Hold on. You’ll want to put your fries down for this one. Did you know ketchup was derived from the Chinese word “kê-tsiap”, which was the name of a sauce created from fermented fish?
That’s right, America’s favorite condiment, found in 97% of U.S. kitchens, first originated in China.
I won’t delve too deeply into the historical details — but basically an English sailor traveled to East Asia sometime in the early 1700’s, threw some fermented fish sauce on his cheese burger and thought… holy sh**, my friends need to try this back home.
Eventually, a few folks at F. & J. Heinz Company got ahold of the magic sauce, dropped the ‘siap’ and added a ‘chup’ and… BAM! They created an empire.
Enough with the history lesson… what can ketchup teach us about design?
The human tongue can distinguish between five tastes, these being — Saltiness, Sourness, Sweetness, Bitterness and Unami (or Savoriness).
When one of these five tastes enters our mouths, receptors in our tongues light up like the 4th of July, and we experience a wonderful sensation — this of course being pleasure.
The reason Heinz has been able to build an empire around a single condiment is because they have merged all five tastes.
If you close your eyes and squirt some ketchup on your mouth you will taste a vast array of flavors ranging from sweet to salty, sour to bitter and even savory.
Here is what is interesting about ketchup… if just one of these flavors is drastically changed in anyway, ketchup no longer tastes like ketchup.
What makes ketchup so popular among Americans and the world as a whole is its ability to blend these five flavors…
Look far and wide, but you will find no other condiment that has been able to achieve this.
Mustard is great… but it’s sour and bitter.
Mayo is fine… but it’s really just savory.
BBQ is delicious… but it’s mostly just sweet.
Miracle Whip… well, no one knows what the hell Miracle Whip is.
The world’s best products are designed like ketchup — they appeal to a wide range of senses.
Ketchup goes down in history as the world’s most successful sauce ever created — this is because it appeals to all five tastes.
While Apple didn’t create the Mac or iPhone to be sweet, sour, savory, bitter and salty… it did create its devices to appeal to three, maybe four of the five senses — sight, sound, touch and taste.
A Macbook Pro looks both innovative and luxurious (sight), it feels both smooth and clean (touch)… and it’s speakers are grade-A (sound).
Now, taste is obviously a bit of a reach here, but I would argue this…
Could we subconsciously be associating the sweet, crisp taste of an actual apple with Apple products?
I don’t know. It could be a stretch.
Regardless, I think one thing is very clear… an essential aspect of product design is appealing to all of (or most of) the senses.
Just like we can recognize the flavor of ketchup as being nothing other than ketchup… your customers should recognize the feeling of your products as being nothing other than 100% authentically you.
By Cole Schafer.