The worst usability = washing machines

Some of the worst usability issues relating to appliances are those associated with washing machines. It’s almost like the people who design washing machine controls have *no clue*. Some sort of design engineers who likely have never used a washing machine in their lives? Consider the interface on this washing machine:

Now the dial on the left is clearly for spin-cycle, and the numbers around the dial are likely revolutions-per-minute. It’s hard for a user to really decipher what 700 rpm means though, except that the higher the number, the faster it goes. The dial on the right, which allows a cycle to be chosen is full of the usual cryptic symbols. Many European brands of washing machines use pictograms, but unfortunately they don’t conform to any standard. What do the symbols mean?

Below I have marked the symbols as best as I can decipher them, with those in red being ones that I’m not really sure about. Even some of the more identifiable symbols are questionable. For example the symbol for cotton, looks like a tree. The symbol for synthetics looks like a bent paperclip.

This is part of the nightmare of laundry symbols in general – which are *somwhat*, but not quite universal. What is worse of course is the fact that all these settings aren’t needed. You can wash most clothes in cold water (which isn’t really tap cold, and most machines will add some warm water to make sure the water isn’t ice cold). The added bonus is that cold water will actually make things last longer – hot water can weaken fibers, fade colors, destroy elastic and contribute to shrinkage.

So interfaces on washing machines could be way simpler, because I imagine most settings aren’t ever used. I consistently use about two wash cycles on my machine. Here is an interface from a Speed Queen commercial washing machine (used in coin-operated laundries). This interface basically requires the user to push four buttons, and makes using the machine easy. Does the user really need to choose a spin speed? Likely not.


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