UX Experience: BIC 4-Color Grip Ball Pens Retractable, Medium Point

One of the most pleasant writing experiences I have had the opportunity to use in the past two years has been the BIC 4-color grip ball pen. This writing utensil is not to be confused with the BIC 4-Color Ball Pens Retractable, Medium Point. The main, and only difference between the two is the barrel of the BIC 4-color grip ball pen is the inclusion of a 12.5mm in diameter pen barrel and a rubberized grip (versus a non-rubber, basic plastic grip and a 10.5mm barrel on the non-grip pen).

The primary users of the BIC 4-colors (grip or no grip) are students and nurses. The four colors are commonly used to organize notes or patient charts. As a member of one of those userbases, I use the BIC 4-color with grip for organizing notes in my daily notebook. The multiple colors help highlight to-do lists or take dictation notes form multiple speakers.

The activities which were in progress while using the 4-color grip pen were situations related to note-taking, which typically occurs in work related or study related settings. I have used the pen to write the occasional rent check in addition to loaning the pen temporarily to a child so he could get his baseball signed at a minor league baseball game. No word if the athlete enjoyed the writing experience.

However, for the context of “note-taking,” there typically is the pressure of completing a sentence or a thought to keep up with a lecturer or speaker. In this use-case, the urgency is not critical, i.e. a misunderstood or misheard thought can be rectified quickly or confirmed with the speaker; however, repeated requests clarifications can be met with ire. So, the ability to write for long periods of time without pause can be of benefit for the user. The ability to also manage a typical 3-hour examination is an added benefit, although will probably be of less use or need in the coming year for me. I attribute this increased writing performance to the increased diameter of the 4-color grip pen and the slight cushion provided by the grip.

Another added benefit for the 4-color grip pen is that the retractable pen portion of the is backwards compatible with the older, non-grip version. Therefore, when I broke the stock retractable portion of the original grip pen, I could exchange the barrel of the non-grip pen with the grip barrel to continue using this new writing experience, which was critical as I have not found the grip version of the pen since I first purchased it approximately two years ago.

Returning to the typical use case, for day-to-day note taking I use the Blueline A9 wire bound notebook. Before discovering the grip pen, I would store my pen in what I am calling the “inboard storage,” that is, the barrel of the pen is placed within the metal wire binding. This contrasts with “outboard storage” where only the pen’s clip is placed in the wire binding and the barrel is outside the binding and the notebook. The Blueline A9 had a 17.0mm binding, however, approximately 3.5mm of the binding is occupied by paper. Attempting to store the 4-color grip pen in the inboard position could wear out the grip faster and/or damage the paper in the notebook. Therefore, I was forced to store the pen in the outboard position. This storage option is what led the original BIC 4-color pen to break. Both versions of the BIC 4-color pens have a very narrow pen clip (2.5mm) versus other pens I frequently use such as the single-color BIC Atlantis (7.0mm at the widest) and the single-color Pilot G-2 (7.0mm). Because of this negative use case, I have decided to store a single-color pen (both of which have grips) with the notebook and leave the BIC 4-color grip pen in my bag for longer note-taking sessions. Both alternative pens can be stored more effectively in the outboard position and the Atlantis can be stored in the inboard position. The G-2 can be stored in the inboard position as well, but only while the notebook is closed. In fact, both alternative pens can have multiple pens stored in the outboard position (up to four with the Atlantis) to satisfy my color needs if the primary, 4-color grip pen is forgotten. However, at this time, I believe two colors (pens) will be sufficient.

Using the 10 dimensions of UX as outlined by Provost and Robert (2013)¹, the experience of the BIC 4-Color grip pen is as follows:

Dimension Comments Grade
Functional The pen has been able to perform its function of converting thoughts or lectures into handwritten print media.  In addition, the added functionality of writing in different colors allows for me to take notes in different colors (such as blue for speaker A and green for speaker B) allows for greater organization functionality highlighting of important memos, etc. than the single-color counterparts Very Strong
Perceptual The grip of the barrel has begun to wear out.  It isn’t quite as elegant as the day it was purchased.  In addition, the visual appeal lacks a certain formality for some settings.  I probably would not use the pen for my presidential signature. Average
Physical The increased barrel grip allows for this user to use the pen for longer periods of time than the basic 4-color (non-grip) pen.  I do not perceive an added weight due to the increased size, or the feeling is offset by the cushioned grip.  However, the weight (14g) is not better than the alternative single colored G-2 (10g) or Atlantis (9g) Average
Cognitive While I have not had a problem with the device recently, I have had old 4-color non-grip pens wear out to the point where the pen would retract while writing.  The frustration that occurs when the device begins to wear out is a frustration I do not have with other pens. Weak
Psychological I place a strong emphasis on “click” pens, rather than capped pens.  I enjoy the ability of not having to worry about misplacing a cap.  It helps me sleep well at night knowing my pens will not dry out. Average
Social The limited social interaction I have had around BIC 4-color pens was first when I brought my first one to school in the fifth grade.  I was the coolest kid for a week until another kid brought in a yo-yo.  Since then, social interactions surrounding the BIC 4-color pens have been limited to, “Hey! They still make those?!” and are non-existent for the grip version because of the grip.  But, they do illicit a reaction for time to time while no other pen has. This pen, however, has prompted me to write over 1000 words on the experience of using it.  Therefore, I rate the 4-color grip as “strong” compared to the 4-color (non-grip) as “very strong” Strong
Informational The BIC web site has a history of their company, which includes information on the debut of the original BIC 4-Color.  However, the site does not inform the user on where to buy products, especially because I have not seen the 4-Color at a retail store since purchase (I have been looking).  Comparing to Pentel or Pilot, both of which you can purchase directly from them Very Weak
Contextual Being able to go back and read legible notes has been beneficial over the past few years and as a result has encouraged me to take even more notes. Strong
Cultural As mentioned in the “social” dimension of the UX, the pen does illicit responses from people who have had the opportunity to use the pen in their past.  The BIC 4-color appears to be a staple of people who love using colors to organize their written information; it crosses national borders and languages. Average
Temporal The ability to save space and time when writing in multiple colors is critical when the situation calls for it.  The one to two seconds saved by clicking down a different color (rather than swapping out for a separate pen device) appears to have saves me the hassle of asking members at a meeting to slow down while I take notes. Strong

The original 4-color pen has been one of my staple writing utensils since elementary school. The addition of the grip will help keep the BIC 4-color as my go-to tool for the upcoming years. Therefore, I rate it as a +4 on the user experience in the “writing instrument class,” maybe a +1 overall as it is just a pen.

¹ Provost G., Robert JM. (2013) The Dimensions of Positive and Negative User Experiences with Interactive Products. In: Marcus A. (eds) Design, User Experience, and Usability. Design Philosophy, Methods, and Tools. DUXU 2013. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 8012. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg