Tape is one of the most commonly used tools in our country and throughout the world. Many even consider it to be a staple item in their daily lives. It has uses in areas ranging from academics to work and even arts and crafts. With tape being so practical and versatile, it’s a no-brainer that a method of dispensing it is a pretty relevant matter. However, due to frugal spending by companies and poor design decisions, most tape dispensers fail to actually do their job, which is so pertinent to the taping process. Cheap materials along with flawed device mechanisms, create a lack of precision tied with poor efficiency. This results in annoyances such as length inaccuracies (tape overshooting) and tape getting tangled. Our group found this to be truly unacceptable, especially with such a popularly used item. All product designs should aim to make the user experience as pleasant and positive as possible, but with an item such as tape dispensers that have such a high user density around the globe, it becomes particularly important that the product be hassle-free while still cost efficient.
For the interviews I decided on a Master-Apprentice approach which allows for a specific set of questions that could be asked for each interview and really helps to reveal the pitfalls of the design by having the interviewee take on the role of an expert. I aimed to interview as wide of a user group as I could since tape dispensers are such a universal and simple product that people of all backgrounds and ages should be able to use easily. The interviewees were tasked with taping a cardboard box together or taping a paper to the wall, two tasks that were fairly common and simple in complexity so that all errors could be attributed to the tool used: the tape dispenser. Contextual questions were asked during the task to gain insight on the interviewee's thoughts on the process.
When asked for the participants' opinions on the tape dispenser, words such as "it sucks", "cheap", "clumsy", and "frustrating" were used. From the many problems that showed up, three main issues occurred most often:
The data revealed that users’ problems did not stem from their mental model matching up with the designers’, since all our interviewees had the right plan of action for how to use the tape. Thus, this was not a problem with signifiers and affordances either, as was expected with such a simple design. Nor was the problem with the Gulf of Evaluation. When the tape was dispensed correctly, it was easy to see, as signified by a lack of wrinkles or tangling; same with the application of the tape. The main problem was with the Gulf of Execution--in other words, users knew what they wanted to do and how to do it, but stumbled when actually executing their plans. This was what we aimed to fix in our redesign process.
The core problems that seemed to keep popping up when conducting our interviews were a result of a lack of precision tied with poor efficiency. Poor cutting mechanisms (cheap “teeth”) created a problem in which interviewees were unable to cut accurate lengths of tape on demand, while the need to use two hands with the dispenser created annoyances such as the tape getting tangled. It took some thought, but upon inspecting these issues closely, our group realized that they all originate from a matter of economics. Companies just don’t want to spend excessive amounts of money on something as simple as tape dispensers. This results in the use of cheap materials and flawed device mechanisms. It’s easy to question the significance of these problems, but when you think of the user density of tape dispensers across the globe it becomes clear why these problems need to be fixed. With tape being an everyday item that is so commonly used, the ease with which users can manipulate a tape dispenser is highly relevant. Everyday items need to be hassle-free and cost efficient due to their popularity and the role they play in making daily life easier. Focusing on this, our next step as a group was to come up with a design space that exhibited what we found to be most important with tape dispensers.
From our data, we were able to determine that users’ problems did not stem from their mental model matching up with the designers’, since all our interviewees had the right plan of action for how to use the tape. Thus, this was not a problem with signifiers and affordances either, as was expected with such a simple design. Nor was the problem with the Gulf of Evaluation. When the tape was dispensed correctly, it was easy to see, as signified by a lack of wrinkles or tangling; same with the application of the tape. The main problem was with the Gulf of Execution--in other words, users knew what they wanted to do and how to do it, but stumbled when actually executing their plans. This was what we aimed to fix in our redesign process.
The design aspects we decided were most important in respect to the tape dispenser is precision, versatility, and price. Precision is important because you don’t want to waste tape or tape something incorrectly. We decided that this was the most important design aspect because the most common error our interviewees made was getting too much tape. Versatility was also very important because tape is such an everyday object. It should be used in every situation with ease. We also wanted to keep the tape dispenser affordable for everyone.
For precision, our focus was on consistently getting an accurate length of tape from the dispenser. In order to do this, we needed to address two issues: knowing how much tape has already been dispensed, and being able to accurately cut the tape (preventing “sliding” when trying to cut the tape). For measurement, we solved this by having markings on the tape, so the user would know how many inches had been dispensed. In addition, we had a roller which would click every inch. The mechanism to control this is a roller which spins as the tape is pulled with a single tooth which collides on the tape dispenser every revolution. This was an answer to a previous design, which would give tactile feedback on each rotation of the tape roll (this was a flaw because as the tape was used, the distance between clicks would decrease). Finally, to improve cutting the tape, we added a slider with a blade, rather than a tearing the tape. This would assure an exact cut every time. Some tradeoffs to this design were the small moving parts (difficult to assemble in mass scale), and requiring specialized tape to get the full value of the product.
Finally, we combined these two ideas to come up with a final redesign. Here, we tried to add precision and versatility to the form factor of the original tape dispenser. We found the marked tape and the roller to be redundant, so we opted to only use the roller to address precision. Every click of this roller would count as an inch dispensed of tape. For versatility, we wanted to improve upon the scissor design, making it more compact while still following the same cutting mechanism. We designed a clamping mechanism to cut the tape with one hand. Unlike the scissor, we used springs between the two pieces to act as the restorative force to keep the two pieces apart. This would allow the redesign to be roughly the same size as a traditional tape dispenser, while still providing a better cutting action. This design also fits comfortably in one's hand, allowing for one handed use. We 3D printed a prototype without the blade in 3 pieces, to demonstrate both scale and how the device would operate. We found this to be much more comfortable than the original, and have high hopes for it being a better alternative to current tape dispensers.
With the refining of each prototype, we combined the best aspects of each to create our final design; a single handed tape dispenser with a built in mechanism that clicks as feedback for when a certain measurement is reached, which we 3D printed as our prototype.