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
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:
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
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.
- Highlight the levels with a contrasting colour
- Make the lids clear (a few companies do this) with strong levels outlined on the inside and outside
- 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