In India, it is difficult to see different variations & designs of some common stuff that we use daily. Though FMCG sector has seen many innovations & creativity in the last decade, the mundane daily items such as gas lighter remain mostly the same. Most of them use a piezo-electric crystal, and rather hard-to-press trigger/button to generate a spark. Recently I had a minor thumb injury that made it very difficult for me to use a regular gas lighter (the chrome plated one that you see in the photo). That’s when I started looking for a new gas lighter that we had some 6-7 years ago but it stopped working about a year ago or so. We were using the regular one since. This thumb injury prompted me to look for this again with renewed vigour & purpose. I’ll skip the long story of search for this lighter. I thought increased purchasing power of people might have triggered more sale for this gas lighter, but as it turned out 99% of the shops that I visited (in Pune) were not even aware that one such gas lighter was being manufactured. Finally, I managed to get it one shop. I guess, this was the same shop where we had purchased it for the first time. (The grey one that you see in the photo)
I was quite relived as it allowed me to use the gas lighter without much pain to my injured thumb. Moreover, it was much more convenient for our old cook as well. She found it difficult to use the regular one. This actually prompted more thinking about the design – design of this gas lighter. Slowly, I observed that it was difficult for older people to use the regular gas lighter primarily because of the hard-to-press trigger/button. The gas lighter that I purchased has a switch similar to a simple push-button, making it extremely easy to use. It uses a single AAA sized battery and the gas lighter itself lasted for 5+ years as we had experienced with our first one. The finish and look of this lighter is much better than the regular one as well. It’s a simple device – but well designed and makes it extremely convenient for everybody.
In his book The Design Of Everyday Things Donald Norman talks about this – thoughtful design. Understanding user’s real requirements beyond all the conventions and perceived user demands could really take the product to a different level. Designs that understand this psychopathology of everyday things and follow intuitive, easy to use approaches for their products are most likely to have greater user acceptance. During my short course at IDC, IIT Bombay, we had an opportunity to design few such everyday things – from a simple refrigerator switch to making toys for kids, followed by some thought-provoking discussion with our professor Anirudha Joshi. There are some invaluable insights about design that we have gained in the process. It is fascinating to see how design has its own subtle yet powerful language that speaks to us without words. Imagine how would you open a door that has a short vertical handle? Imagine how would you open a door that has a large horizontal handle? In both cases, assume that there are no words, no PUSH/PULL written on the doors. Just try doing it in the air right now and you’d realize how we respond to such simple design elements. The more you learn those design nuances, the more intuitive & useful your products would be – be it software or any other device such as this gas lighter. Design is lot more than making stuff look good!
If it hadn’t been for my injured thumb and all those observations that followed afterwards with older people and their use of a gas lighter; I think I wouldn’t have ever appreciated this product design properly. Despite its high cost (close to ₹ 300 as compared to ₹ 70 to ₹ 125 for a regular gas lighter), I believe this gas lighter has a potential to sell lot more units if it is marketed and distributed with little more efforts. I hope the manufacturers will do it!
DISCLAIMER: I am not associated with the manufacturer of this gas lighter in any way. 🙂
Update: 27 Oct 2014
Found this apt quote by Steve Jobs – Perrrrrrrrrfect!!
— Manish Hatwalne (@ReclusiveCoder) October 27, 2014