Tag: design

Product Design should factor Human Forgetfulness

Product design should factor for human forgetfulness where possible.

This is a picture of the detergent tray from a leading brand, top-loading washing machine.

The hole in the tray is where detergent, mixed with water, drips into the drum during a wash cycle.

However, when the tray is opened to fill detergent, you notice it slopes downward.

This is understandable from a manufacturer’s perspective, the reason for the downward slope of the open tray intended to prevent any liquid or diluted detergent dripping into the drum before the cycle has begun.

However, from the user’s perspective, it also means that if a user forgets to shut the tray, it will fill with water, but mostly likely won’t drip through the outlet, as you can see in this case where, shortly after starting the cycle, it was realized and shut.

And forgetting to close the tray can be a very likely possibility in the hurried world we live in. It would involve an extra wash cycle after one realizes. And more water wasted, to get the job done.

A less desirable workaround solution could involve a sensor check that alerts the user of an open tray.
A intuitive workaround could be where the tray tilts forward (instead of backward), and the outlet is placed on the lower end, and only opens during a cycle and not before. So as not to inconvenience the user.

After all, aren’t machines supposed to be designed to make human lives more efficient?

#product #design #behaviour

Product Design Inputs for a Standing Desk

Invisible Bed has been an interesting product company.
As a recent
owner of a wall mounted sit/ stand desk, I recently shared some product design inputs with the CEO. They were well received.

The Product:

The Challenge:
1.Pre-attached table-top – makes installation a challenge even for a 2-person team, as the table-top weight causes the swing-arms to open
What I would do instead:
Keep the table-top separate. Maybe include a clamp on the swing-arms, onto which the table-top can subsequently be clamped onto. This might prevent the swing-arms from constantly opening.

2.Desk design – causes the unit in fullycollapsed position to swing outward and downward when unlocked. And the locking mechanism deforms if the desk is inadvertently lifted without unlocking – either way, risks injury to users or children who unlock it and are in the path when it swings outward
What I would do instead:
Offset the design so that the center of gravity falls within the unit itself, preventing it from swinging outward. It would then need to be manually lifted into position by the user, also automatically reducing the possibility of small children getting hurt as the unit would not swing open even if unlocked.
Or alternatively (simpler but boring option), a stronger locking mechanism.

This idea was part of an initiative called RattL ’em. and was shared with the CEO of the company, who was thrilled with the inputs, and plans to incorporate it in the future design.

What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So whenever a company catches our curiosity, we offer them an idea (a new product, service, or feature/ improvement idea), or highlight a concern area. Someday, we hope we can send an idea out into the world everyday.
We do this for free, and for fun. And the company receiving the idea is free to use it, with no financial or other obligation toward us. It is our way of trying to be the best in the field of people innovation.

The Hostile World for Women


Pic: source
 
The men among you might be able to relate to this.
 
Think of the last time you attended a conference or had to commute for a duration of over 30 minutes. And rather than drive or take a bus or train, you Uber or Ola it there and back.
 
How often might you have dozed off in the cab?
 
I have on plenty of occasions.
 
Doing so is probably not too safe even for us men. But you can relate to this scenario. Unless you are on a call or browsing, or chatting with the driver; there’s a good chance you’ve been generally sleepy. Even more so if it is sunny or gloomy outside, making it a struggle to keep awake in the cab.
 
We do wake up refreshed though; ready for whatever tasks await us.
 
Now, imagine those same instances as a woman.
One would imagine it is far more unsafe for her. Which means she needs to resist that overwhelming nap in the cab that we men would struggle to resist.
 
Imagine an hour or more of commuting. Imagine needing to stay awake, only because you are a woman. Only because the world remains disproportionately more unsafe for you.
 
During engineering, I used to have a little over an hour of commuting each, to and from college. A 5-minute local bus ride for about 2 kilometers, and then an hour on an express bus flying for a good part on a national highway.
 
