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:


ralber said...

Thanks for your candid admission of your inattention when shopping, washing and reading. And your research into the documentation of seemingly-obvious product use is strangely fascinating. The photos of your wash space were especially revealing.

If you are really concerned about efficiency and ease of use, why do you have a shelf above your washer and dryer that's 2 feet higher than it needs to be? Open the lid of your washing machine (I assume it's top-loading) and reinstall the shelf a couple of inches above the edge of the lid. Now put the large gain (or Tide or All) detergent dispenser on the shelf directly above the washing machine. You'll find that the spigot on the dispenser lines up with the opening of the washing machine. Next time you wash clothes, open the washing machine lid, throw the clothes in the machine, then press the red dispensing button on the detergent container and count to 5. There, pretty easy, huh?

This arrangement means you never lift another detergent bottle, measure sticky liquid, or spill anything. It's worked for me for 5 years. My wife, who does the laundry 1/2 the time, loves it.

My name is ralber, not ralbel. Spend a minute and dig that air vent cap out from next to your washing machine. If you leave it off, too much air will get into the detergent container and dry out the liquid.

Lynn Marentette said...


About that shelf- We moved into our house a little over a year ago, and I thought that the shelf was a little too high, but it didn't affect my laundry process.

I use the shelf above my washer and dryer to hang some of the laundry during the folding/hanging stage of the process. I assume that's the reason why the builder installed the shelf that high. This is the third home I've lived in that came with a high shelf in the laundry room.

At any rate, I'm sticking with Tide - or anything that cleans well that comes out of a similar container. Since the detergent is concentrated, the container is small. I can grab the Tide container in a second, and pour the detergent in the laundry machine in a second or two. I don't even need to rinse the cap out, because of the design of the spout at the top. The liquid isn't as sticky or messy as the stuff in the "complex" Gain container, which for me, is a good thing.

Another thing that I like about the Tide container is that there is a clear space running along the handle of the container that shows how much detergent is left in the container. That is a plus.

This journey has taught me a lesson- when it comes to laundry, laundry detergent, and laundry rooms, we really shouldn't make too many assumptions : )

(Sorry about incorrectly spelling your name.)