On Water Bottles and Identity

kor-bottle.jpgMattia Nuzzo
So I just got this water bottle. Pretty cool, right? It definitely took me a couple weeks (maybe months?) to find it among the Siggs and Klean Kanteens out there. While it does meet most of my requirements – portability, aesthetics, drinkability – I began to wonder what the image of myself armed with such an overdesigned water holder might present to people.
I initiated my search for the coolest water bottle I could find by doing just that: typing “coolest water bottle” into Google. I came across articles about the need to ensure that the container was BPA-free, and how the Siggs actually don’t call out the composition of the interior lining of their bottles. After a bit more research I threw caution to the wind and ordered a shiny new Sigg from Amazon. Unfortunately after receiving it I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. It just seemed too “meh”; too pragmatic. Back it went, and after returning to my “cool” search results I happened upon the Kor One.
The website hosted by Kor has all the trappings of a brand that’s trying too hard – a blog, a flickr page, videos, etc. All this for a water bottle. I can’t help but question if the identity they seem to be so carefully crafting actually gets in the way of the piece’s primary role as a utilitarian object. The bottle’s cap contains a slot for customers to insert images or tags provided by the company, with cheesy slogans like “Better Me, Better World” (what does that even mean?). Still, it was the best overall design I’d seen so far, so I went ahead and plugged in my CC info and patiently waited the 5-7 business days.

When the Kor One arrived at my work I unpackaged it and gave a little show and tell to my coworkers. My initial self-effacing comment while holding it up was, “Look! It’s the gayest water bottle ever!” There seemed to be little protest to that claim, and in doing so it made me wonder if I wasn’t attempting to preempt an outside assault on my identity. Rather than subjectively proclaiming it as “awesomely designed” or “beautiful-looking”, I instead chose to attach a humorous descriptor that couldn’t really be argued with (I’m openly gay at work). Subsequently, people have commented on it more as an object in a WTF sort of way, but I’ve yet to be commended on my contribution towards saving the world.
kor44.jpgThat said, how much of my decision to finally get a water bottle was actually borne out of a desire to become greener? Deep down I think it factored in, but my general view of sustainability is built upon simply finding something that I’ll like and use for a long period of time. I used to drink only bottled water, and a large part of the decision to start drinking from the tap came from moving to San Francisco and learning about the high quality of the water stored at the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Even though this awesome resource is free, there seems to be a shared notion that paying for water increases its value. Most of us seem to forget that when visiting a restaurant (even the nice ones) we’re drinking tap water at the table. Figuring out how to get over that disconnect has a lot to do with image. The makers of the Kor One believe that by creating a new package for the ubiquitous resource they can push people to reconsider their biases – and make a profit while doing it.
I obviously fall into Kor’s target market having purchased the bottle, but I’ve found that I’m a bit self-conscious walking around with it. Is it that I’m worried about looking extra gay, or just that it’ll look like I’m trying too hard? In fact, any sort of positive feeling of acting sustainably is outweighed by these negative connotations. It’s fascinating how this purchase has triggered these sets of identity issues within me – I mean, is my psyche that fragile? I can’t help but think back to the simpler days on the playground when all that mattered was whether or not you were wearing the latest pair of Air Jordans. Now you may look good, but you damn well better be sure that jacket biodegrades when you’re through with it.
Beyond all this identity stuff, I can’t help but go back to the fact that the water bottle functions exactly as I hoped – it’s easy to drink out of, holds the right amount of water, and yes, it also expresses to the world that I love design.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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