All I wanted was to wash my hair

I am hardly alone in getting annoyed by things in everyday life that do not function properly. The funny thing is how often it happens to me while I am in the shower. Maybe it is because I used to be, and still am a semi-active, competitive swimmer and therefore have spent my fair amount of time in the shower.

Often one might wonder whether those who have manufactured a product actually have tried it themselves. An example from this summer was when I tried to open the shower door in our holiday apartment. A folding door meant to be pulled inward, but the handle was far from the centre, and also without neither friction nor grip.

I think I am reasonably strong, but had no chance opening the door in the way it was intended. Luckily I am tall enough to stretch myself over the door and pull the glass and fortunately got out. Did anyone try to open that door with wet hands before it came into production?

But it was supposed to be about shampoo

The first time I remember experiencing a problem with shampoo was when Organics became popular in my swimming club about 20 years ago. In worn-out public showers there was not much to place the bottle on, so it constantly fell on the floor. At Organics they probably had not heard of a drop test, because the bottle-caps broke at a rate of one a week. That left a small bit of plastic in the opening, which made it a struggle to get the shampoo out of the bottle.

The most fascinating however is when I last came across this shampoo a couple of years ago, the bottle still looked the same and the cap broke just as easily.

Many variants

Through the years I have come across many types of issues. Some of my understanding of these problems probably comes from my previous job, where I among other things worked on material properties and fluid flow. And even if I mention individual brands by name, these are not the only ones with badly functioning bottles. On the contrary, well functioning bottles are an exception.

When Head & Shoulders redesigned their bottle a couple of years ago it was actually painful to open. I half expected to one day cut myself on the sharp plastic edges of the cap that was unnecessarily tight. Anyone with weak or delicate fingers will have problems with that bottle and will probably never buy it again. Limiting the customer base through poor design is never a good idea.

Elvital has designed their bottles in an upside down position, which will not let any air in. When they finally cannot be squeezed anymore you have to force air into the bottle. But the bottle regains its deformed shape after air inlet and in the process releases a triple dose of shampoo. If you want to conserve shampoo, for example because you are environmentally conscious, you will not choose Elvital again.

Small bottles of shampoo at hotels are not as common these days. But if you come across one, the likelihood of the shampoo getting sucked back into the bottle is quite high because of the small opening.

The worst example

Despite the previous examples, there is no doubt which was the worst of them all. It was a hotel shampoo bottle with a screw cap that was so small it was almost impossible to get your fingers around it and get a good grip, and besides the cap was really hard to open. The thing is, that was its smallest problem.

To get the shampoo you had to squeeze the bottle. But when a bottle is double curved, in this case as a slightly flattened egg, and the material is too thick, that is not an easy thing to do. So I pressed and pressed as hard as I could. And it was just about enough.

But because of the shape and thickness of the material you could not squeeze evenly, but got a real ketchup effect. The bottle buckled right away, much like a reflective metal band does when they go directly from extended to coiled.

For the bottle it meant going directly from the original shape to completely flat. The result was that the shampoo came out at such speed that my palm only acted as a very temporary stopover. In the end, I stood with a nearly empty bottle and shampoo that ended up everywhere except in my hand.

What has shampoo got to do with the web?

Nothing really. But when we test web solutions we often find them to be as poorly tested as the named shampoo bottles, despite being much more complex. The point is that it is possible to achieve good solutions if you only take the time to evaluate them. In the world of shampoos, for instance Define and Sunsilk have managed to remove friction out of the equation. This is done by pressing one side of the bottle cap in order to bring up the opening on the other side of the cap on their bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Sunsilk is slightly better by offering a larger surface to press.

So to all manufacturers, whatever you design, both physically and digitally: please make sure to test your products with actual users. If you cannot find any, test them using friends and colleagues. If that also is not possible, test it yourself. Regardless, try to recreate the actual user situation as best it can be done. Most important is to learn and consider the implications of the results.

I am sure many everyday problems would never have arisen if all developers and manufacturers had spent more time evaluating.

Torbjørn Helland Solhaug