The Design of Everyday Things

Inspired by Don Norman’s classic work, the Design of Everyday Things, we’ve been thinking about mundane, everyday items that can have annoying usability flaws. While we have a particular focus on the human factors of healthcare and medical products here at Kaleidoscope, we can apply that same rigorous, analytical human factors approach to these everyday things.

So, here we have the seemingly benign 2.5 gallon jug of drinking water, a household staple used by a variety of brands across the country.

Problem 1: As water is dispensed from the jug, additional air is required to replace the dispensed water to ensure consistent water flow and prevent the jug from collapsing due to the pressure of the surrounding air. To add air flow into the jug, a small hole must be punctured into top with a sharp knife. The use of a sharp knife poses a potential safety hazard when considering the orientation and motion in which the knife must be used and the force necessary for the knife to puncture the slick plastic material of the jug. In addition, the most obvious place to puncture this hole is the top side facing the front of the jug, which has a slight slant toward the user. The angle of the stabbing motion must be just right; if the angle is too shallow, the knife blade can skid across the surface of the plastic, with the blade pointing in toward the user’s body.

A potential mitigation for this problem is to provide an adhesive pull tab that can be removed to reveal a pre-punctured vent hole.

Problem 2: The spigot contains a small strip of plastic that extends from the spigot base to the dispenser handle. The plastic strip is intended to prevent the dispenser handle from being pulled open until the user intentionally breaks the strip, pulls the dispenser handle, and begins dispensing the water. However, the plastic strip can be easily broken unintentionally, and the dispenser handle then opens with very little resistance. This can lead to the dispenser handle opening inadvertently when force is applied to the spigot during loading, or the spigot catches on a surface while unloading, potentially emptying water into a shopping cart or the trunk of a car.

A potential mitigation for this problem is to provide a screw cap over the spigot, similar to the caps on water bottles.

What’s an aspect of an everyday item that you would change to improve the user experience?

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