One afternoon, when getting back from college, I remember being sleepier than usual. So I dozed off for a while. After getting off at my stop, and getting into the local bus, I sat on an aisle seat on the left. Next to me on the window seat was an elderly man.
 
Still drowsy, I nodded off, and my head unintentionally bobbed off this old man’s shoulder. Awoken by the jolt, without looking up, I apologized to this person. Still struggling to stay awake, I nodded off again.
 
And again, along the twisty roads, my head hit his shoulder. Again, with eyes half open, I apologized, before opening my eyes wide open to try and stay awake. But before I knew it, I had drifted off, only to wake up after the next jolt between head and shoulder. 😛
 
I wondered how come this old man was so tolerant of this invasion of his space. As I turned to apologize, I realized he was fast asleep too, head bobbing slightly with the movement of the bus.
 
It is a different situation if a a woman is sitting beside another woman in public transport. But otherwise, this lowering of one’s guard and allowing oneself a few zzz’s in the face of exhaustion is an improbable scenario for most women. She would not feel safe to allow herself to catch a few zzz’s. Even on the most scorching afternoons on a bus filled with strangers she is instinctively programmed to be alert about.
 
In a generally hostile world, imagine the toll this resisting of sleep, or the need to be on alert all the time, puts on the average woman’s attentional space.
 
Now imagine how making the world safer, could do wonders to the attentional space of millions of women.
 
An attempt to create a safer world has many dimensions to it.
From educating us men from childhood, to creating safe environments and neighbourhoods. And creating less-taxing processes and experiences.
 
Indian queues have been something of an amusement for decades. How we generally struggle to create straight lines, but would rather flock over a counter. That experience for most of us men, though mildly stressful, is only one of ensuring no one cuts the queue before you.
 
For a woman, it is a far more horrifying experience. It often is about having strange men far too close in her personal space. She is not just concerned about losing a few spots in queue. Her mind is most likely in a state of high alert. Scared she might be pushed off balance, or touched, or pick-pocketed. Not a pleasant state for anyone to be in.
 
A lot of us have either mentioned or found amusing, how women go to the loo in pairs or groups. There are those of us who only need to slide down a zipper and go. We can never fully understand the challenge a poorly lit toilet or approach presents to a woman. Nor the lack of a hook for a purse, an empty toilet paper roll, or a working latch on the door presents to a woman.
Pic: source
 
Years ago, as a male teen growing up in India, I have done my share of urinating in public. Not exactly in public, but say into a field on the side of a highway and such. Not proud of it. In fact over the years, I’ve been increasingly ashamed of it.

Many years ago as a student, I was on a bus traveling between two states. The bus stopped in a small town, and many of us passengers stepped out to relive ourselves. On one edge of the bus stand, beyond an open gate, was a swamp.

Since there were far more people than toilets, and given the short duration of the stop, the teenage me headed toward the swamp. A few elders standing along the path to the swamp figured the obvious reason I was headed there. In an animated manner, they seemed to caution me using a word in the language of the state. They kept repeating it. I was familiar with the word. In my limited vocabulary, it meant swamp or small water body or something. I smiled and waved them a friendly ‘don’t worry about it’ and walked past, stood on the edge of the swamp and got to it.

During the rest of the journey, the word of caution from those villagers kept playing in my head. That’s when realization hit that there also exists an almost identical, phonetically slightly different word in the same language. One that translated to water snake! So much for risky relieving business.

But unlike that incident, even the most normal seeming public toilets (including the ones at malls) can seem equally daunting for women. From lights not working, to male staff being assigned to clean them, it is no less scary than the risk of those water snakes.

Imagine the world of a difference between someone able to relieve oneself when necessary; to someone needing to hold it in till she gets to a more accommodating place.
 
Now imagine how making the world safer and being considerate and thoughtful, could do wonders to the lives of millions of women.
 
