By August 25, 2011

Everyday Usability: Downy Liquid Fabric Softener

Most of my everyday job is making things easier for people to use. Often this takes the form of computer software, but we often forget that we encounter usability every day. I’ve written about various usability snafus on Gibberish before, from the annoying door handles to confusing toilet knobs to an easy way to accidentally trigger a panic alarm.

I shot a short video about the usability of a Downy liquid fabric softener bottle. I really like this product, and there are some really good design ideas. For example, the spout is designed to collect extra softener from the cap. This also prevents drips from running down the side of the bottle, which is super sweet.

However, there’s one major usability flaw that has caused me more than one spill: the spout is backwards.

Posted in: gibberish

9 Comments on "Everyday Usability: Downy Liquid Fabric Softener"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Rob T says:

    I respectfully disagree with your (admittedly thorough) analysis. The piece I would challenge is your belief that the bottle, since it reads left to right, would encourage a right-handed user to approach and pick it up from the left.

    If I do a Google Image Search for “Fabric Softener Bottle” or “Laundry Bottle” I see hundreds of images of bottles which are facing forward with handles placed on the right of the bottle. I would argue this is an accepted practice that bottles are intended to be picked up from the right and pour towards the left (assuming that handled bottles have spouts which properly point away from the handle, which I think is a safe assumption). I suspect Downy felt that even though they got rid of the handle, they should keep the spout facing the same way it usually does.

    I had to stop to think about the second part, and I do agree that as a righty I would NEVER open anything with a twist cap with my left hand. I think therefore that I must typically open a bottle using my right hand and then switch hands so I can also pour with my right hand. Think of cutting a steak and then switching the fork to your right hand as well.

    I enjoy the thought you give to such things as it makes me ponder them as well.

  2. Michael Schultz says:

    I disagree. The bottle looks like it’s meant to be held in the right hand. Also, I think that pouring is the fine motor skill that is better done with the dominant hand. Removing the cap would easily be done with the non-dominant hand.

  3. DrFaulken says:

    Do you feel that way because of the smaller “swoosh” at the top?

  4. DrFaulken says:

    Rob — your comment was held in moderation, so my reply up top was to Michael, not you 🙂

    I think the difference in your survey of other bottles and using it as an example for this one is the explicit presence of a handle, which avoids the whole problem with the orientation of the spout.

    If it was meant to be poured grabbing the right hand side of the bottle, then the larger “swoosh” should have been on the right for a better grip for a wider range of hand sizes.

    However, you and Mike are both in agreement that I open stuff backwards, which may be true 😉

  5. MS says:

    There’s a similar phenomenon in industrial electrical components. Disconnect switches on panels are (perhaps universally) put on the right side of the cabinet, presumably for ease of use by right hand-dominant people. US Steel has a safety directive to use the “left-hand rule” to actuate the disconnects with the left hand. If there’s an explosion in the panel when the switch is thrown (unfortunately, common enough to warrant the rule), the operator will not be standing full-on facing the cabinet. I don’t, however, think that Downy was figuring any of that into their bottle design. I think that they were just going for a shape more appealing to women.

  6. Ed says:

    Interesting. I just tried pouring 3 items (fabric softener, cat litter, juice bottle), in all of them I used my primary hand (right) to do the actual pouring. I tried to get myself to do it with my left hand and it left me nervous about spillage.

    I wonder how prevalent that is.

  7. Jenner says:

    Before you ever spoke a word I looked at the bottle on the counter and thought “I wonder what he’s talking about it’s obvious”…. I would grab from the neck, on the right side and use the raised area that is bigger on the right to support my palm while I poured. Then someone overhearing all this went and got our bottle and we both agreed that we’d grab from the right. Then we went to the Downy website and looked at their other packaging, many varieties have the same “swish” yet there is a handle and it’s on the right. I don’t know how long that “swish” has been around.

    If Downy bottles are like most others, you can, with enough force, twist the spout to your liking. I’ve been known to modify a product to my own personal preferences, often in ways never thought of.

    Have you used the Downyball? It’s an excellent piece of engineering that’s been around for decades, would like to see that reviewed as a follow up? 🙂

  8. DrFaulken says:

    So far we’re DrFaulken: 1, Everyone Else: 50,004. 🙂 This may be one of those moments where I look around and I’m the only idiot in the room 🙂

    How about this — go to Wal-Mart or Target, grab this bottle with your right and left, decide what is more comfortable, and report back.


  9. Ed says:

    Interesting, I wonder if you are more ambi-dextrous then we are perhaps? I know when younger you had a lot of hand-eye coordination training, that might have… changed you. 🙂