A Beautiful New Kettle

2015-11-20 Fri

I wasn't drinking tea at home as often as I wanted. Why?

I owned tea. I owned a mug. I owned a kettle, one I purchased a few years ago. It was a little luxury purchase-–not expensive, but nicer than I needed: an “updated retro” thing in a tasteful grey, with a subdued luster. (Some might call it gunmetal grey? It looked like polished hematite, which I find beautiful.)

polished hematite rocks
Is this not the best? (Image "borrowed" from rocktumbler.com)

The kettle looked nice, was solidly constructed, was a stove top model. It was exactly what I wanted when I bought it. Simple and beautiful.

But even though it was my primary means of making tea, coffee, and cocoa, I seldom used it. In fact, I felt a mild resistance whenever I thought about using it.

A few weeks back, I reflected on that. What was my brain trying to tell me through this resistance?

When I finally listened, my brain said this:

The obvious conclusion: The kettle was not easy to use. I may have liked looking at it, but I didn't enjoy using it.

I thought about this, and came up with a list of things I’d ideally get in a tea kettle:

I purchased a new teapot.

black plastic electric kettle
Is this not ugly? (Image "borrowed" from amazon.com)

It is ugly. It’s cheap plastic, the lid doesn't open all the way (by design, grr), it arrived bearing a horrible sticker which wouldn't come off, and when I took the GooGone to remaining adhesive, the fill-level-marking paint came off too. It can only hold 0.5L. I find the cord irritating; there’s no good way to store the thing.

It is a grotesque little product, and I love it.

It occupies little space. It's easy to fill, it heats quickly and quietly, it turns off when it’s done. It simply works.

I've been using it so much more than my old grey kettle. When I want a warm beverage, I experience no resistance or reluctance. I put water in it, and I push its large, ugly red button.

I find it beautiful, not because it looks pretty, but because it fits my life. It's not an art installation, it's a tool, and it makes my life better.

My experiences preceded my discovery of this article, but it touches the same core lesson: How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name. (Take-home: “design” isn't just about aesthetics, it’s about usability.)