Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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437 words

This is about my stupidity or subtly bad design.

You know washing machines. They have a mystic 95° setting, Kochwäsche as we say in German. With modern chemicals, fabrics and fabric colours its use is very limited. In fact, I only used it twice so far. One time was about a year ago when we used some of my sheets as table cloths and they gained some impressive stains from curry or some other equally yellow spice. And Kochwäsche was the way to go there. No problem for white sheets.

The other time was very recently. And the bad thing about it was that I only realised I had been using Kochwäsche when I removed the washing from the machine. So I immediately feared that I just destroyed half of my clothing… which luckily wasn’t true. One or two cheap items seem to have gone a bit out of shape but the rest seems to be all right. So a number of questions arose. One being whether all the ‘dangers’ of Kochwäsche are a bit on the panicky side or whether our washing machine, which we bought cheaply off eBay just doesn’t to the high temperatures properly.

The other question was how this could happen. I usually check the temperature setting on the machine because sometimes my flatmates set it to 60° and so I did this time. But I must have only given it a brief look: The dial to set the temperature has the settings for 30° and 95° on opposite sides. And as it is quite symmetric, quickly glancing at it in the 95° setting makes it easy to mistake this for the 30° setting, which is what happened to me.

Switches and dials on the washing machine

So while ultimately I am to blame here for not looking carefully, the design could be better. More fool-proof, so to say. I think that being fool-proof is a big thing for good design – and a significant bit of the ‘Just Works’ thing as well. And strangely, browsing the internet for washing machine photos didn’t give another current brand name machine that has dials like ours. Most of them seem to combine the temperature and program settings in a single dial these days. I’m not sure whether this is a matter of better design or just the fact that you’ll need a certain amount of electronics in the machines to have this simpler interface – and those electronics have only started spreading into the machines recently. But it’s an interesting observation.

Recommended listening, within six degrees of separation of what happened: Placebo’s 36 Degrees and the Shout Out Louds100°.

November 18, 2005, 1:23

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