This Observed Life – Laundry Machine Malfunctions

My apartment complex shares a single pair of washer and dryer. In order to do my laundry, I must first add money to a third party plastic card. This card’s only purpose is for the laundry machine. In order to put money on this card, I must go to my apartment complex’s clubhouse and insert cash through a wall-mounted transaction machine. It costs $3.25 to wash and dry one load of laundry.

The reloadable cash card in question.

The reloadable cash card in question.

My issue with the system arose a few weeks ago. I had just flipped a fresh $20 bill onto my Dedicated Laundry Card. I carried my hamper, which was filled to brim with dirty clothes, down a couple flights of stairs to the laundry room. After putting all of my clothes into the washer, I inserted my card into the machine. The tiny LED sign read “ERR.” I unsuccessfully attempted to swipe my card again. Long story short: I now have another laundry card, but I am out 20 dollars.

Problem: My apartment complex’s laundry machine uses a third-party payment service via card, and you can only put money or check your card balance at a specific place in the apartment complex. Additionally, the laundry machine does not tell you your card balance until the machine has taken out the necessary money it needs to run. (For example, if my $20 card had worked, the machine’s indicator would have read $18.25 on it, and the washer would have started running.)

laundry_machine

Steps taken now.

Steps taken now. Note that in the final step, the user could find out that they do not have enough money available to them. AFTER putting their clothes into the washer.

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Design Process: I went with the AEIOU method. My problem appeared relatively straightforward, so I felt that the solution could be simple too. This method allows me to break down every area of the process and pinpoint where the real problems occur.

Activities: Doing laundry, putting money on a proprietary laundry card, occasionally withdrawing cash for this card when you do not have any on hand.
Environments: Laundry room, apartment complex clubhouse
Interactions: swiping the card, carrying laundry, pushing START and PREFERENCE buttons on the laundry machine(s), driving to clubhouse
Objects: Laundry card, washer and/or dryer, cash, clothes and clothes hamper
User: Any resident of My Apartment Complex

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Proposed Intervention: Looking at the “Activities” and “Interactions” section of my design process above, I noticed that there are too many steps taken for a simple service like laundry. Additionally, there is potentially lots of traveling involved to do something that should primarily be done at home. If you do not have cash on hand, you have to find an ATM, travel to the apartment clubhouse, put that new cash on your card, go back to your apartment, and bring your laundry to the laundry room. Even worse, in my opinion, is what happened to me. Putting detergent and your clothes into the washer before even knowing 1) if your card is functioning properly or 2) if your card holds enough money to pay for the wash is fairly indefensible, but the machine’s process disables you from solving either of those problems yourself.

My solution consists of two parts. Inspired by the Virginia Tech ID card, I believe there should be an online portal that is attached to my apartment complex’s website. There, I could add money to the card and check my card balance. The website already has some of my payment information stored for utilities and rent, and I could do it all without having to leave the apartment.

Additionally, the machine should require feedback before charging your card. Ideally, you would put your card in a washer/dryer, and the machine will tell you your balance. After you know your card is working and that you have enough money to pay, you could start filling the machine with your dirty clothes. This is a simpler solution that would work fine, but I prefer it in conjunction with my idea for an online payment portal. That way, the process is as streamlined as it can be.

Online web portal.

Online web portal.

Steps taken in proposed solution.

Steps taken in proposed solution.

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Reflection: Throughout this pressure project, I often wondered if I was thinking too critically of the situation. I was tempted to ask my roommates if they were bothered by the current laundry system, and I kept staving off the notion that I might possibly care too much about such a small issue. This must come inherently to anyone designing for themselves. In fact, I have had similar thoughts while working on various personal projects of my own. I find designing for oneself to be a fun activity, but I can see the tradeoffs arriving quickly as soon as solutions become grander and the work/money/time investments grow. For instance, if my apartment complex were to implement my proposed solution, they would surely ask other residents about their own laundry experience here in order to ensure the investment’s worth. Who would want to spend money without some sort of transaction confirmation, anyway?

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