Angular measure

OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Jug

A few years ago I went to a talk at the RCA by Alex Lee, president of OXO International. Apart from a statistic about how many bagel-slicing finger-chopping accidents happen each year in New York city, what stuck in my mind were the angled measuring jugs he showed us, part of the well-known Good Grips range of inclusively designed kitchen utensils.

The clever angled measuring scale – easily visible from above, as the jug is filled – seems such an obvious idea. As the patents (US 6,263,732; US 6,543,284) put it:

The indicia on an upwardly directed surface of the at least one ramp allows a user to look downwardly into the measuring cup to visually detect the volume level of the contents in the measuring cup, thereby eliminating the need to look horizontally at the cup at eye level.

OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Jug

Now, this is an extremely simple way to improve the process of using a measuring cup / jug. It’s good if you find it hard to bend down to look at the side of the vessel. It’s helpful if you’re standing over it, pouring stuff into it. It reduces parallax error – so potentially improving accuracy – and it also, simply, makes it easier to be accurate.

In this sense, then, improved / easier-to-read scales can influence user behaviour. I guess that’s obvious: if it’s easy to use something in a particular way, it’s more likely that it will be used that way. It’s a persuasive interface, in an extremely simple form.

Kenwood JK450/455 kettleSo, the question is, if I build an electric kettle with an angled scale like this, will it make it more likely that people use it more efficiently, i.e. fill it with the amount of water they need? If you’re standing with the kettle under the tap, putting water in, is this kind of angled scale going to make it easier to put the right amount in?

Kenwood sells a kettle which has angled scale markings, the JK450/455 (right), though they’re implemented differently to (and more cheaply than) the OXO method, simply being printed on the side of the kettle body. It’s still a clever idea. This review suggests an energy saving of around 10% compared with Kenwood’s claimed “up to 35%” but of course this saving very much depends on how inefficient the user was previously.

I think something along the lines of either the OXO or Kenwood designs (but not infringing the patents!) is worth an extended trial later this year – watch this space.

OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Jug
Thanks to Michael for the Buckfast.

9 thoughts on “Angular measure”

  1. Note that to use the ramps in these Oxo cups requires that you hold the cup on the level. That’s easy when you’re pouring that weird brown stuff out of the bottle onto the counter. But when filling the cup from the faucet it takes as much effort for me to hold the cup level as it does to look at the side. In fact, I found myself ignoring the ramps on my cups and then switching back to ordinary glass measuring cups because they’re far easier to wash by hand. What are the energy implications of a cup that can only easily be washed by machine?

    Also note that the Kenwood design is quite different from the Oxo design: it makes readings possible when the kettle is upright or inclined; it does not make them possible from above as the Oxo cups do. I also consider the Kenwood graduations pretty hard to read. What about big, colored dots or bold numerals instead of sharp lines? It’s not important to get the amount of water exactly right; it’s more important to get it somewhere near the right level but with high confidence that the kettle hasn’t been underfilled.

  2. A new thought occurs: Isn’t the solution to the electric kettle energy-wastage problem simply the eradication of electric kettles? In the United States, there is no kitchen with an electric kettle that doesn’t also have a microwave oven that is capable of doing the same task with less energy. For tea, the exactly correct amount of water can be heated directly in its final container. For coffee, a measuring cup or empty press pot can be used. In addition to energy not wasted in the use of the electric kettle, the energy in materials and manufacture embodied in the electric kettle and the extra solid waste generated when it reaches its end of life are not wasted.

  3. Perhaps a future innovation could combine the ease of cleaning with the ease of use. Perhaps a digital display showing the user how much is in the container? Shouldn’t be that hard to implement.

    Dunno why I just give out this information for free :P

  4. Thanks everyone – some great ideas there.

    On Silverman’s point about microwaves, I think the reason they’re not more commonly used for heating water is simply that (at 700-800 W typically) they’ll take over twice as long to boil the same quantity of water as a 2 kW electric kettle. They’re also slightly less efficient in the sense that a proportion of the power drawn is used to rotate the turntable, and power the fans, even assuming that all the microwave energy is transferred to the water – which it isn’t necessarily).

    But I take your point: dematerialising the specialised device that is the kettle (with all the resources that go into making it and disposing of it) might make more sense. Not all hot drinks actually need boiling water (one of the points of the Tefal Quick Cup which, reading the reviews, seems less than successful!) and having, for example, a plumbed-in tap/faucet for near-boiling water, heated as it’s drawn up to the spout, might be useful. See also some interesting work on microwave hot water systems for homes.

    Going back to the scale issue, I wonder whether it is more useful to be able to see it from directly above (as on the OXO jugs), or from a kind of oblique angle that nevertheless isn’t directly side-on (e.g. what Kenwood have tried to do). Or, is it really better to have scales which are viewable and reasonably accurately understandable from any angle – which could be large coloured dots, or numerals, as you note, or, as Nathan says, a digital display, maybe sensing the weight (as Crosbie says) and translating this into cups/mugfuls as well as actual volumes.

    All we need now is piezoelectric generators to stick in the base of the kettle which can generate enough power just by the weight of the water filling it, to power the display… I do work with an expert in printed strain gauges – I should probably make use of this expertise!

    Lea – you could suggest the baby bottle idea to OXO!

  5. To boil exactly the right amount of water in an electric kettle, there’s no need to make any changes to the kettle; instead, use the cup as the measuring device.

  6. ELECTRIC KETTLES:
    Has anyone else thought to design thermostats to cut out at 99 degrees C (or less) to save adding the latent heat (of evaporation) to the water? Perfectly good tea and coffee can be made with unboiled water and sterilisation takes place below boiling point. There is a potential ENERGY SAVING of millions of units per day if manufacturers were obliged to either give the consumer the choice of reduced temperature or were forced to reduce the maximum temperature of water in kettles.

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