The infamous UI vs. UX ketchup bottle meme makes its rounds in the tech community every few months or so, and many UI and UX designers resent this oversimplified meme.
At face value, this meme appears to be a quick and easy tool for educating the general public about what the differences are between UI and UX. You might look at the attractive glass bottle labeled “UI” and understand that UI might have to do more with aesthetics. The less attractive but easier to use plastic bottle labeled “UX” is meant to be stored upside down, making it easier for the user to squirt out ketchup, rather than having to smack the bottom of the glass version. This gives the average person the impression that UX might be more about the actual functionality of a product.
The most obvious issue with this meme is that it boils down an entire field of study down to a simple image. UX and UI are complex and multifaceted, with a lot more nuance than this image suggests.
If we then start to look into the history of Heinz ketchup and their packaging design, we can start to see how the UX vs. UI meme starts to fall apart even more.
The glass bottle labeled “UI” was created at a much earlier point in history than the upside-down ketchup bottle. As Heinz has grown and developed as a company over the years, so too has its packaging design and the ketchup product itself.
In 1890, the first iconic Heinz glass ketchup bottle was designed and released to the public. The most innovative thing about the attractive glass container was that it allowed consumers to see through the packaging and look at the product inside.
Over the next century, the ketchup bottle went through several rounds of innovation. In 1970, Heinz created a 32-ounce ketchup bottle which contained much more product than its predecessors.
The first squeeze tube from Heinz came out in 1983 when the company created a funny green ketchup marketed towards kids.
It was the popularity of this easy-to-use packaging that lead Heinz to create the upside-down, plastic, easy-squeeze regular ketchup bottle. It didn’t hit shelves until 2001, over a century since the introduction of the glass bottle design.
Both the 1890 bottle design and the 2001 bottle design are iconic and important parts of the history of Heinz ketchup. They are both excellent representations of good product design for their time. However, many of the decisions Heinz makes in regards to packaging design doesn’t have much to do with UI or UX at all.
For example, in 2012, Heinz created an eco-friendly version of their packaging. This packaging was not only easier and cheaper to produce, but also appealed to eco-conscious consumers.
Even the concept of this easy squeeze tube isn’t entirely just about improving the user’s experience. By making it so easy to squeeze a ton of product out of the ketchup bottle, consumers may go through a bottle of ketchup much faster, and will need to go back to the store to buy more Heinz.
What you see in this image are two containers containing a product. The product is ketchup — not the bottle itself. Both containers are the User Interface, or UI. With this in mind, I have seen an attempt to update the image with more accuracy.
This update to the meme drives the point home that both containers are the User Interface of the ketchup-containing bottle, and adds an image of a user actually squeezing ketchup onto a burger. However, the update to this meme does not account for nuance in either UI or UX.