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


For want of a good proofreader – layout tunnel vision

For want of a good proofreader – layout tunnel vision

We’ve all seen posters/signs that make us shake our head and mutter “whoa, what were they thinking”.  It’s usually an amusing typo or a grammatical error that raises our eyebrows. Occasionally it’s the layout that causes us to stop in our tracks and ask “wait, what?” We all lay clangers and, sometimes, we don’t spot them for months. It’s not easy catching your own mistakes, which is why a ruthless proofreader is worth their weight in dark chocolate.

A sign making the rounds on the Internet lately that had me blinking a few times in a bit of disbelief.

A badly designed poster example that appears to advocate abuse, rather than prevention

Proofing isn’t just about catching typos and grammatical errors. It’s also layout and how the product flows. And oh boy, a fresh set of eyes would have caught this before $ were spent.

I’ve made a couple things that looked ok on the monitor but when printed, it became obvious the layout altered the message. I find it endlessly fascinating the difference between design for a monitor or small screen and print. What works for an iPhone may not translate well to a large poster and vice versa. The above sign drives home how tricky even a basic sign can be. Our eyes follow natural paths that can have unintentional consequenses. A bad case of designer tunnel vision can blur the message. Everyone involved in the poster design knew what the message was, but didn’t stop to see it through new eyes. Lots of words to incorporate, really want to stress the primary message and not seeing how the words flow.  “We Support” is great – nice use of a friendly font that draws the eye to it. Then the mistake occurs. The focus is on child abuse not prevention. Such an easy mistake to make. Shrinking “child abuse” would have solved the problem. Increase size of “prevention” so it fills the sign, bumping month below to match the other 5 letter words would have created an interesting flow that would have emphasised prevention, which is kind of the point.

I have a folder with signs and posters that should have worked but didn’t for a variety of reasons. I keep them as a teaching tool for myself. I filter through them trying to figure out how a small change would have made a difference. I also have a folder holding what I think are spectacular examples of beautiful layout. I spend quite a bit of time looking at them, trying to figure out what makes them so successful. I have a thing for professional designers. Their work can have a profound impact on how we see the world around us – signs on buildings, posters, movies titles, magazines and books but we’re oblivious to the person(s) who created the work. Most of us flatter ourselves we can whip up a poster in no time because hey we have the software and a computer. But good design is so much more than knowing how to use the software. It’s an eye and feel for the work. It’s knowing how to communicate with an audience. Good design also means good proofreading. You can’t have the first without the second.



Ok TTC we need to talk – this is not a shelter

Ok TTC we need to talk – this is not a shelter

TTC, we need to chat. A long serious one about your complete lack of common sense. I’m not sure if the decision makers at head office have never traveled by bus or streetcar or they are utterly clueless about the purpose of bus shelters. Then again, you just may be punking us.

See, here’s the thing, this is not a bus shelter: Photo of TTC shelter showing complete lack of protection

Tell me, in what reality that would be considered shelter of any kind. The ads have better protection than customers. Or … is that the point – protect the ads at all costs.  Let’s go through the 2 major elements of bad design.

1 – slope + height of the roof. Who are you trying to kid here? This isn’t going to prevent customers from a good soaking when it rains.  The roof is too high and too sharply slanted. Pretty design; useless functionality.

2 – walls. Oh, yea, what walls? There’s 2 – count them. The big ad covered billboard along the back and an anemic wall on one end. Guess there’s never wind and rain coming from the other angles. Have you tried standing at one of these shelters? Please have the person who thought this was a good design contact me. I’d like to know how a wall-less shelter works.

I’m not a designer, but I know crap when I see it. I’ve waited at these stops during a cold, wet day. Trust me when I tell you they offer no protection. Toronto used to have some decent bus shelters in this city, but I’ve noticed they are slowly being replaced with this silliness. I realise the old shelters were a bit ugly and weren’t good spots to plaster paid ads, but they offered the chance to get out of the bitter wind, rain, snow and even intense sun. The streetcar stops are comically worse if you can imagine that.

Hire a good industrial designer.  They will ask you one vital question – What is its purpose? I’m quite sure they’ll tell you designing a shelter that sacrifices protection so ads have maximum visibility to car drivers is not a good idea. You need to make up your mind – are the structures for car drivers and advertisers or are they for TTC customers. I’m quite sure a good designer could design a decent shelter that allows ads and comfort to the cold, wet and weary.

Oh and one last comment, what did you do with the bench? On hot days, the bench seat allowed seniors a bit of respite. Nice move ripping them out. Guess everyone in Toronto is fit and healthy. No seats for you! Stay home if you can’t stand waiting for yet another delayed bus.  See, this is another area a good industrial designer could help you. They would who your customer base is and possibly suggest keeping the bench.

Here’s the deal. Stop calling them shelters. Admit you don’t care about customers and call them what they are – advertising posts geared towards drivers. If you don’t want to do that,  for the sake of TTC customers go hire a competent industrial design firm.

A little crap design – a 16 hr watch

A little crap design – a 16 hr watch

I spend far too much of my time cruising the internet looking for crap design & silly things. And I’m rarely disappointed. If it isn’t people crying out “this egg cracker saved me so much time! I can now play with my children instead of breaking open eggs” (seriously, how many eggs does the average house need to crack in a week) its stuff like this:

An example of crap design - a watch showing 16 hours

Attention to detail is not the designer’s strength

This falls under the utter design fail category. Count the feathers. I’ll wait, count them. Let’s see 1 2 3 4 …. 14 15 16. Yes, 16 hour stops on the watch. Unless I slept through a worldwide conspiracy to change the number of hours in a day, the watch designer created a big oops. It’s pretty much unusable. “Hey Mary, what time is it?” “Give me a minute, it’s hmm 14 o’clock”  “Ok thanks … wait … what?”  If the intent was to mark 15 min intervals, then again, big design fail. There is no distinction in feather sizes and there would have to be more feathers so it’s still a big old mess of “what time is it now”.

I have a passion for watch dials and have a small collection of vintage pocket watches. When done well, the faces are miniature works of art. Exquisite and eye catching. But even the cheapest dollar pocket watches managed to get the hours correct. This? This is a thrown together piece to capitalize on the unwary. I mean, who in hell counts how many hours are on a watch?  Good luck getting to any appointment on time with this.

Are you kidding? 303 slides on one webpage?

Are you kidding? 303 slides on one webpage?

I’ve complained about the absolute insanity behind the proliferation of slide shows – why use a couple of pages when dozens would do, right? But this one is the epitomy of stupid design.

screen capture of a slideshow that contains 301 slides That’s right 303 slides. No one will stick around for hundreds of slides when they can go over to a site like Is My Show Cancelled and find the same info in mere seconds. Bad designer, bad.