Odd-Ball Size Dishwasher Discharge Port and Spud

Have You Ever Asked: "What Bonehead Designed This?"

OK, be honest.  The title question above is rude, but really . . . How many times have you asked this, or a similar question?  Did you find a customer use case that the designers didn't think about?

We run into these situations once in a while too.  Hopefully, because I am a product design engineer, I give the benefit of the doubt more often than not.  That said, after dealing with a ridiculous issue recently, I am back to the same question.  Yes, it is frustrating, though, at the same time, it is a poignant reminder that we (I) must think carefully about every customer use case.

What is a Customer Use Case?

For the moment, let's focus on customer products.  All products have customers of some type, but many of those have very specific uses, so there is not as much to considering for their use cases.

In a nutshell, a "Use Case" is defined as one way a product will be used, or is intended to be used.  Let's use a pencil for example.  The primary customer use case is to write.  That is just one, however.  Some other ways a customer may use a pencil are drawing, tapping or drumming, as a stick, twirling, magic tricks, missiles, a pointer, etc..  All of these are use cases for the lowly pencil, though not so many in this list follow the original customer use case intent.  Arguably, some are misuses, perhaps abuse.

The Pencil, a Customer Use Case Example

A slightly more complicated example is the license plate frames we design.  Though some do end up as picture frames or other things, most are on cars as decoration around the license plate.  It sounds easy enough to discuss the customer use case of simply setting the frame over a license plate, but did you know that almost every state has a little different license plate configuration?  Also, every car has a different area and spacing for the license plate.  Usually, that is also different front to back on each vehicle.  That means there are a lot of different use cases just for the basic job of decorating a license plate!

I am happy to say that Cruiser, as a frame manufacturer, takes this very seriously.  They work hard on compatibility and study it, because this is a big deal for their customers.  Though every frame may not fit every application, it is pretty close.  And, that is a design process they use for both customer and company benefit.  Taking the time to study helps a lot.

When Someone Misses

Going back to the top of this page, what happens when a designer or engineer misses an important customer use case?  Perhaps they didn't consider some aspects of the "Triangle of Achievable Engineering", or, as is often the case, they didn't employ the balancing principles of total design.

Another big mistake we see a lot is assuming a customer wants the product only in the configuration of how the company likes it.  Perhaps certain trends are popular, so they configure the product only for those use cases.  What if a block of customers don't like that?  There are some less popular opinions about product use that manufacturers choose to ignore - and by doing so, they alienate customers.  Or, get less than stellar reviews from the customer who has a different use case.

Bicycles are an industry I know well, so I will give you a few examples in this review of the Pivot Trail 429.  While it is a fantastic bike overall, there are some assumptions in design that miss the mark for this customer use case, for sure.

For this discussion, we will look beyond the misuse and abuse.  (It is absurd to design for every possible way to abuse a product).  So, we will focus on product intent.

My Recent Example

We purchased a dishwasher, and I set out to install it.  I have done this before, so no big deal.  But . . .  Our kitchen places the dishwasher in the peninsula, around a corner from the sink.  When standing at the sink rinsing dishes, it is to the side and perpendicular.  This placement works well for the flow of the kitchen, but it requires long water lines for both input and discharge because they go around, and behind the corner cupboard.

Odd-Ball Size Dishwasher Discharge Port

The input line is a normal compression fitting.  Easy, we can get hoses for that.  Done.

The discharge, on the other hand, has a unique size outlet.  The dishwasher came with a discharge hose - actually a really nice over-molded one - but it is not long enough, not even close.  Also, it is unique on both ends.  Hummm.

Turns out the manufacturer does not make a long enough hose with the right ends, and they don't make an adapter.  The discharge port is too big for a 1" line and too small for a 1.25" adapter.  Is it crazy?  Is it not a feasible customer use case that someone might need to change a hose?  What am I missing?

After several visits to appliance stores,  repair shops, plumbing supply warehouses, hardware stores, etc. - after questions and photos and explanations - after a lot of head scratching by several plumbers, there is not a solution.  Well, no off-the shelf solution anyway.  This one stumped everyone.

So, we are right back to the original question:   "Who is the bonehead that designed this?"  I find it difficult to ignore the stupidity in missing this obvious, and extremely important customer use case - someone might want to change the hose.  That is truly an oversight.

Also, Who is the manager that let this slide?

The Missing Customer Use Case

Making It Work Even As A Missed Customer Use CaseThe customer use case is simple . . . What if someone wants the dishwasher a little further away than standard?  I just kept wondering why they make the discharge outlet a non standard size so a common adapter will not work?  There are tons of adapters out there, so non-standard adaptations are obviously a concern.  If the customer can't use the given hose (for whatever reason), how do they connect it?

As it turns out, there is not an available easy solution.  I had to make something special, then cobble it together.  Interestingly, the first and second attempts at special connection both failed (in varying degrees).

Note:  Failure of any type with water is a total failure.  There are no partial.  If water leaks, that is a failure!

Note:  Tape does not work.  Electrical tape as a filler (seems like a good idea) works for a few months only.  Oh, and the acclaimed - "As Seen On TV" - Flex Tape?  Well, it fails first wash!

The final solution was a force fit over the discharge port, then a modification of the cobbled adapter shown.  Humph!

A Year Later

I am happy to report that the above solution is still in service more than a year later.  Not that this is an achievement at all, but in this case the MacGyver-ism worked in spite of the thought gap by the original designer.

Funny, this obnoxious example still serves as a stark reminder for me, in my work, about trying to consider all the situations as a customer use case in the products I design.  For that, I suppose I should thank a bonehead.  Sorry for the orneriness that shows through in my words.

As One Engineer To Another

Dear engineer, please think about the customer when designing things.  To me, even after thinking about this example for awhile, I just keep wondering how did you miss this simple customer use case?

As one Manager to another, please help your people think though the ways your product fits in the market.  Things are often different than you expect, so help them with the "What if ..." questions.  Use tools, like design reviews, for access to great minds.

Also, as one engineer to others, use this as a reminder.  You can do 1000 things right, yet it is the one goof that makes customers upset.  Don't make your customers find the mistakes.  Do the engineering thoroughly, use the product yourself, then your customers will be happy they chose your product.

To me, it seems a statement of the obvious:  If you are going to take the time to design a product, make it good, and take just a little more time to think about all the potential customer use cases so your product will be good.

Do You Have An Example?

If you have a customer use case example to share, put it in a comment below.  I am sure other readers would also like to learn from your experience.  It can be positive or less than stellar.  Just please keep the language in the comments clean.  Thank you for visiting today.

Good luck with all your designs.

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