Redefining washing machine user interface
Oh no! Washing machines are complicated.
I feel like in 2014 this response shouldn’t be necessary but let me explain why this is bullshit:
- Having 15 or even 50 options on a dial isn’t that complicated. learning the meaning of those settings is a one off job (as the article acknowledges most people will only need a reasonably small subset of the possible options though having children will tend to increase that number dramatically esp if one of them has a tendency to react badly to certain washing powders) and — one would hope — you’ll be washing your clothes at least once a week for the life of the machine (this could be 10+ years, my in-laws have a washing machine that’s still going strong after 20+). The real issue is that the problem domain of clothes washing is more complex than the post author seems to acknowledge, different materials, colours, dyes and detergent requirements all need different settings so you don’t fuck up or shrink your clothes.
- Compared to quintessentially macho UIs of e.g. emacs washing machines are models of simplicity and clarity.
- I acknowledge washing machine UI could be improved but as touched upon above it seems to me that the value of a washing machine is mainly in a. in its ability to not destroy a wide variety of clothes b. its ability to not break/ be easily repaired. These are the things rather than UI determine its desirability for an informed consumer i.e. someone who’s aware that they can figure out the controls with about 15mins (max) of RTFM. Any fancy digital UI is a point of failure not amenable to simple on the spot repairs. As a family of four we tend to run the washing machine around once every one and a half days (often more, occasionally less), any delay in getting it fixed could have disastrous consequences for our backlog. It’s understandable that a UI designer would look to improve a product by improving its UI but it seems to me like a case of optimising the wrong bit of the system the value of a better UI is tiny compared to other potential improvements i.e. to garment care, cycle length, resilience and power efficiency
- The important one: Framing this as men can’t use washing machines is sexist. “but it just says men are stupid and the author is a man, just a joke” etc. The logical implication of washing machines are too complicated for men is that washing machines are for women; washing clothes is women’s work. This is a classic passive aggressive strategy, ‘you’re much better at looking after the children’ nonsense — a way of offloading domestic work onto women whilst appearing to be admitting failings (the actual failing never admitted is being too lazy/ uninterested/ unwilling to take a share of responsibility for certain things considered not fun or beneath oneself) and at the same time reinforcing age old gender stereotypes and debunked notions of determinism.
I’m sure at some point a man in a black t-shirt with black rimmed spectacles will come along and make a Nest-style internet aware washing machine with one button labeled ‘clean’ in Helvetica and men who only wear jeans and black t-shirts will buy them for 2x the price of a normal washing machines regardless of cleaning ability maintainability and so on.
(Like Dyson did for vacuum cleaners. free tip: Dyson vacuum cleaners are shit, having a no bag just means that when you come to empty the thing dust goes everywhere again plus the lack of bag means that filters are easily constantly exposed to dirt already in the system and always getting clogged plus they’re just damn ugly with loads of snap-offable bit and bobs. If you have that much money spend it on a Miele).