Design fails lurking in 1 laundry cap

Design fails lurking in 1 laundry cap

Design fails come in many forms, print, web design, logo mistakes and items we use in our everyday lives. People often think design means the visuals in signage or web sites, but every human made thing you see and use in your life started out as a design. Whether it succeeds or not depends on many variables.

Something as basic as a laundry soap bottle is rarely considered problematic. For years, we shook our laundry soap out in powder form. Then came the bottles of liquid soap. People lugged down cups to measure out the proper amount of soap needed, screwed the cap back on and didn’t give the bottle a second thought.

Basic design success of the liquid laundry bottle

Then some smart spark thought why not turn the lid into a measuring cup. Brilliant. As a bonus, the new cup lid also allowed excess liquid to slid back down into the bottle. So, there are 2 design features that work.

Design fails that do a disservice to people with sight impairments

Photo of two laundry caps, one blue and one clear

The suspects are lined up

The lid is frustrating for anyone with sight impairments. This is a textbook example of a great idea and bad follow through. You must have damned good vision to spot the measurement marks inside. Let’s look at one such cap:

Close up photo inside the blue laundry cap showing hard to see guides

This was taken with a macro setting on my camera

Look inside most lids and you’ll see the levels for light, medium and heavy loads, all nicely laid out. The design fail is the lack of differentiation on the lines. They are all the same colour, making it difficult to see. In this particular lid complicates the problem with the ridged design, which makes seeing the numbers more difficult.

The above image is the lid from Arm and Hammer liquid soap. Nice lid. Doesn’t drip. Can’t see the lines unless I get my nose right into the cup. Or use a macro setting on my camera and then adjust the brightness on the image. Someone with good vision would be able to make out the numbers, but let me tell you, I have to take off my glasses and stick my nose into the cup before I can see them.  Basic design sense should tell the designer to make the lines standout. A bit of contrasting colour would do the trick. Blue cup; bright red lines and numbers.

Bigger design fail is the fabric softener lid

Photo of the clear cap showing a huge design failure. 1 and 5 are visible but all other soap levels are obscured by the cap's rim

And here is the worst culprit.

The design fail on this is monumental. Did you spot the issue? Someone put thought into making the measurements easier to use. Levels one and five are visible. Although to someone with severe vision problems it would still be difficult to read. Again, contrasting colours would be helpful. If you want two and three, you’ll have to guestimate the amount. Those numbers are hidden behind the heavy rim. If you look inside the cup, things are a little easier to read than the blue on blue. Unless I’m in a decently lit room, I struggle to see the two and three numbers when peering inside. I’ve taken to drawing black lines on the lid so I can see them.

Many use a measuring cup instead of the lid, which speaks volumes of the design fail built into the little plastic caps. If a user can’t read the markings without a struggle or rigging something to see them, then the design is a failure. My mom, for instance, could never see the markings, which meant a lot of wasted soap over the years.

Before you scoff and say this is a trivial matter, let me stop you. If you have issues seeing, the use of contrasting colours goes a long way in decreasing the frustration level and quickly improves the usability of an item. Making the laundry caps more user friendly wouldn’t be a big a leap for any company to make. It does mean people in charge have to think beyond the suburban housewife mythos. The lack of accommodation, after decades of use, is depressing. Aging eyes cannot see those nearly invisible lines.  Nor can people with vision impairments.

While researching this article, I ran across a few sites that offered tips on seeing the measurements.  They recommended the marker on the inside idea, that I mentioned. Another common tip is to put masking tape on the outside at each level mark. Well, this only works if you can hold the cap up to a light source and guestimate. I found this method inefficient.

Viable solutions to this design failure

There are a few solutions.

  1. Highlight the levels with a contrasting colour
  2. Make the lids clear (a few companies do this) with strong levels outlined on the inside and outside
  3. Although a bit messy, give the lines noticeable ridges so people can slip a finger into the cup and feel when the soap hits the level

A reusable solution to the basic design fails built into laundry caps

If there’s a designer out there, how about creating a cup that lets out a ding sound? You know, one ding for light loads, 2 dings for medium loads and 3 dings for heavy loads. Can’t be that hard to build a reusable cup with a little microchip embedded inside to detect liquid levels.

I’ll end with 2 links that offer some thoughts on vision accommodation issues.

Check out Motion Spot. It offers a bit of insight into designing for vision impairment. Motion Spot magazine did the layout for World Site Day. It presents solid ideas to accommodate vision issues.

And finally, the official website for World Sight Day.

