WalMart’s milk jug: great design or flop design?

The New York Times is reporting that WalMart’s new fangled milk jug is getting mixed reviews.

What’s not to like? Plenty, as it turns out.

The jugs have no real spout, and their unorthodox shape makes consumers feel like novices at the simple task of pouring a glass of milk.

The design of the milk jug is so bad that WalMart has taken to doing in-store demonstrations of “how to pour” with this new jug.

WalMart\'s new milk jug

This jug is a design flop! Right?

Well not so fast. It seems that the designers of the milk jug created it for a specific purpose: to save money. The new jugs are stackable, saving shipping costs and space. The company saves up to 70% of labour costs using these new jugs. The milk arrives at the store fresher, sometimes even the same day. This jug is a great design! Right?

The truth is somewhere in the middle. If business requirements trump user needs, this product is a winner! It saves time, energy, and most of all, money. It’s easier to ship, easier to manage, and much more efficient.

But if user needs trump business requirements, then this jug is a total flop. No  one knows how to use it. They spill it. Their children can’t pour it themselves, forcing parents to spend more time to use the jug. They feel stupid when they can’t pour it correctly.  Talk about crying over spilled milk! WalMart’s new milk jug off-loads all its design failings onto its users, keeping all the benefits of the new design for itself.

WalMart is famous for putting its business needs ahead of its workers and its communities. Off-loading the negative effects of this milk jug onto its consumers? That’s another in a long line of WalMart putting itself and its shareholders first.

Great design aligns business and user. There are trade-offs in every phase of product design. But not knowing what your users before making a design change makes it impossible to do this. The verdict? Not a total flop, but clearly a business-driven design. Truly great design balances the user’s needs with the business’s needs.

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7 responses to “WalMart’s milk jug: great design or flop design?

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  2. I’d still say it’s a total flop. There are lots of solutions to the “milk cartons don’t stack” problem. One that hinders usability for the end user? bad. There are plenty of other boxed beverages they could have looked to for inspiration.

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  4. Wal-Mart? Kirkland is a Costco brand.

    As a user of these milk jugs from Costco, they ARE more prone to pouring failures.

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  6. Kirkland is Costco. Who cares, waste less want less.

  7. I dunno what the big deal is. If the design reduces energy consumption and material costs, I don’t care if I have to reaquaint myself with pouring techniques. I say the overall benefits justify some personal adjustments.

    Truthfully, no one can expect a more sustainable culture without some changes–to infrastructure, transportation, governance, logistics and milkjug design.

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