Educate. Be considerate. Design safer and more thoughtful spaces and processes.
Pic: source
 
#women #safety #AttentionalSpace #design #DesignThoughtfully #processes

Heel Rollers – Not a great Design

Image: source
 
Heel rollers, heel wheel skates, or heel wheels, have a fundamental flaw in their design.
 
If we humans were to pick between standing for a minute on the front section of our feet or the heels of our feet, odds are we would be more comfortable on the front section. The heels generally bear most of our body weight. But if our weight is channeled only to the heels, they seem to tire soon (the calcaneus region). In contrast, the front section of our feet do better at balance control and managing the weight.

Image: source
 
Coming to these heel rollers which seem to be popular with kids, they seem to have a flawed design. Each roller has a single pair of wheels, worn over shoes, and positioned towards the heel. This leaves the front section of the feet free, allowing for balance control. Yet, this puts the axis of the wheels in line with our center of gravity, increasing chances of rapid falls backwards. That in turn, increases chance of injury to the head.
 
What if you wore the wheels over the forward section of your feet, closer to the toes?
 
While this would remove that balance control that the front section of the feet offer, it would increase chances of a forward fall. Of the two, this one is slightly better as the user has a shot at controlling or dampening the fall. But, now the wheel’s axis is outside of our center of gravity, making the ride unstable and not enjoyable. Unless one skates only using the forward section of the feet. [Imagine a woman in heels, but with wheels under the front. Does that look remotely comfortable?]
 
Unlike roller skates, heel (or forward) rollers would be a good way to induce a back pain due to its unstable design, The lower back in particular would be working extra hard to counterbalance to constantly maintain or regain balance.
 
So in all, not the best idea for a fun alternative to walking for kids.

Product Design – Bottle Necks

I recently got some (plastic 😬) bottles for home.
Not proud of it. But anyway, I noticed a small design anomaly with them.

Normally, the neck of most bottles are only slightly shorter than their lids.

 

Now while these bottles are fine otherwise (except, plastic!), I wonder how many people who’ve bought them have unintentionally spilled water on themselves while drinking.

When we reach out for a bottle, we unconsciously gauge the height of the neck (also the mouth diameter), and the brain magically calculates an approximate “how much to tilt”…

But with these bottles, that seems a little misleading. You expect a taller neck than the lid hides, which means water will be out at a smaller angle of tilt than one expects.

Ideally, always either match or exceed (i.e. err on the safer side of) user perception.

This bottle’s neck design is like having a negative margin of safety.
Say a product has a 100 kg payload limit. It is designed with a margin of safety, meaning it will deform or buckle above 100 kg (maybe at 110, or at 120 or even higher), not exactly at 100. But then imagine another similar product with the same 100 kg payload claim, but one that buckles at 95.
This bottle neck is that. Not always desirable.

Dettol Liquid Soap Refill’s Cap Seal Ring

Dettol liquid soap’s refill packs (above) have a small flaw in their cap seal rings. The tiny ring that stays on the refill pack (after breaking off from the cap), is not secured in place, and tends to fall into the soap dispenser.

Lifebuoy liquid soap refills (above) on the other hand, seemed to have designed the spout in such a manner that it arrests movement of the seal ring once broken.

A small design element, but saves you from having seal rings in your soap dispenser. =)

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I am simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

WT f UX

Last week, I was speaking with a post-grad design student who had just finished her Masters, and was trying to figure out her career options. She mentioned that most job opportunities on campus involved UI/UX related to mobile apps or websites. Something that wasn’t to her liking. My suggestion was not to obsess too much about industry lingo, but instead, try to figure out across industry sectors, what she would (and would not) like to work on instead.
 
