Kicker Tea Project: Selecting a Direction, Functional Cartography

See the introduction to this project and the initial concepting.

Never throw away a sketch. That’s the lesson from the last couple of weeks from our tea project. When we were doing our initial sketching, Jenn drew this:

We didn’t pay too much attention to it at the time, since it was one sketch out of the dozens we made, and we were focusing a lot for a time on a tea stick concept instead of a tea pot. But one of our industrial designers, Emily, remembered the idea and worked up some sketches around what became known as the H— concept.

We all got excited about this concept, as it met most of the major design goals we had for the product, plus had a unique (and beautiful) shape that was driven by its functionality. We decided to move forward with it. (We’d love to show you the sketches, but that would ruin the surprise!)

Since the proposed design involved double-walled glass, Emily spoke with a glassblower to determine its feasibility and ease of manufacture. His suggestions changed the overall form, and further refinements by our other industrial designer, Jeff, modified the form again, while still retaining much of Emily’s original idea. The next step for the industrial design involves making physical and CAD models, as well as figuring out, with the interaction designers, where the controls go and how they operate.

We’ve agreed that, to keep making tea feeling like an analog process, to not have a screen on the device, which has considerable consequences. There are several functions that would, on most conventional appliances, be done using a screen. Setting brewing time, for instance. We’ve had to do a complicated functional cartography to distribute the functionality and feedback onto the several pieces of the product, and even, in some rare cases, move them to an application not on the device itself.

We’re currently contemplating feedback as well. What visual cues make sense for when the tea is done brewing that also fit with the form, for instance?

We’ve always assumed the device would be wirelessly connected (so that it can alert users from afar when the water is hot enough or the tea is done brewing), but this has provided its own set of challenges as well. “Design is hard!” someone mock-whined in a project meeting.

Next up: industrial design refinement and mechanical engineering