An ode to simple product design

As a product engineer, I often find myself delighted by the little things–an ingenious locking mechanism, a cleverly designed component, a silky smooth hinge – which is why the simplest of designs are sometimes the most fascinating. One everyday object that I find to be particularly (and deliciously) nifty is the McFlurry spoon.

An ode to simple product design.

It should be no surprise that McDonald’s, a company known for optimizing every step of its food preparation process, has designed the spoon for their ice cream treats to get them more bang for their buck. The spoon that comes with every McFlurry is also the mixer agitator used to prepare it. While traditional shake and smoothie mixers use a stainless container and spinning agitator that need to be cleaned with every use, the McFlurry serving cup and spoon are the mixing container and spinning agitator. Just hand the whole thing over to the customer and you’re free from clean up duty. This allows the McFlurry mixing machine to have a very simple design, too, only consisting of a motor with a square drive shaft.

The elegance of the spoon/agitator combination is that it not only fulfills two different functions (prep and presentation in one!), but it’s easy to manufacture as well. The injection mold for the spoon is a simple open shut tool with a single moving slide that forms the hollow inside of the square shaft. The only two design compromises that break the pure form of the spoon are the retaining clip, that holds it onto the mixer shaft, and two undercut holes on the front side of shaft/handle, which ensure that the spoon stays stuck to the core side of the tool before ejection.

An ode to simple product design.

Another feature of the square, hollow cross section of the McFlurry spoon’s handle is also a two-fer: the form makes it strong enough to mix the hard toppings into the ice cream –much more durable and reusable than the typical single-use plastic spoon. Yet by being hollow, the handle is mostly air, greatly reducing the amount of material needed. McDonald’s probably did this to minimize cost, but it is also much better for the environment. We love when there’s a positive side effect like that.

There are two “do-differentlies” that I think keep the McFlurry spoon one step from engineering perfection: a recycling logo would encourage recycling and further reduce its environmental impact, and a redesign of the retaining clip so it doesn’t stick out like an afterthought. The recycling logo could easily be added to the mold, the clip though is a trickier proposition since a next generation spoon would still need to work with existing mixer drives, ideally. We’ve got a few ideas how that could be done: can you imagine some? Perhaps you’re an engineer, too.

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