Shampoo and conditioner, originally uploaded by Clean Wal-Mart.
Despite the photo, no, this will not be a post about having too many options. I’ll save that for Barry Schwartz (“On the Paradox of Choice”).
Instead, what I’d like to talk about is the design of shampoo and conditioner bottles. Standing in the shower today, I reached for the shampoo first, and I checked the bottle to make sure it was indeed shampoo. The time before, in the shower, I had picked up a bottle, opened it and squeezed it out, only to reveal that the contents were conditioner. My mistake.
But how could I even make such an error? After all, aren’t bottles color coded? Isn’t the shampoo bottle supposed to be transparent while the conditioner is opaque? What about the idea that the shampoo stands with its cap in the air while the conditioner sits cap-down? Haven’t they been meticulously designed already? I won’t even go into the fact that we have this implicit knowledge. But we do. We all know how to tell shampoo and conditioner apart, aside from reading the bottles.
Back on topic, yes, I agree that the benefits of the bottles are products of design. However, all this designing cannot account for all of the possibilities.
The first problem with my set of hair products is that both bottles are opaque. The shampoo is clear, and the conditioner is white, but in the bottle, you can’t really tell the difference. This problem was inherent in the design. Perhaps it could have been countered with the transparent/opaque solution, but that doesn’t account for the second problem.
The second problem is user-related. A few months back, we had a sewage back-up in our apartment complex. This meant that we had raw sewage coming back up into the shower and bathtub. Needless to say, it was nasty, and the lesson learned there was that if there was a cap-down bottle, it was done for. I turned my new bottles cap-up. So, now, the only way my bottles can be told apart is by their labels and the directionality of those labels. Subtle, really.
The question then becomes: how can we further design shampoo and conditioner bottles so that they can be unmistakably told apart? Or is that really a question we need to be asking, after all?