More than a billion people cannot see well, because they don’t have access to glasses. Over 3 out of 4 of the world’s vision impaired are avoidably so. What can be done to arrest this unconscionable fact? First, arm yourself with your country’s prevalence data and Eye Health system information–the number of trained eye health personnel, your country’s plans to tackle blindness. World Site Day website


TPL’s new logo: is it really controversial?

TPL’s new logo: is it really controversial?

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) has a new logo and some folks are a bit peeved.

Let’s start with the fun stuff – TPL’s logo.

Image of Toronto Public Library's new logo - lower case TPL seperated by a colon and the words toronto public library

Activate Something Great – TPL’s new logo and slogan

If you pay attention to Toronto’s Twitterati, the new logo is a bit controversial. Or so goes the claim. The bulk of the controversy  seemed to stem from a single BlogTo article1. There really isn’t anything controversial about the logo. To some it’s a bit bland or they preferred the more artistic eye appeal of the previous one. That’s fair criticism but hardly controversial.

Ok, the slogan is trite, like something that came from caffeine deprived people trapped in an endless meeting, desperate to escape. But I understand the point. The TPL (Toronto Public Library) is trying to move the library into a 21st century feel, beyond the idea it’s just books. The TPL is a community hub and here are a  few fast facts2:

• 972,213 million library members and 17.5 million visits
• 100 branches across the GTA
One of the world’s busiest libraries
• Over 7 million digital loans to date and climbing rapidly
• When I looked up the stats yesterday, there were over 6,300 active digital loans and 2 million active holds
• Extensive computer training/usage available
• digital hubs allowing for 3d printing
• recording studios
• new comer services
• archives both digital and inhouse
You can find out more here

So, yes, it was time to update the slogan and logo to meet a more millennial feel.  Here’s the old one:

Toronto Public Library's logo from 1998 to 2019

Toronto Public Library’s logo from 1998 to 2019

There’s nothing wrong it, but the new logo has a modern clean, simple font, easy to read, no frills appeal. It also looks good in all sizes because of the uncluttered design. I’m a big fan of uncluttered. The new tpl design looks good on a small smart phone screen and blown up for building signage.

Here’s the logo from 1978 for comparison. It’s interesting to see how the art of logo design changes over the years. This would make a good case study of how logo preferences morph.  Tastes change over time, including typography and logo styling. And colour. Thankfully. That brown was a dreadful choice. Just saying.

tpl logo 1978 sm

TPL is 209 years old. Beginning in 1810 as a private subscription library, becoming a free public library in 1883, it’s had several makeovers.1

According to the design team, Trajectory, they wanted a “new identity” that “recognizes our roots while looking to the future”. No issues with that logic. However, the rest of what they wrote is a finely tuned bit of bafflegab:

It’s grounded in the written word
It’s a promise, a connector, an advocate
It connects the breadth of TPL’s offerings with ever-changing needs of our city’s people and communities
It’s flexible and adaptable to showcase the incredible range of programs, services, ideas and information we have today… and what’s to come.3

It’s a nice logo. Let’s leave it at that.

I do agree with their assessment of the new font:

The typography is accessible and welcoming, and our colours have been refreshed with a welcoming and cheerful new spin on “Toronto blue,” along with a complementary palette of supporting colours that reflect the energy and vibrancy of our city, our people, and our library.3

Now the bad. Or maybe just plain bizarre – a little abuse

Trajectory, the company behind the redesign, issued a video and press release detailing the logic behind the new design. Here’s a bit from it:

 Our multi-pronged, immersive, and experiential design process was structured to be future-focused and anticipate emerging customer service opportunities.3

Fucking hell, it’s like an episode of Dilbert. Why didn’t they simply say “we field tested the design extensively and are excited about the response”. Or better still “we think we have a kick ass design Library users are going to love”.

The logo is a good fit. Not in the least controversial. Tastes will vary but that’s one of the great problems with any design – you can’t please everyone.  The slogan is a bit of a miss, and a tad trite, but I can ignore it.   So, what do you think of the redesign?

Want more information?

1 – Read the BlogTO article here Toronto Public Library’s new logo proves controversial
2 – Some facts about the TPL
3 – A little TPL history
4 –  Trajectory Co

Looks like nipple to me

Looks like nipple to me

I sat for at least 5 min, chin on hand, pondering an ad that popped up on my Facebook page. I cocked my head a few times and thought “dear, oh dear, oh dear, where was their proof reader?”

  Screen capture of Ripple "milk" font that makes the world look like Nipple

I’m having a mini debate with myself whether the choice of font was deliberate or just unfortunate and someone didn’t spot the obvious. I had to read the product writeup to find out the name is Ripple not Nipple.  My brain simply couldn’t process the first letter as “r”.  And, to be brutally honest the font makes the product a little off putting. Not quite sure I want a bottle of nipples sitting in my fridge.

