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(For example) AA batteries are available as rechargeable and non-rechargeable variants.

As they are of identical construction, you have to read the tiny text on the battery to find out if they are rechargeable or not. Many producers do a great job in making it hard to find this information.

What would be good ways to make it easy for users to differentiate these two types of batteries?

Color? Haptics (like corrugated facing)? Symbol? What else?

Bonus points for accessibility (for illiterate and visually impaired users) and internationalization (tourists buying/using batteries with unknown language labels).

User’s main intent would be the question "May I put these batteries into the recharger?".

One time I observed a user having problems with his cableless telephone. He complained that the battery was dead although the phone was on the charging station for the whole day. He opened the phone, checked right positioning of the batteries, he even blew into it. But he didn’t recognize that he was mistakenly using non-rechargeable batteries.

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A good question given that putting a non-rechargable battery in a charger can be dangerous. – PhillipW Jul 17 '13 at 9:01
Why not write "RECHARGEABLE" in large text across the battery? – XenElement Jul 17 '13 at 17:17
Another thing to address is that regardless of the labeling, some people are still going to do the wrong thing. So should there be some indicator on the recharger to let the user know about this? – Michael Lai Jul 17 '13 at 23:51
Considering that the problem chiefly surfaces when trying to recharge non-rechargable batteries, it might be more important to focus on the charger side and less on the battery. A charger can probe a battery, trying to charge it, and see how the current varies with the applied charging voltage. If it turns out that the charge does not stick, just stop charging and blink a red LED to signal failure. Side benefit: this also rejects rechargeable batteries that are end-of-life. – MSalters Feb 18 at 15:07

5 Answers 5

In cases like this I have found stickers to work wonders! I made a sketch below:

recharge icon

Stickers provide visual and, depending on their thickness, some haptic feedback. That also solves the problem of not having to physically change the shape of either the batteries or the charger.

I have placed stickers on products and the users were thinking the original manufacturer did this, none of them realised they were put on the products after installation.

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+1 Like the sketch, ties in neatly with the recycle / recyclable logo and the standard refresh icon – Marjan Venema Jul 17 '13 at 10:40

Probably the best way would be to add some slight physical variation* (maybe a little groove around the battery on a rechargable battery ) so that you couldn't physically fit non-rechargable batteries into the charger.

** ie an 'interlock'

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We can combine ekapros solution with my solution. Cleverly engineered the head of the battery to be square for example will allow visually challenged user to be able to tell the differences and designed the power charger to only accept square tip to be inserted. This will prevent the regular battery to be inserted into the charger and also will not caused any compatibility issue with.

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I'd say too many existing devices into which you might put the rechargable battery, assume the connector dimensions for you to be able to go around changing the connectors shape. – PhillipW Jul 17 '13 at 11:08
I'd also note that the design challenges involved in creating a square head are likely greater - more edges, faces, and stress points. – XenElement Jul 17 '13 at 17:19
Hi PhillipW, the square connector can be smaller than the round connector to ensure fitting to existing devices. hi XenElement, yes but given the current technology I will say it's not a problem at all. – SimonTeo Jul 18 '13 at 9:04
I like the out-of-the-box thinking here, but in this case I agree that it's not really practical: (a) the contact head is small anyway so square vs round isn't an obvious indicator; (b) one of the issues with electronics is cradle contact damage from scratching, and even with rounded corners the square shape is more likely to scratch/wear down the contact metal in the cradle. – tohster Feb 18 at 21:00

From a design thinking perspective I like the approach of better labeling because it's more easily adopted by the industry than changes in form factor. Batteries, like QWERTY keyboards, are a classic example of legacy problems, and Donald Norman has a nice case study of batteries in the classic Design of Everyday Things.

I'll assume that battery vendors will want to reserve a lot of space on the battery for branding, so I like the icon approach because it minimizes space.

The "green arrow" approach is interesting but problematic since it's too easily confused with green recycling icons. Remember that batteries have their own recycling issues, so using a green arrow that looks like a recycling icon creates some confusion.

Here is one approach:


  • Blue color is often used for electricity.
  • Electricity bolt provides visual indicator for the color blind.
  • Round "recycle-style" arrow denotes rechargeability.
  • Arrow is differentiated in color from traditional green recycling arrows, but similar enough that it may secondarily cue users to the different recycling requirements for batteries.
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The round tip of a rechargeable AA battery is already larger than a non-rechargeable, to prevent the use of powerful rechargeables in toys or other equipment where such use would be unsafe. This does not prevent the original problem, only the opposite.

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Welcome to the site, @Jeroen! Although this is an interesting data point, it doesn't appear to answer the OP's question of how to ensure that users don't try to recharge non-rechargeable batteries. How would you address that issue? – Graham Herrli Feb 18 at 15:07

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