You’ve Been Using Toilet Paper Wrong

February 3, 2014

  1. OverUnder

OverUnderHonorary Raptor and uber-talented UX designer, Heber, talks about what two-ply done right can teach us about creating a better digital experience.

We’ve got toilet paper backwards.

Yes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to experience TP, and no, this isn’t subjective.

The thought occurred to me (believe it or not) on the can. It’s where my brain does a lot of heavy lifting. But my career as a user experience designer means that sometimes my thoughts don’t drift beyond the commode. It’s not that I’m overly obsessed with my bathroom’s décor—it’s environments and experience I’m interested in, and for better or worse, I’m always trying to make them simpler. I can’t help myself.

The bathroom is the environment I think in. The toilet paper transaction—from the roll to the hand to the posterior—is the experience.

And most of us get it wrong.

Here it goes. I’m drawing a line in the sand: TOILET PAPER SHOULD ROLL OUT OVER THE TOP. This isn’t opinion or conjecture. If you don’t believe me, just look at this diagram.

But rolling our toilet paper over the top doesn’t just make life simpler. It teaches us a lot about how to design a good digital experience.

The first tenet of UX design comes down to “how” and “where.” Design’s job is to make sure users never feel lost, that they know where to go next and how to get there as easily as possible. Where’s the button I need to click? How do I get to the next page?

Toilet paper functions like a website. After we’re done with our business we don’t want to mess around—we need to know where to go. The how seems relatively simple: we’ve got to find the roll’s leading edge. The where can be a lot more problematic IF YOU’RE ROLLING THE TP FROM UNDERNEATH. Don’t do this.

Rolling the TP roll from below messes with our overall experience on the can. What should be a simple process leaves us fumbling for a perforated edge on the roll’s backside that we can’t see.

However, when the roll of toilet paper is positioned so that it rolls out over top (do this), the leading edge is now consistently positioned in the front of the roll. Now all the user has to do is simply grab, pull, and take care of business. That’s it. They’re on their way.

More than a few people are going to think this is trivial. After all, who can’t find a perforated edge with just a little more effort? But that’s not really my point. In the digital realm, seconds matter. If your user experience isn’t abundantly clear from the get-go, people leave. They don’t browse, and they certainly don’t buy.

If we’re constantly striving to design better digital experiences for our customers, why shouldn’t we do the same in our own lives? After all, the principles are the same. In both cases, beauty and simplicity are found in the details. So the next time you’re on the can don’t just mindlessly grab some toilet paper. Instead, cherish it as an experience that was designed for you. And please roll your TP over the top.