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Rubbish Usability In Black And White

Poor usability and how brands and local authorities can work together for mutual benefit

One of the irritating side effects to working in the marketing industry is the unintentional automatic evaluation and critique of pretty much any form of communication we are exposed to.

And so last night in Casa Zeitgeist there was an unneccesary sense of frustration when reading a seemingly harmless and well-meaning letter from Watford Borough Council explaining the new ‘Communal Recycling Station’.

The front of letter introduced the new recycling scheme and explained the introduction of new communal bins with bright colourful stickers that would leave residents in no doubt as to what kind of waste went into each recepticle.

On the back was a ‘Handy Recycling Guide’ with tables showing which items did and, just as importantly, didn’t go in each bin.

Cunningly printed on the back of the original letter to save paper, the guide offered the opportunity to forever associate each colour with the appropriate contents.

At agencies we go on (and on and on and on) about the shopper journey and how effective communications can prompt behaviour change.

Whether this also happens are local councils is not known.

However, if the desired reaction to receiving the ‘Handy Recycling Guide’ was for thousand of households to pin it up on kitchen noticeboards or to take down beloved childrens artwork so that it could take pride of place on the fridge, one has to ask ‘Why the hell is it in black and white?

The sheet, reproduced below, misses a huge trick in usability terms. By saving money on coloured ink the council has made the guide a lot less user friendly as each colour is pointlessly represented by a slightly different shade of gray.

Watford Borough Council. Y U NO use colour?

With spending cuts dominating the news the council’s decision to reduce spending on ink might be commended by some while others will point to increased environmental damage caused by coloured ink.

This would miss the point. The purpose of the letter is to introduce a new policy and encourage compliance. Doing it properly first time reduces the need for follow up letters and spoiled bins where people have thrown in general waste where there should only be glass or paper.

Making the most out of bad luck
While the council may have to cut its cloth ever smaller there is a fantastic opportunity to turn adversity into something positive.

Around the land there are plenty of brands for whom recycling is a topic of huge interest. They spend great deals of money communicating their ethical policies and would most likely jump at the chance to get their logo pinned up in kitchens around the land.

For example, Coca-Cola have their own microsite on the subject and have already committed to installing recycling bins around Westminster for the Olympics.

Identifying such a partner who would provide the required budget for some coloured ink in exchange for the guide being co-branded would not only save the council money but also increase the likelihood of residents changing their waste disposal behaviour.

As it is, the guide is only really fit for the bin. If only I could work out which one it should go in.

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