This year’s Pantone colour is …

This year’s Pantone colour is …

Pantone colour for 2019 of the year is "living coral".

Salmony coloured living coral

This year’s Pantone colour has been announced. Oh lordy! It’s pink on steroids.  Living Coral, or as those of us who survived the colour palettes of the 60s and 70s, it’s a bad flashback.   It looks like salmon to me.  I’m sure I’ll be raked over the coals (wonder what Pantone colour coal is) for that, but it is too reminiscent of bad colour schemes of my youth – avocado appliances, salmon coloured bathrooms, shag carpets and rec room panelling. Whoa, I feel dizzy with the flashbacks.  In the late 90s my sister bought a house that was painted in a similar colour.  When I say painted, I mean all over the inside – the kitchen, the living room, the halls. When she found plastic containers left behind in the dishwasher that matched the walls, she quickly dubbed the place The Rubber Maid House until she repainted.  Overwhelming would be an understatement.

I understand the rationale behind the name, it does have the colour of a certain type of coral. But I don’t feel the “vibrant” or “life-affirming” qualities. It screams staid, old, and dated.

“An animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge…. Vibrant, yet mellow PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral embraces us with warmth and nourishment to provide comfort and buoyancy in our continually shifting environment.” Pantone Website

Prepare for a yearlong onslaught of salmon pink Living Coral.


Design to die for – Saha’s ad makes my heart palpitate

Design to die for – Saha’s ad makes my heart palpitate

This is a design style I adore & wish I could create:

Saha's post card advert showing a busy, colourful design

I grabbed this postcard a few weeks ago because I needed something to job my memory about some marinades I tried at a farmer’s market.  I’ve pulled it out and looked at it repeatedly, pouring over details since tossing it in my backpack. It’s the type of graphic design I wish I could do. Oh, I’ve tried over the years, but no, it’s not something I can pull off with any success. I lack both the training and the unique creational bend.

When looking back over things I’ve created, I see a linear pattern in pretty much everything. Creating visual explosions of colours and conflicting patters takes a talent that is way out of my league. Part of me is envious of such talent. But, the other part of me takes a childlike thrill in being able to sit back and  appreciation the talent.

The Saha International Cuisine postcard accomplishes the goal of conveying the companies philosophy in a small 6×4 space. The artist evokes India, natural foods, vibrant flavours & colours and a sense of adventure without falling off the cliff of clutter overload. I’m a huge fan of white space. A friend once said the simplicity of white spaces can speak louder than an over complicated design. And that has stuck in my mind for decades. With the passing of years I’ve grown to appreciate minimalism more and more.

…. but this ad! It speaks to me in a way I can’t quite explain. I said it isn’t cluttered and I know a few people raised an eyebrow (or two). It’s busy but each item has a purpose and tied together by the large circle n the middle. It avoids the “death but clutter” design trap quite nicely.

The flip side is equally well done. The colours and fonts make the content easy to read, despite the lack of white space and overall busyness.

Saha International Cuisine's post card

Everything is there – clear content, how to connect, company philosophy and a personal note. I tried to do a mock up using my own business as a model to stretch my mind a bit. I tried for a pastiche but ended up with a grab bag lacking a clear mission statement.  I moved back to what I do best – minimalism. When  my new rack cards come back from the printer next week, I’ll put one up to show you what I mean. I like my new ad, don’t get me wrong. As a matter of fact, I really love the simplicity, but that doesn’t stop me from admiring the elegant design of ads like Saha.

The fellow I spoke to at the Saha booth talked about how they were proud to use a stripped down taste – no fillers, no additives, just the flavours. And oh those flavours. Did I use the word explosion earlier? A spoonful was eye popping-ly fresh and pleasingly warm. Don’t know if the ad designer tasted the marinades & bases before creating the advert, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar they didn’t wing it without knowing about both the company philosophy and tasting everything. The post card compliments the products.

I occasionally do small jobs for customers, simple things, but I normally tell them to hire a professional designer for large, complex projects. I know my limits. Putting an ad  in a magazine or on a website? You have one chance to grab the reader’s eye before they flip the page. A good graphic designer knows how to get the reader’s attention and drive them to your product. In the end, a  professional is worth every penny.

If you’re curious about the marinades and curry bases, check out Saha’s website. I still haven’t gotten around to order any, much to my embarrassment, but the flavours are embedded in my memory. They have some kick ass recipes online to explore as well so it’s worth a wander over.