Friday, January 22, 2010

Ubice = Multi-touch On Ice at the Nokia Research Center in Finland (Video + Pic via Albrecht Schmidt)

Watch how the multi-touch surface is built from ice blocks:

The following pictures are from Albrecht Schmidt's User Interface Engineering blog:

What a great idea for a "Winterfest"!    They should take it to the next level:  Multi-touch ice sculpture.

(Cross-posted on the Interactive Multimedia Technology blog.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The UX of Laundry Washing: Response to Comments & Videos of Gain Detergent Fans!

On this blog, I usually stick to digital technology and touch upon topics such as usability and user-centered design from time to time, influenced in part by the work of Don Norman, quoted below:
"Why do we put up with the frustrations of everyday objects, with objects that we can't figure out how to use...that make it almost impossible to do anything?...The problems sound trivial, but they can mean the difference between pleasure and frustration."  

"Poorly-designed objects can be difficult and frustrating to use.  They provide no clues--or sometimes false clues.  They trap the user and thwart the normal process of interpretation and understanding.  Alas, poor design predominates.  the result is a world filled with frustration, with objects that cannot be understood....A good designer makes sure that appropriate actions are perceptible and inappropriate ones invisible."

- Don Norman

This will be the last of my laundry detergent posts, I promise!  I'm continuing with this discussion to clarify a few points, as there has been a small discussion regarding my last post, "The designers of this Gain detergent container obviously didn't read Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things!".

In my previous post, I explained the difficulties I'd encountered trying to figure out how to use Gain's dispensing system as a first time user.   I selected a picture from the cover of Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things, along with a picture of the Gain detergent container, to make a point:

If you've never seen one of these contraptions up close before, and rush to dispense the detergent without reading the fine print, you might be mislead by the design. In my case, the detergent dispensing valve didn't work very well when I laid the container on its side.   I then noticed the arrow pointing to the cap at the top of what looks like a spout, and assumed that it was a spout, strangely positioned to also function as the container's handle.  So I uncapped the "spout", and found that the detergent flowed nicely into the cup from the mysterious spout/handle, in an awkward way.  I was puzzled.

Most of the people who commented about my post agreed with me.
Ralber did not:

"This dispensing system works great (why else would every detergent manufacturer quickly adopt it?) and I'm amazed that anyone has to have the process explained to them."  He points out that the system has been around for a while, so he's puzzled about my confusion.

Ralber's words illuminate the point I was trying to make in my previous post. Many designers are amazed that anyone of intelligence would have trouble using the products they design. Additionally, sometimes designers do not think about range of users and the environments in which a product will be used.  (Some software application developers and website designers share a similar point of view.)

Just because a company adopts something doesn't mean that the product is user-friendly for all!    Think about all the millions of user-unfriendly remote controls that come with cable or satellite television services  Bad remote controls are one of my pet peeves, as you can learn from a few of my previous posts - herehere and here.

Let's take the broader view of my laundry-washing user experience.
Ralber assumes that I should intuitively know how to use more complex laundry detergent dispensing systems.  Here is why I didn't:

First of all, I would never have thought to purchase the larger size of Gain.  The larger containers are usually stocked in the bottom shelves of the detergent aisle, below my line of site when I'm shopping.  I just didn't notice them.

In my opinion, it is too much of a hassle to grab a heavy detergent container and plop it into my shopping cart, just to save a buck over 72 washings.  I always pick my detergent from a shelf that is eye or shoulder level, and I make sure it isn't too heavy, since I know I'll have to deal with it every day.

Basically, it is lack of exposure. I watch few TV ads, thanks to DVR's.  As a consequence, I never saw an ad on TV about the newer type of detergent container.

So how did the large container of Gain with the mysterious dispensing system make its way to my house?

My husband had a coupon for Gain detergent.  He came home from the supermarket and set the container upright on the shelf above our washing machine, as in the photo below:

I understand why my husband set the container oriented in an upright fashion.  This was his first encounter with this type of container.  He matched the orientation of the label on the container, and as a consequence, it was not set down in a way that I could easily dispense the detergent.   He also didn't read directions, which were in fine print.

Even if I knew how the Gain detergent dispensing system worked, it would not be a good idea to lay the Gain container on its side on the shelf at that high of an altitude and try to dispense it!

On the left below is a picture of the container on its side. The cap on the air vent isn't there, because when I twisted it while standing on my tip-toes it popped off, and fell in the crack between the wall and the laundry machine, pictured on the right:

Is the solution to remodel a section of the laundry room to accommodate the Gain container?  No.  Is the solution to get out the step-stool every time I do the the laundry so I can avoid standing on my tiptoes for the additional time it takes dispense the detergent from the Gain container on the shelf?  No.

I just won't use this sort of container again.

At this point, I'd like to clarify a few points about the labeling and affordances provided by this type of dispensing system.  While I was at the supermarket the other day, I took a few pictures while I was in the detergent aisle and figured out the Tide and Gain are Proctor & Gamble products.  That explains why they have the same dispensing system.  The labels are different.

