Coca-Cola Designed Its New Can Around A Problem No One Has

And the company isn't the only one. Why has chill-activation become such a design fad?

There are two types of problems that designers try to solve: problems people have, and problems designers delude themselves into thinking people have. Venerable sugar tonic maker Coca-Cola has just released a new can design firmly in the latter camp: a chill-activated can to visually tell people whether their Coke is cold or not. First released as a 7-Eleven promotion six months ago, the chill-activated can is now available to everyone.

Chill-activation, of course, is nothing new. The designers at MillerCoors have previously rolled out a series of chill-activated Coors Light cans, glasses, and containers. When refrigerated, the outline of the Rocky Mountains on the cans turn a vibrant blue, indicating that the can is properly cold. Coca-Cola is doing the same thing here, only color-changing ice cubes serve as the visual cue.

It's all achieved with thermochromatic ink, a color-sensitive dye that has been used in cheap thermometers for years, and is increasingly being used by the big brands for packaging purposes. For example, Pizza Hut has used thermochromatic ink to show whether or not your pizza was delivered hot in an innovation they called "the Hot Dot." And Mountain Dew has also experimented with thermochromatic inks, releasing a limited edition 16-ounce can in a cross-promotional campaign with the last Batman movie that changed the color of the Dark Knight's symbol when properly chilled.

It's all innocuous enough, but with Coca-Cola getting in on the thermochromatic ink trolley, maybe it's time to call this what it actually is: faddish bad design.

It should be obvious, but for the most part, no one needs to be visually told when something is cold or hot. There are exceptions, of course: an electric stove burner that turns orange when it's hot is an important safety cue. But when safety is not a factor—and a lukewarm can of pop is not going to kill anyone—a can that shows you when it is cold is like a siren that goes off when it's bright out. It's self-evidently absurd. We don't expect to "see" cold. We expect to feel it, and our skin has been designed to do just that. When we want to know if a can of Coke is cold, or a pizza is warm, our natural instinct is to touch it. That's what our hands are for.

The design problem that Coca-Cola, Coors Light, Mountain Dew, Pizza Hut have tasked themselves to solve is how to convey the temperature of their product to people without hands. That's actually a noble pursuit in its own way—amputees need a nice frosty one now and again, just like everyone else—but something tells me, that's not why these companies' R&D departments spent their millions.

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  • hncconover

    The fact is everyone how drinks Coke or would ever drink a Coke prefers them ice cold. I am all for knowing at first site whether my Coke is ice cold without having to touch it. Is it necessary? No, but neither is a robotic vacuum cleaner and I still want one. The fact is everyone prefers a cold beverage and the people at Coke are smart enough to know that. I don't see the problem with features that improve a products quality and taste exsperience . It is nice add, all for feature that communicate cold.

  • hncconover

    The fact is everyone who drinks Coke or would drink a Coke prefers them cold, it is nice to know that you beverage is ice cold at first site. Is it necessary? No. But a robotic vacuum cleaner isn't necessary either, but I still want one. It is a nice feature that adds to the product's overall quality. People like cold beverages. The people at Coke are smart enough to know this. All for features that say "hey I'm cold!"

  • Doug Peters

    If Coca-Cola was smart they would never have replaced Coca-Cola with New Coke, or replaced that with Classic Coke (which substitutes corn syrup for sugar which our bodies don't digest well). I hate Coke, now. I find myself drinking more Dr. Pepper or Mt. Dew or sports drinks because Coke is only a memory. It sucks, now.

  • le_gros

    Phoneblocks is impossible, the color of the battery icon on iOS 7 is wrong, design of a can of coke is wrong.. jesus, fast co whines a lot

  • ChipsAhoyMcCoy

    If I can get a can that changes colors based on temperature for the same price then I'm all for it because of that 1 specific situation when it may prove useful.

    The pizza hut thing is stupid. The delivery man could just rub it for a few seconds and fool the system.

  • patrickfabrizius

    You're missing the point. The point is not to solve a problem, but to distinguish yourself with a nifty feature. It's about branding, not about meeting unmet needs.

  • Indi Samarajiva

    But it kinda is useful. If you see a bunch of cokes in the fridge and you want to know which one's are cold, you don't want to touch every single one.

  • DebatingWombat

    Nice objection - except for the fact that unless this "bunch of cokes in the fridge" stand side by side, rather than stacked in rows several cans deep, you'll still have to touch them as you won't be able to see the label on any but the outermost can in a row...

  • Indi Samarajiva

    In our supermarket fridges (in Sri Lanka) they're always multiple rows deep. Even most home fridges aren't so insanely wide that you'd never have some cokes at the back and some at the front. I get that maybe you can't see that far back, but it's simpler to move them around and look than it is to feel each one.

  • DebatingWombat

    But if you move them around, how can you avoid feeling whether they're cold at the same time?
    I really don't see much of an improvement in either time or convenience here.
    But if one likes the changing colour scheme for aesthetic reasons or cool/gadget factor, that's just fine by me.

  • adamberk

    The problem this is solving for Coke. Not the consumer. If it sells more Coke, it solves the problem. Blue buttons on landing pages do not necessarily solve a problem for anyone - but that doesn't mean the site owner is wrong for using one if it increases conversions by 50%. And who said that R&D spent millions? Seems like the technology is old and (just like people saying below) they are just using it for marketing... that is another debate on its own, but I do not think Coca Cola designed the can to solve a "problem" for anyone...

  • Korey Wright

    Coca-Cola is smart. They gauged consumer tendencies and will probably profit accordingly. The unfortunate event is the trajectory of our tendencies. Consumer trends suggest that we (myself included) are increasingly vulnerable to assuming that a certain product solves a certain problem, but often the product itself makes us aware of the problem which we genuinely were never concerned with. Now we are concerned with strategically enjoying our beverages at their optimal temperature.

  • wtny64

    For a company with a market value of around $175 billion it just looks cheesy.

  • Igor Ivankovic

    It's a cool marketing idea and a tryout for the masses who want to experience new trends and feel special. They shouldn't even have Coke Zero by that fact :D Why bother when the original is spot on!