In the recent years, industry lingo has made the job market murky, with plenty of keywords being irresponsibly thrown about. A few years ago, a leading digital transformation company with some very elite global clientele got in touch saying they felt I was a good fit for a senior role at their company. A note on the position had words like ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ used generously. I got back to their HR contact to request her to explain the role in more detail to me. Turned out, they were simply looking for someone to help them with UI/UX for the mobile apps they built. I spent some time explaining design thinking, UI and UX, so she would be able to identify potential candidates better.
 
It obviously wasn’t her fault. Many industry sectors are evolving so rapidly for the past many years; with new skills, new terminologies and jargon popping up regularly. So much so, sometimes even human resources of such companies have not been adequately explained what and whom they should be looking for.
 
For starters, one can simply define UX (user experience) as the overarching journey to create meaningful experiences for users. And UI (user interface…design) involves different components of a product or service itself that strive to make better UX possible. Of course, the term UI tends to get used largely in relation to web and mobile or related display contexts, but let that not limit us by way of examples.
 
Let’s consider more traditional products. Take a car for example; some of them have a footrest next to the clutch, that drivers can rest their left foot on when not engaging the clutch, especially on longer journeys (instead of straining the foot by resting it only on the heel). Here, the footrest itself is a UI element that is added to improve the overall UX for the driver of that car (by reducing driver fatigue by way of the footrest feature).
 
There’s good UX and bad UX out there in the world. But here’s an example of arguably the worst kind of bad UI & UX. The seemingly invisible kind.

This switch panel is very old. From long before I knew what design thinking is. If I remember correctly, back in the day, such panels came with fixed square slots. One such slot of two would be used by one 3-point socket, or would accommodate two switches.
 
The left plug is of the refrigerator, and the right one of the microwave oven. While it might appear perfectly normal to us, there is a small invisible UX challenge here. The fridge switch obviously needs to be on at all times. The microwave however, is switched on and off a few times each day. The close proximity of the two switches is where the bad UX layout is at.
 
In an ideal layout, the switches be on either sides of the two plugs, thereby reducing almost any possibility of someone accidentally switching off the fridge while intending to switch off the microwave. And most of us might not even realize something like this when going about our busy daily routines. However, in such cases, our semi-conscious mind tends to be in a state of partial alert whenever we reach out to switch on or off the microwave. Because we do not want to accidentally switch off the fridge, but at the same time, it is too routine a task for us to pay 100% attention to it. Sometimes, we might reach out for the switch while reading something on our phone, or while speaking to someone standing opposite to the switches.
 
The reason we might not realize the layout flaw is because it is subtle. We might accidentally switch off the fridge 1 in 50 times, but for the other 49 times, we are probably in a state of partial alertness, for a task which should not ideally require that alertness of us.
 
As a UX designer or anyone who wants to create a more seamless experience around this, would ensure the fridge switch was either placed away, or access to it was covered or restricted (by placing a partially blocking partition if necessary).
 
Of course, thanks to progress in the switches and related products space, products in more recent years do not have square slots like this one. Instead, you can place switches and plug points anywhere along a line as per your preference.
 
Which brings us to trying to imagine what good UX design might be. It is one or more UI elements that make the experience so seamless for the user, that they get the task done with minimal mental processing, especially with frequent use.
 
In my book, I mention one about TV remote design – how some have buttons so well laid out (UI) that after initially familiarizing yourself with it, you can operate it without needing to look at the remote each time (UX). Well designed remotes follow a simple logical layout that makes it easier for the user to recreate a spatial position of essential buttons in their mind that are built around a central reference point.. A tacky button layout will have an inbuilt resistance, preventing the user from creating (and from remembering) a mental picture of the remote, and therefore being unable to use it without needing to first look for the button.
 
With a glaringly bad UI feature, a user almost instantly knows and doesn’t like it. However, with the seemingly invisible bad UI, the glitch might not be very obvious, and the inconvenience to the user too, might be brief and occasional. In such cases, the user might tolerate the product or experience, never at peace and enjoying it, but also unfortunately not aware enough to change it, unless a better product and the need to replace the old one comes along.
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