Hitting the bottle: as we transition away from the bottle with our son we had a large collection of sippy cups that various people had given us and without knowing much about it I started using them, because it seemed like the logical next step. One of those sippy cups had a straw rather than they nipple-like spout and he really seemed to prefer drinking from that one. Also, when we were out to eat he was VERY interested in drinking from our straws, which we encouraged. So it seemed like skipping the “nipple” sippy cup and going right to a straw made sense.
That day I went to our favorite baby store (New Baby Products) to browse the selection of straw cups since I know that they hand pick the best ones. The sales person recommended the Bot straw cup by Zoli, which looked good to me, so I bought one and took it home. One the first use our son dropped it from his highchair and a part inside the cup broke. Bummer. I Emailed Zoli and they were very quick to send me a replacement part, which eased the frustration of it braking on the first use. However I soon noticed that it leaked a lot around the joint of the cup and the lid. Especially when he would bang it on his high chair tray. I thought that perhaps I was not screwing the top on all the way and made a concerted effort to be more careful. However, the next day when I tossed it on my diaper bag to run some errands I was really pissed to find that it had leaked everywhere in the 10 minutes it took us to get tot the store. Especially because I was SUPER careful to to the top on correctly. It was at that point that my quest for the perfect straw cup began.
Since that bag soaked day I have bought a ridiculous number of straw cups and turned my product designer focus on them.
User Study: When designing a new product one of the first things I like to do is a user study. That is watching people use the current products in the area that I am working on, and to that end my son has been using all of these different cups for the past few months. From that data I then write a “Design Criteria”. This is a list of all the factors/features that I (or the client) am looking for in a successful product design. It also acts as a checklist to evaluate design concepts as well as the final design against to ensure that it meets the desired needs of the product.
Close, but no cigar: One of the first things I noticed about pretty much all of the cups (other than the Bot) was that the straws stopped about 1/2”-3/4” of an inch from the bottom of the cup. This meant that no matter how had my son worked he could not get that last bit of drink, which he could see since most of the cups were clear. It was interesting watching him trying to solve the problem by shaking, banging and ultimately tipping the cup up like a bottle, but none of this would yield any drink for him. The other frustrating (and expensive) thing (for me) was throwing out the 1/2 cup of his organic milk every time he used the cup because he could physically not drink it.
Bot straw cup by Zoli with weighted straw
The Bot cup had a nice idea by adding a small weight to the end of the straw so that no matter how the cup was tipped it was always in the fluid. However, as I mentioned my weight broke on the first use after being dropped, I suspect due to a design flaw in the thin walls in the up spout that attaches to the straw.
There she blows: Another issue was, as we called it, “volcanoing”. When you place cold liquid inside a pressurized contained as it heats to room temperature it expands. Since the cups didn’t have a pressure release valve the milk exits the cup the only place it can, via the straw. Once again this was very frustrating and expensive, especially because at this point he is walking around with his cup at snack time and it “erupts” milk on our carpets, furniture and him.
Cup “Volcanoing” milk after 7 minutes of sitting on the counter
What’s that smell: Another big problem I found was cleaning these cups. The Bot with it’s weight, which scored high marks in the drinking department, was the worst offender in the cleaning. I bought the small brushes specifically for cleaning these straws, but they would not fit the Bot and soon it had a foul smell to it. I looked on the Zoli website and they recommend adding hot water and shaking it (to make it volcano) and using your fingers to “remove the muck”. YUCK!
Several of the other cups had pretty straight forward straw designs that we easy to clean, with the exception of the Munchkin Flip Straw Cup which had such a complex system to insert the straw that it was almost impossible to get out to clean and put it back in.
That sucks: Two other big issue are intuitiveness and usability. You want your child to understand what the cup is, how it works AND be able to use it. Remembering that the goal of this cup is not only to hydrate/feed them but also train them to use a “real” straw. Most of the straw cups do that in the same way, they are a straw. Simple right? Not for the Nuby (no-spill) cup with “Touch-Flo valve”, they have a fluted top to the straw that you have to bite to open the valve and be able to suck the fluid out. Bite and then suck. Seems very intuitive and like it’s training a kid for the next step.. did I mention that the opening is only in one direction? So if you bite in one direction it opens, but rotate the straw 90 degrees and your bite actually closes it more. The straw does have small raised areas that I guess is a guide on where to bite, but it took me 5 minutes to figure it out. Then once I go t that I realized that you about about a 1/3” bite zone to open the straw. bit too high and it will not open, but bite too low and will not open either. Hoping that my kid was smarter than me I gave it to him and he spent 5 minutes and could not figure it out either (RETURNED). Which really sucked because it was the only one with a pressure release valve and it had a nice rubber gasket to seal the lid with.
Nuby (no-spill) cup with “Touch-Flo valve”
ETC. ETC: I also found that a lot of these cup leaked when banged around (open or with a top on them) from what seemed like poor fitting of parts or lose tolerance (see cover closure of Bot cup). I know that I could carry his beverage in a separate container and dispense it in to the cup while he drinks it and them pour the rest back into the container, but that just seem stupid to me.
Design Criteria: So, here is what I came up with for the straw cup based on my user study.
Essential features (things a successful cup design should do on every use)
- Cup must permit consumption of all fluids
- Cup must not leak when in use
- Cup must not leak when sealed and not in use
- Cup must be easy to clean
- Straw must be easy to clean
- Straw must be easy to remove and reinstall
- Rugged construction
- Intuitive (for both child and parent)
Desirable features (while not 100% critical, features that should be included)
- Internal pressure release system
- Dishwasher safe
- BPA free
- Transitions from sippy to straw to drinking cup
- Minimal parts
- Availability of replacement parts (as needed)
Survey says: Out of all the cups I tested NOT ONE had every feature that I think these cups should have. It’s kind of crazy actually. I’m not sure why that is, maybe a price point issue? We paid as little as $2.75 and as much as $18.00 for a cup and would gladly pay (slightly) more for a single cup that did it’s job. When you factor in the wasted/spilled milk, damage from spills, cleaning products used and general frustration it would easily be worth it. But, as I said it does not exist.
For us the Kid Basix Safe Sippy 2 is the closest to our dream cup. It is stainless steel, so it can take a beating, has a nice straw that reaches (almost) to the bottom. It can be used as a straw cup, or drinking bottle (although they don’t change the mouth piece, which again goes to confusing interface for the kid). It does not seem to volcano (much) but the big flow is that you can’t seal it for travel. Well, you can, but you have to disassemble the cup and put a plug on the inside that will then have to be removed when you want to use it.
Kid Basix Safe Sippy 2 shown w/straw removed, travel plug (dark orange) & cap
So, I guess the best I can recommend to anyone is pick the features that are most important to you and buy that cup and try not to think about the others you are not getting. After all he will only use it for 4-8 months before graduating on to a “big boy” cup anyway. And I’m sure those are all perfectly designed!