Theory is great, but don’t forget end users

Nov. 17, 2011
Designers should not forget the end user

Authored by:
Leslie Gordon
Senior Editor
Twitter @lesliegordon,
[email protected]
Resources:
Other examples of bad designs:
http://tinyurl.com/3zfs5xq
http://tinyurl.com/44v58vc

In Industrial Design – Materials and Manufacturing Guide (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), author Jim Lesko claims the famous term “form follows function” would be better restated as “form is the resolution of function.” In his definition, product function comprises two main components. One is “performance-specification demands, including all user-friendly aspects.” The other is cost and manufacturability. When designers forget about the “user-friendly” aspects, the result is almost always a bad design.

Though it’s not mentioned in the book, take the case of a lowly toilet-paper holder. The designers neglected to consider the fact that all toilet paper rolls are not necessarily the same. The result is a holder that often puts users in an embarrassing position. No matter how they try, they cannot grab enough of the end of the roll to pull down a piece and take care of business.

The designers probably didn’t neglect research studies, finish color, texture, safety of materials, manufacturability, and all the other factors of product analysis at this stage. But the holder is an example of a bad design. Why? There is no option for the device to work with a flawed roll of toilet paper. This should have been a major design consideration, especially because the holder is intended for use with large-diameter, industrial toilet-paper rolls (which only unroll when they fit in the holder perfectly).

Now consider what happens when the first roll in the holder has a distorted mounting hole.

The poorly formed mounting hole causes the roll to cock, jamming it against the holder sides such that users can’t pull off the tiniest shred of paper. Worse yet, a cocked roll leaves no room for a user to reach in and remove the first roll to manually unwind a length to use.

Nor is this a problem for maintenance personnel. It would be impractical to ask them to inspect every roll for flaws.

Do you agree this is an industrial-design issue? Should holder mounts be redesigned to better accept nonperfect holes? Or should facilities 100%-inspect all incoming rolls?

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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