The Little Things

It’s the little things that get you.

For example, my brand of toothpaste has always come in a tube with a twist-off cap. Maybe not the most efficient design, but I was used to it. Twist off, squeeze, twist on, done.

The latest tube has a redesigned cap with a flip-top. Theoretically, it should be simple to adjust. Flip open with thumbnail, squeeze, flip shut.

But as many of you know, one of my favorite sayings is “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.”* I can’t get the hang of the flip-top.

* I find it interesting that such a clear explication of a core concept cannot be definitively attributed. As Wikiquote points out, the common attributions to Johannes Lambertus Adriana van de Snepscheut and Yogi Berra are likely spurious.

Mind you, the design is worthy of a “Who QAed This Shit” entry. Every time I close it, a bit of toothpaste is squeezed into the space between the two pieces of the cap, causing them to stick together. On particularly bad days, the paste squeezes far enough to extend beyond the edge of the flip-top where it lies in wait for the unwary, then leaps onto their fingers.

But even leaving the design flaws* aside, I simply haven’t been able to retrain my muscle memory to handle this tiny change. Now the workflow goes like this: pick up tube, half-unscrew lid, swear, tighten lid, flip open, squeeze, flip shut, swear again, wipe toothpaste off fingers and cap.

* Or is it a feature? From the manufacturer’s perspective, wasting paste means I’ll have to buy a new tube that much sooner.

I gave up. I leave the flip-top shut and simply unscrew the lid. I’m looking for an old tube that has the original twist-off cap. If I find one–and if it fits–I’ll just transfer the cap from tube to tube. God help me if they ever make the cap integral!

Don’t take this rant as a dig at the maker of MyBrand Toothpaste or a complaint about changing things for the sake of making a change*. That’s not the point. The point is how easy it is to assume that a change really is trivial.

* I’m sure there’s some marketing material that touts the “New, Easy-Open Lid” or something similar. Feh!

We see this all the time in software. Menus are resorted, buttons move around on the screen, default actions change. It’s an easy change to make, and there may even be a legitimate reason to make the change (“Y’know, Chauncey, maybe the default action for the ‘Delete’ button should be ‘Cancel’ instead of ‘Delete Entire Database'”).

And when the new version of the software goes out, the support boards fill up with complaints from loyal users whose habits have been disturbed. Somehow, this always seems to come as a surprise to the company. “But the new version is so much better! Why is everyone so upset?” Then there’s a frantic scramble to (a) spin the complaints as being the work of a few malcontents, (b) lay off the team responsible for the new design, (c) rush out a patch that restores some of the old behavior, and (d) announce that the company has listened to the desires of its customers.

At which point, of course, the users, who have mostly adjusted to the change, complain about being forced to go back to the old model.

OK, cynicism creeping in here. But really, you don’t have to go any farther than the evolution of the Start Menu in Windows to see what I’m talking about. (And yes, there really are Windows 8 lovers who refuse to upgrade to 8.1–let alone 10–because they don’t want a Start Menu.)

There’s no right answer here. But please, if you make a change to your product, whatever that product is, take a few minutes to consider whether the benefits of the change outweigh the agony of your loyal followers.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go shopping for toothpaste.

6 thoughts on “The Little Things

  1. But, doing things differently is a good way to create new neural pathways in the brain … so the time it takes you to learn to “flip” rather than “twist” the cap without thinking about it is actually helping keep your brain healthy (and your teeth, too). It’s like a brain workout … but, like most workouts, it’s not something most of us enjoy doing.

    That said, screw the neural pathways, I’m fine with the flip tops but I’m hanging on to my Windows 7 (and my iPod Classic) like grim death.


    • The time I spent unsuccessfully learning to flip suggests that my brain is past the point where a trip to the gym will suffice. Maybe it’s time for the mental equivalent of stapling.

      Keep a close eye on what Windows Update tries to install, and pray for the health of your iPod’s hard drive. I’ve heard that sufficiently thin replacements are getting hard to find.


  2. I’m not carrying water for the flip-top design team, but maybe they thought it would prevent incidents like the cap falling into bathroom never never land. And what about the kids? Sometimes, they just won’t take the extra six seconds to put the cap on the tube when they’re done. Just sayin…

    But I you’ll get no grief from me on the points made. Sometimes, “new and improved” is only half that.

    Have you checked the financial pages? Perhaps the cause of this trouble was that Microsoft bought MyBrand Toothpaste and got a little ambitious with the toothpaste’s Start and End steps.


    • Oh, no argument here. As I said, sometimes there’s a good reason for a change. On the other hand, if you lose the cap, you don’t have to worry about whether the kids will remember to put it back on.

      As for the Microsoft suggestion, well, corporate diversification may be a thing, but that seems like it might be stretching things a li–excuse me. My toothpaste tube just told me it needs to reboot to install a security update. Maybe you’re onto something there.


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