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— 24 December 2004 —

Reusability

Garbage This is more about pet peeves than any real “user experience” issues, but I suppose if you look at it in a certain light, there could be an opportunity to create a better user experience; though I do not know what the cost might be.

Like many people, I eat food. I buy that food at a store. Depending on the store I go to, I have a choice, “Paper or Plastic?” Sometimes I choose plastic. Sometimes I choose paper. Sometimes I forget to choose and end up getting plastic when I really wanted paper.

The thing is, both paper and plastic help me carry my groceries out to the car, then into the house. I prefer paper because while it does require trees to die, it also biodegrades quite easily. Ethics aside, there is a reason why I choose both paper and plastic: I reuse them as garbage bags.

We have two bags in our house. Paper is used for general garbage that is not wet. Plastic is used for all the wet stuff. I don’t have a problem with paper bags for garbage. My issue, and here’s where the pet peeve comes in, is the plastic bags. Nine times out of ten the bags have a hole in the bottom along the seam. This causes the liquids to leak out into the plastic bucket we use to give the bag a usable shape. Stains ensue. Smells ensue. Yuck ensues. So every few days I have to wash the bucket and use baking soda to rid it of smells and stains as much as possible. Smells go away, stains… not so much.

What would make my user experience much better is if the plastic bags didn’t have holes. Period. But I think they are only designed for one purpose. Frankly, I hate things that are only designed for one purpose, unless its use is ceremonial. I like screwdrivers with nice, solid handles because inevitably I will use it as an ad hoc hammer. I love laptops because since they are so poorly designed I can use them as lap warmers in the winter.

Who the heck would I even contact about this issue? The Plastic Bag Manufacturers of America? Probably not. Small plug here for contextual inquiry (or enquiry)… People (yknow… users!) use the things we design in ways we never intended or thought of. And the only way you can find that out is if you go see people using what you made. Since rarely can you design something in the same environment in which it will be used, you should take advantage of every opportunity to see “it” in its environment of use. Environment changes how we use things. A screwdriver can be a hammer. Old magazines can become a couch leg. A lampshade can become a memory of embarrassment.

With those pesky users meddling with everything, who knows what they will do. I for one just want to take out the trash without having to also mop the floor. Or perhaps the PBMA needs to also go into the mop business. I guess it all depends on which opportunity you want to focus.

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