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Innovation Inspiration #013—Critique Something

I’ve spent a good part of my career doing product reviews and analysis in one form or another, so some of you who know me may perceive a bias towards the topic of this last in the 5-part series.

But that doesn’t lessen its importance. To fully understand something, you must look at the subtlest of its features, and those of its competitors. You will miss important details if you abstain from this exercise.

Take  this simple coffee mug, for instance. What do you notice about it first? I’m betting the English cross. But look at it more carefully. What else sets its design apart from your typical coffee mug?

It’s the lip on the rim. When I first noticed this mug at the office, I thought it quaint. But the first time I drank from it, I discovered how perfectly shaped that lip is. It makes sipping from the mug smooth and delightful, because it is shaped to match your pursed lips.

Ever since, I have been looking for other mugs with such a lip, and have found precious few traditional coffee mugs (though many small teacups). But none have quite the same comfortable curve to the lip. Some are too thin, and others have a different arc to the curve. None are as delightful to use as this mug.

Somewhere, a designer either spent a lot of effort to get this lip right, or created the ideal shape by accident, and doesn’t even realize it. My money is on the former. The other examples were trying to copy what they thought was an aesthetic feature, or a functional feature that just needed to be close enough.

I haven’t searched, but I doubt I will find any published research on the preferences for the shape of coffee mug lips, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important feature.

I’ll have more to say on the critique process another time, but this lesson had to come first. If you want do design something great (or even copy something great), you must go this deep in your analysis, and in the features of your own design or copy.

(And don’t give me any lip about this!)

Take this simple coffee mug, for instance. What do you notice about it first? I’m betting the English cross. But look at it more carefully. What else sets its design apart from your typical coffee mug?

It’s the lip

Posted in Innovation.


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