Design Case Study

Design for Change

When we set out to expand our tableware offering beyond our On The Go line, we started with a clean slate and asked, “What can we do to displace single-use disposable tableware?” Our ultimate goal was to reduce the consumption of the innumerable plates, cups and bowls people use just a single time. Knowing that disposable tableware is both cheap and convenient, we recognized that we faced quite a challenge. 

We brainstormed for months with sustainability experts like Ben Linder (Associate Professor of Design and Mechanical Engineering at Olin College), our product design partner, Evo design, talked to our consumers and spent many hours with our spreadsheets and impact assessments to identify a crucial distinguishing feature for our product. Finally, we determined—despite the fact that making products “greener” often involves making them lighter—that to meet our goal of shifting people away from disposable products, our new plastic tableware should be heavier in weight than our On The Go products.

Customer research

We began with focus groups. Participants sorted through dozens of plates of different materials (like polystyrene, polypropylene, PLA, starch and melamine) with weights from 20 to 277 grams. Participants then categorized the plates as “disposable,” “multiple-use” or “permanent.”
Through this process, we learned that the transition from categorizing a plate as “multiple use” to “permanent” happened around 75-93 grams. In the end we made our plates 84 grams, to provide a distinct tactile cue to the user.

We also observed how people interacted with the plates so that we could build additional elements into the design that would promote their long-term use. For instance, we saw people flex the plates as part of their evaluation and we learned that people dispose of them when they show visible knife marks.

Design

Here are some of our strategies we ultimately incorporated into our Everyday Tableware line:

  • Material: We chose 100% recycled polypropylene because it is a material that is safe for people and better for the planet.
  • Texture: We layered in the same texture we use on our cutting boards to conceal knife marks.
  • Ribbing: There is a subtle curved ridge along the interior wall of the plate. This strengthens the plate and prevents it from bending easily.
  • Encouragement: We integrated the mantra, “Reuse forever or return it to us and we will,” on the bottom of the plates to inspire users to use and reuse, again and again. 
  • Date of Manufacture: We added the date of (re)manufacture to celebrate the plate’s birth and get people thinking about how long they should reuse it.
  • Handle: We added a handle, to make the plate easier to hold when serving yourself or standing and eating at a party.
  • Braille: We noted the most important features of the plate in braille to assist visually-impaired persons. It reads, “Recycled #5 plastic. BPA free. Dishwasher safe”.

 

For more on our design of the Everyday Tableware line, see The Fast Company / The Designers Accord article.