explanations have been voiced. 

Explanation 1: The straw should go bump end down (inside the cup), so my straw doesn’t fall out when I completely invert my cup. This happens frequently.


Explanation 2: The straw should go bump end up (outside the cup), so I can remove the lid and straw for a refill without touching the straw. My energy level is not natural, so refills are important.



So, how should I place my straw? Bump end up, or bump end down? I have provided voting buttons for your convenience.


I see this as an interesting example of user experience work. Sure, it’s very simple scenario but the way it’s approached helps us understand how people think about the plastic cup and the straw and why they do what they do with it.

If we had learned that the majority of people use the straw with the bump down, it may mean that most people are concerned about spilling if they tip over their cup or losing the straw. On the other hand, if most use the straw bump up, they may be more concerned about germs or refill convenience. We might follow up with straw users (both bump up and bump down), to learn more about why they do what they do. Doing this kind of research helps us helps us hear the voice of employees rather than just guessing about how we should improve the experience.

It turns out that the voting results were pretty close to 50%/50%. The result told us that there’s no clear consensus about what the purpose of the straw bump is. Once we have experience data, we can improve it – through better design, development and/or deployment.

In this case, our Employee Experience team might ask the designer what they had in mind with the straw bump and discuss some alternatives for improving its usability. For example, how about if a small “up” arrow was printed on the straw? Or maybe a visual clue on the lid of the cup?

We do the same with our HR programs and services. And that means our employees have a better experience as employees. They can be more creative, collaborative and awesome. That hugely matters to us at Intel. I’ll share some examples in coming posts.

By the way, you can respond to Kate’s little usability test here – add a comment to the blog and we’ll expand our research on plastic cup and straw usage!