I like to look at things and wonder about how I can make them better.  It’s almost always easier to improve on a design than it is to create from scratch.  I think it has something to do with the constraints and a designer’s desire to push against those constraints.  When a designer is given carte blanche, it’s almost too much freedom.  That’s probably why rapid iteration works so well.  A designer given so much freedom NEEDS to make some really crappy designs right off the bat, so that they can immediately take a knife to it.  Granted, as time goes on, good designers can minimize the amount of time they’re in “crappy phase” but there’s always some time there.  
Anyhow, moving onto the point of this post.  Here’s the scenario.  You’re in the bathroom, doing your business.  You finish up on the toilet, head over to the sink because you’re not evil.

Wash wash wash, sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat discreetly to yourself, and all that goodness and then you turn to grab a paper towel and see this:

So what’s wrong with this? Well, it depends on the criteria that you use for evaluating paper towel dispensers.  There’s nothing wrong if you’re looking for a very basic paper towel dispenser.  minimal upkeep, non-intrusive, it dispenses paper towels for Pete’s sake, and it does it fairly well.

So for those that just skim for outlines and bullet points, here’s the good:

  1. Minimal upkeep.
  2. Non-intrusive
  3. Keeps towels dry, clean, and out of the way until needed.
  4. Functional

So that’s the positive, but this post is labeled, “It Can Be Better.”  So here’s the issues I saw with this when I interacted with it.

  1. At the start of the stack, the paper towel is not readily accessible.  You have to reach up into the slot to grab the first sheet.  Reaching into anywhere in a bathroom just reeks of being unsanitary.  But after that first pull, it’s all good.
  2. When the stack gets low, paper towels have a tendency to rotate and then they fail to have the sheet jut out of the opening, which leads to more reaching and pulling.
  3. Near the end of the stack, it’s easy to pull more than one at a time, sometimes causing the towels to fall on the ground in a clump.  Wasteful.
  4. Some people like to reach in and pinch a bunch of towels at once.  Human nature, maybe, since those paper towels don’t dry all that well.  But in pinching, sometimes it’ll upset the delicate interlacing that the paper towels are packaged in that allows for the next piece to pop out.  It essentially leads back to problem one.
  5. These can all be subcategorized into the issue of accessibility.

Now the goal is, find an existing design or create a paper towel dispenser design that is better.

Okay, so we can redesign til the cows come home, but let’s set down some ground rules.  For it to be a better designed paper towel dispenser, it should solve all the above problems, but not violate the 4 positives above.  If it doesn’t, it might be better in one way, but at the detriment of the 4 ways that are meaningful for our audience and purpose.

So how do we increase accessibility without compromising our positives?