Co.Design

How KOR Redesigned Its Water Bottles, Using Customer Feedback

We've got the exclusive: KOR is debuting a new line of water bottles, for less cash.

KOR Water, the West Coast company that makes reusable water bottles hip, has given Co.Design an exclusive look at its next-gen product: Delta, a $20 container aimed at bringing the KOR brand to the masses. The process of that redesign serves as a template for using customer input to refine your wares, without compromise.

The bottle is more than 20 percent cheaper than KOR's debut product, KOR One, and has a bunch of features — among them: a circular base that fits into cup holders, a new ergonomic handle, and a couple different sizes — designed to accommodate a vast spectrum of customers, whether an Iowa housewife or a Marc Jacobs-flaunting cool kid for whom water is a three-course meal. With Delta, KOR is demonstrating how a company uses design to not just build equity but to spread it. "When we first brought KOR One to market, we thought we'd go very niche boutique and create a bottle that wasn't for everyone and that clearly set us apart," says KOR CEO J. Eric Barnes. "Now that we've established our uniqueness, we have the opportunity to build this line — to make a bottle that's easy for people to use and still has the benefit of all the things people love about the brand."

KOR plunged into the biz a few years back, with the lofty goal of creating a reusable container that's pretty enough to make people forgo bottled water. Designed by RKS, KOR One was a beaut — a BPA-free plastic bottle that shimmered like glass, came in iMac-y colors, and had a unique, flattened circular base. KOR One landed in all the right places from the shelves of Fred Segal to the hands of Gwyneth Paltrow (and was spotted in Iron Man). The company raked in $2 million this year. But Barnes and his staff knew that to stay afloat — and to seed their message — they'd have to set their sights beyond the boutique market.

So they tapped RKS again and, for design tips, turned to customers themselves. "Through Internet feedback and observation, we were able to capture the voice of the consumer," says RKS's Ravi Sawhney. Most of the demands were pretty basic. People asked for smaller bottles (the original product came in one size, 750 milliliters) and round containers that would fit snugly into cup holders.

Some were a tad more complex. People wanted handles that'd be more comfortable to grip than the existing hard-edged rectangle. RKS responded by giving the handle a slight tilt to mimic the angle of your fingers, which lengthen as you go from pinky to index. The new shape also represents the Greek letter delta for change — appropriate symbolism for a company aiming to change water consumption habits. "It's more ergonomic [than the original]," Sawhney explains. "We thought we nailed it the first time. But when you're doing something new, even though you try to get as close to the market as possible, there are always things you learn."

The resulting bottle still looks a lot like its predecessor. It has the same glassy luster, and it's made of the same BPA-free plastic, though the material has been tweaked to reduce the container's overall weight. It comes in two sizes and four peppy colors and has a removable cap for quick cleaning and a push-button safety latch to prevent spillage. The round base, while not as snazzy as KOR One's flattened circle, is distinctly more practical; it'll store as easily in your car as in your framepack.

Delta costs $19.95 for a 500-milliliter bottle and $22.95 for a 750-milliliter bottle. KOR One is $29.95. The lower price point means that KOR can now compete with mainstream reusable-water bottle manufacturers like Naglene and CamelBak. To that end, KOR is looking to flog its wares at REI, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, and other major retailers.

And Delta is just the tipping point. KOR has several new bottles in the works; by next January, they'll have gone from selling one product to seven, with revenue projected at $7 to $10 million. "The danger is you go mass market, and you create a product that isn't striking design," Barnes says. "You're stripping the equity away. For us it's about figuring out the right price but still creating a highly differentiated product."

[Images by Ben Dowdy/Eastman, courtesy of RKS]

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