The Smart and Stupid of Everyday Design…

… few minutes with Andy Rooney Bonnie Schupp

Frustration with poor container design

Everyday design matters but why do I have a feeling that designers never use the products they designed the packaging for?  I understood this when I had very bad menstrual cramps plus a raging headache and I tried to extrude two Midol pills to help me maintain sanity. By the time I actually removed the double wrapping and struggled with the “child-proof” (and PMS-woman-proof) cap, my headache had escalated to an erupting volcano. I understand the need for tamper-proof packaging but, really–when the consumer cannot access or use the product without a great deal of frustration, something is wrong.
Recently I bought liquid Dove soap in a 24-oz. bottle to use in the shower. What were the designers of the container thinking of?  Merely the bottle size and weight presented a problem for my female-size hands, but just let the smooth plastic bottle become wet and it becomes like a greased pig as it slips through my hand and lands with a thud at my feet, nearly breaking my toe and almost chipping the enamel tub, not to mention the challenge for me to bend over to retrieve it. I will not buy this product again.
A smooth container for a product to be used in the shower? What were they thinking? For sure, the bottle designers did not try to use it in the shower.

More bathroom design considerations

Let’s look at toothpaste tubes. Most now have large caps for easy grabbing and twisting. Some have flip-up caps which I find cumbersome but it does eliminate the problem of trying to find the top someone else left on the counter … somewhere. I find the Sensodyne cap the easiest to use. It looks like an ordinary screw cap but it isn’t. I don’t have to twist it numerous times to get the cap off. Twist one click and it is off; twist one click to put it back on. 

 It now appears to be standard for cream tubes to have a foil protecting the end once the cap is removed but look at the top part of the cap, turn it around and use the center to puncture the protective foil. This is excellent design. Brilliant actually. I don’t have to struggle to get to the product because my tool is part of the packaging.

Even the way powder products are packaged makes a difference. On the left, compare the shape of Oral B and Sinus Rinse. You would think shape would not matter. However, it does when you try to shake the powder to the bottom of the package so you can open the other end and pour to mix with water. The long rectangular package works best. I tap it against the counter once or twice and the powder easily moves to the end. When I do the same with the wider package, it does not move so easily. This might have something to do with physics but all I know is that I like to do some things quickly and easily and this packaging makes a lot of difference.

Miracle Whip jar is no miracle

Another pet peeve I have is the protective seal for my chewy vitamins and my mayonnaise. Much as I like Miracle Whip for my tuna salad, trying to get through the protective seal reminds me of my Midol days. There is no finger tab to pull off the seal; it just does not come off easily. I have to use a knife and cut all the way around, leaving part of this seal on the rim of the jar. Sloppy. Messy. I am close to switching brands.

My Camry

Last year I bought a new Camry which has many good design features, even down to the remote key. These days most remotes and keys are combined as one piece rather than the old style of separate key and remove. The Camry is no exception. Whoever thought of combining the two was probably a designer who kept losing either the key or the remote and who could never find them together.
My Camry key goes a little further and uses common sense in multi-sensory features such as sound. I press the lock button and I hear one beep, two for open. This makes so much sense when you consider the syllables in the words open and close…two beeps for the two-syllable command and one beep for the one-syllable command. Even if, in your head, you say instead the words unlock and lock, it still works. When I lock my car, I listen for the one beep to confirm that I have not pushed the wrong button, leaving my car vulnerable to theft.
However, the Camry designers did not do as well with the dashboard readout for tire pressure. It displays a readout of four horizontal tires with the pressure for each one underneath. This is confusing. How does this positioning relate to the tires on the car? Not at all. How difficult would it have been to arrange the display in a four-corner configuration the way the tires are on the car? That way I would know exactly which tire needs air.


Some things just do not make any sense at all. Why would anyone put information–sometimes important information–as black on black? I have seen this way too often on technology equipment. Usually I have to use a magnifier and flashlight to read whatever the consumer is supposed to read. The Toshiba phone cordless phone charger on the left is an example. The directions in the middle of the charger are unreadable.
On the topic of technology, I have trouble reading web sites with white font on a black screen. Granted, it is better than black on black, but for some reason, I cannot read these pages easily and I wind up leaving the web site. 
Since design has to do with usability and communication, this is the place to mention those people who TYPE IN ALL CAPS. First of all, tech etiquette defines this as yelling. Secondly, some people (me again) have trouble reading text that is all in caps. According to research, many people use the word shapes as reading clues and something written in all caps becomes a road block to reading comprehension.


Now, we move to the basement area for more design examples. I have noticed that some liquid laundry detergents now have designed the pouring spout to prevent dripping. Great idea but kudos to the person who designed the container for my cat’s kitty litter. That person must have some cats at home. Kitty litter is heavy and awkward when pouring into the litter box. Simple solution–design the container so it has one handle at the top for ease in carrying and another handle on the side to help with pouring. 
And did I mention how the modern clumping kitty litter is such an improvement over the “sand” thirty years ago?

A few scattered thoughts

I cannot tell you how many times I have struggled to turn my outdoor hose faucet on or off. Around and around goes the knob. Recently our neighbor installed a substitute for us–a lever rather than a knob. So easy…so simple…and so much better.
Multi-function buttons are confusing. Does anyone ever remember how many times to press the buttons on a digital watch, which combination of buttons to push and which ones need to be held in for two seconds?
This final example takes the prize for stupidity. On an elevator, I once saw the emergency button next to the open and close buttons. Honest!

For more reading on everyday design, check out Donald Norman’s book available on Amazon.

First, businesses discovered quality as a key competitive edge; next came service. Now, Donald A. Norman, former Director of the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of California, reveals how smart design is the new competitive frontier. The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how–and why–some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.

About Bonnie Schupp

Photographer and Renaissance woman.
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2 Responses to The Smart and Stupid of Everyday Design…

  1. Kathleen Reeves says:

    Love the Andy Rooney format! Personally, I hate the bottles with the flip tops that you can't unscrew, like many modern shampoo bottles. I used to be able to get another 2 or 3 hairwashes out of them by adding a bit of water. Now, I get frustrated trying to squeeze out the last bits, long before the bottle is empty.

  2. Thanks, Kathleen. Your comment is a good addition to what's wrong with product container design.

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