Litterbox: A UX Parable

Laundry room

Several years ago in a our previous house my wife and I noticed a marked decrease in the amount of laundry being done.  We weren’t any busier nor had anything changed radically in our lives since the drop off.

Our laundry room was laid out as seen in the diagram.  It was in a walled in porch of a 125 year old home and was quite narrow, no more than 6 feet total, and with storage and other items lining the walls, much less walkable space.   There were two doorways, one to the kitchen and one to the outside.  If you were doing laundry you entered through the kitchen doorway and walked along the green dotted path to the washer and dryer.  The solid black bar was the baseboard heater and the red box was the litter box for cat, a covered model with the door facing the path to the washer and dryer.

When my wife and I discussed the laundry drop off she immediately pointed to the fact that it felt a little gross walking to the washer and dryer because of the little grains of litter on the floor the cat tracked out of the litter box right into the path.  It would stick to your socks and you had to brush it off when done.  Ugh.  We are not obsessively clean people and we were vacuuming that room every couple of weeks but the problem would return within a day.  We weren’t starting loads of laundry because of this.

Now, the litter box faced what I would call the conventional way because the handle to lift the top off was oriented for a person facing the door of the box use (for cleaning).  This seemed the obvious way to do it at the time because everything else also faced into the path like this and there was a natural path for the cat to enter the door following the human path to the washer and dryer.  I thought about moving the litter box  but I could think of no other good room to put it in and the basement door we had to keep closed.   Then a minor bit of inspiration (inspiration likely too strong of a word) hit me – why not turn the litter box 90 degrees?

Useful but not so big change

It would be a bit more awkward for the cat to get in, be a bit more awkward for the human to clean and be non-conformist regarding the orientation of everything else in the room but ultimately clean underwear were much more important and laundry was a more frequent operation than cat litter cleaning.  And it worked, tiny pieces of litter still came out, but not into the path.

I think there are a few user experience takeaways from this:

  • Simple changes can be powerful – this change took 5 seconds once it was decided upon
  • Comfort of the user is important – the little bits of litter weren’t even that bad, but it sure made an “icky” feeling
  • Optimize for the most important behaviour  and the users doing it – doing laundry was far more important than the convenience of the cat, and the cat could still carry out its tasks

And also, talk to your users for information!

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3 Responses to Litterbox: A UX Parable

  1. Pingback:… « itBlog

  2. jmt says:

    And also, talk to your users for information!

    So, what did the cat have to say about the change?

  3. Jer says:

    Yes, a much better solution than just removing the litter box entirely, or making the cat step on a hidden switch to get it to appear.

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