If you look at the back of the Tide and Gain containers, you can see that the Tide container provides directions accompanied by clear pictures of how the product should be used.  The label on the Gain container does not.  I don't wear reading glasses to read books and newspapers, but I'd need them to read the fine print on the Gain container.  Additionally, both containers orient the labels in a way that could be misleading for first time users.  The arrow on what looks to be a "spout" is also confusing to the first time user.

I noticed that the ALL container orients the label in the direction that corresponds to the way the detergent should be dispensed:

The All container also provides pictures along with written directions, and the directions are in larger print than those on the Gain container.  Much better, since no-one needs to fetch (or purchase) a pair of reading glasses just to read directions on Gain containers!

If my husband had come home with the All container, or even the TIDE, the directions for using the dispenser would have been clearer to read and understand.

This is the form factor that works best for me. I love that little spout, and no mess! 

I thought I'd see what Proctor & Gamble/Gain have to say about their detergent containers. On the main page of the Gain laundry website, there are no pictures of a detergent container with the type of dispensing system I mentioned in my blogposts.

I was happy to find a link to a treasure trove of videos of Gain consumers reviewing various detergents. Most people did their reviews in their laundry rooms, which gave me information about how other people set up their laundry spaces.  Where do they keep their detergent?  If they use the larger container, do they have a place where they can keep the container on its side and still have easy access to the detergent as needed?

I didn't have time to watch all of the videos, but what I did see told quite a bit.

I found ONE video of a Gain laundry fan who actually demonstrated the same type of Gain detergent container as the one I battled. The man's laundry room has two shelves, and one is at a good level for storing and dispensing detergent. In this video, the detergent fan shows how to use the dispensing system.  From what I can tell, his shelf is not deep enough to set the container on its side and leave it there for easy dispensing.  In this video, he sets the container on the side on what might be the dryer:

The rest of the videos feature the more "traditional" Gain container. As you watch the videos, take a look at how each laundry room that is shown is arranged. The larger Gain container would be difficult to fit in the space, especially if it was left on its side for "easy" dispensing.

In this video, you can see how the woman has arranged her laundry room. It looks like she'd have to do quite a bit of re-arranging to accommodate the type of container I've mentioned.

The following video is a bit humorous. The woman reviews Gain's "Hawaiian Aloha Scent", and is dressed for the occasion. As you can see, this woman also would have difficulty figuring our the best place to put a larger Gain detergent container her laundry room:

This woman points out the benefits of the spout on the container of Apple Mango Tango Gain detergent:

Gain Fan Club

For more videos:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

(Updated with Solution - TIDE) The designers of this Gain detergent container obviously didn't read Don Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things" !

The designers who created the Gain detergent container below obviously didn't read "The Design of Everyday Things."

No matter which way you try to pour the darn thing, laying it on the side or trying to pour from the spout,  it still makes a BIG mess.  How would you explain this to your kid?

I wonder what it was like to be on the team for this container. Someone had to say, "Yes! Let's put the handle on the same side as the spout!

To put the container on the side, I have to put most of it on my dryer.  I often have laundry on the top of my dryer that is in the process of being folded, so to out the Gain container on its side, I have to move the clean laundry.

Although I prefer Gain over Tide, I went back to Tide.  One look at the container and you intuitively know what to do.


Don Norman's Website


I received the following comment to this this post, plus a few others:

"The black cap is an airvent, not a pouring spout. You stand the container on its side and use the white spout to dispense the liquid using the red rubber button."

I DID use the little red button to dispense the detergent, and I set the container on its side.  It didn't work very well.  

Here is my response to the first comment:

True, the spout may be an air vent, but as a person who has been doing laundry since I was about 10, and for a family of four for a couple of decades,  this set up was NOT intuitive. It just doesn't flow.  
I'm usually in a rush when I do laundry, so I did not spend time inspecting the detergent container closely.   When I had difficulty pumping the detergent out of the container using the red button,  I noticed I the arrow on the "spout" pointing to the cap.   I presumed that the arrow meant that I should use the spout to pour the detergent, if the little pump thing didn't work.  So that's what I did!
I'm accustomed to using all sorts of cleaning products, and this one was not a good fit. 

My point is this:
Getting detergent from a container into a washer should not be this complicated.   

It wasn't easy to get the container of Gain down from the shelf above the washer and gracefully put it on its side to use the pump to get the detergent in the cup.   The container is pretty heavy when full, as it holds 170 fl oz of detergent, well over a gallon. And there are more problems. After you get the into the cup and then into the washer,  the next step is to rinse out the cap. This takes a long time, since the consistency is very thick. (I don't have a sink in my laundry room, so I use the water that is in the washer.)

The container pouring system needs to be simple.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Labadie, Haiti
Originally uploaded by lynnmarentette

This is my memory of Haiti.

This tourist beach is deceiving. Unlike many of the other islands in the Caribbean, Haiti has not had the opportunity to build up a tourism industry. This little slice doesn't give tourists any means to know of economic distress that most Haitians face.

Haiti is a beautiful island that has much potential, despite the history of poverty and struggle.

My prayers are with the Haitians and all of those who are working hard to assist them in this time of sorrow and desperation.