We were asked to survey users of stacked washer-dryer units to learn about their likes and dislikes. We agreed, but only if we began with some site visits so we could observe how people used them in their homes.
Stacked washer/dryer combos are designed to save space.
The bottom of the unit is the washer. It is called a top-loader, and you know why. The dryer above it is a side loader – you couldn’t reach a top loader up that high. Also, dryers in general are side loaders because the drum orbits on a lateral axis, tumbling the clothes as it dries them. Typical washers oscillate around a vertical axis. To transfer just-washed laundry from the washer on the bottom to the the dryer on the top, we observed the laundry-doer must:
- Open both doors.
- Bend over.
- Reach down into the washer.
- Grab a handful of damp laundry.
- Stand up to transfer this handful to the dryer.
Again and again, while the laundry-doer was bending over retrieving just-washed laundry, the dryer door would not stay to the side.
It would swing around to be in just the right place for laundry-doers to hit their heads, their necks, or their backs on the dryer door when they stood up. On two occasions, we observed a simple modification that prevented this from happening. Users had placed small magnets to hold the door wide open, flush with the front of the dryer, out of the way.
The problem was widespread; the solution was simple and inexpensive.
It might be just adding a magnet, or door-grasping hardware, or velcro (probably a bad choice around lint). But laundry-doers need some way of securing the door in a fully-opened position, so it is laundry-doer friendly.
This is one of many examples of why we have learned insist on going on-site to see how people use products in their natural environments. We firmly believe that observation of actual use in the home trumps recall in a focus group facility every time.