Design Around the House

May 15, 2018

I’m a middle aged guy with a house, wife, kids, parakeets, etc., and I am always using domestic products and domestic “machinery.” I'm constantly interacting with things ranging from staircases to appliances to things stuffed in the junk drawer in the kitchen. And these interactions make me think about design. Why do I like some products? Why do I hate others? We all engage with household items everyday, and we’re annoyed or pleased with them (or somewhere on a continuum), and who says a can opener can’t be as inspiring as a Raymond Loewy? Design is design. So, below: a brief musing on two appliances in my house, one I love, one which drives me middling crazy... 

The Nespresso Milk Foamer is perhaps the best household gadget ever made. I love this thing. It’s damn near perfect. You put milk in it, put the lid on it, press the SINGLE button, and two minutes later you get nice hot foamy milk to dump into/onto your espresso. And then to clean it, you pull it off of its base (which is the only part plugged into the power outlet), throw a little soap in, fill it with water, slosh it around, etc. (it’s fully immersible), dump it, rinse it, and put it back on its base to dry. There are no visible moving parts - the little plastic paddle that spins to foam the milk is magnetically driven - it works like those old magnetic stirrers built into hot plates back in high school science class. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that science class hot plate was the inspiration for this thing. But then someone wrapped itin Bauhaus chrome, added a single button with two functions (click it to foam the milk and heat it, click and hold it for a few moments to foam the milk with no heat) and it’s now the queen of the kitchen. And it can also make hot chocolate! 

The only issue I have with it is that the two little paddles (one for less foam, one for more) store on the lid with a magnet, and washing the lid sometimes knocks them into the sink, and they’re perfectly sized for going down the drain and getting mangled by the Disposall. But if you’re even halfway alert (and you should be because you just had a delicious espresso drink courtesy of your Nespresso Espresso making machine sitting right beside the milk foamer) you’ll manage just fine. 

The clothes washer is another story. 

The GE whatever the model number in the basement sucks. Actually, it works just fine. It isn’t sexy at all, and it does clean the clothes, but it sucks. And it sucks because of…. interface issues. 

Firstly, there is a knob that controls the various types of washes one might want - the standard wash, the light standard wash, the heavy standard wash, the permanent press wash, the delicates wash. All on one knob that additionally serves as an indicator as to where the machine is in its washing cycle. “Look, now it’s spinning!” For me… there are too many choices. Seriously, how different can each type of wash be? The thing fills up with water, churns a bit, drains, adds more water, spins to get rid of the water, and then shuts off. I fail to see breathing room for nuance. Does it spin more gently in when set to delicates? Churn with more vigor for the heavy standard? I know there are water temperature differences - there’s a knob for that too, which makes sense, but I really doubt all the washing variations have any effect beyond marketing. Maybe I need to run tests. 

My real quibble with the washing machine, though, is with the load size. There is a load size knob on the control panel with FIVE settings: mini, small, medium, large, and super. This knob controls water level, clearly. So, I go to load my wash, throw in some clothes, and then…. hmmm - what size is my load? Now... there is on the lid is a diagram indicating the water level for THREE load sizes - small, medium and super. Argh! No correspondence to the damn knob! The two are living separate lives and it bugs me. It shows a lack of communication within the company, and how hard is this really? The design department isn’t being called upon to outsell the iPhone, they just need to tart up this year’s version of the same washing machine they’ve been making since 1972 or something.

So, the takeaway on this is to keep things simple and make sure the directions are clear and make sense (if you’re going to have directions). 

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