Initial Design ProposalLaundry rooms for large apartment complexes present a problem in sparse resource utilization: tenants want there to be a washing machine available whenever they desire to do laundry, but landlords wish to save money by installing the minimum possible number of machines (a number normally very small in proportion to the number of tenants). This problem is often solved by means of a simple booking system, in which tenants reserve in advance a block of time for a particular machine. This booking system can be as simple as a piece of paper listing the time slots for each machine, which is then posted on the laundry room wall, where tenants can sign up for available slots.
This simple system, however , does not offer all the conveniences which a tenant might desire. What does a tenant do if he forgets when his next booking is? What happens if a tenant shows up at her booked time only to find that the booked machine is out of service? Are other tenants likely to go all the way to the laundry room simply to cancel a booking they no longer intend to use, or will they just let the booking go by unused?
I propose an electronic system to solve these issues. The system would consist of three primary parts: a web interface, a mobile phone interface, and wall-mounted unit for the laundry room itself (using a touch screen or similar technology). The systems would have access to a common database of users and bookings. Each part would allow a user to perform the following functions: log in/out, view the available time slots for all machines, book an available time slot, review and/or cancel any previously made bookings, report a laundry machine that is out of service, and request a reminder about an upcoming booking. The database server would then also be responsible for sending out notifications (via e-mail or SMS) when a user has requested a reminder for a booking, or when a previously booked machine is out of service for the booked time slot.
User Study for Laundry Booking System
The study was conducted using a one page survey form, placed in the laundry of a large apartment complex in the Uppsala area. The survey format allowed the capture of users from various times throughout the day, as opposed to an interview format which would only have been able to gather information from users in limited time spans. Response rate was better than anticipated: over a two day survey period, there were 13 respondents. This is perhaps due to the survey being posted in an area (i.e., a laundry room) where users often have 5–10 minutes of unnoccupied time while they wait for a machine to finish.
The survey focused on three primary areas: user background, preferred choice of interface, and the importance of common laundry room problems. Interface choice was emphasized because the proposed laundry room booking system has several interface choices, and it was deemed important to find out which interfaces (mobile, web, etc.) would be the most used. For the complete survey, see Appendix 1.
Complete survey results given in Appendix 2.
Background of Respondents
Respondents were nearly all students. All came from multiple-person dwellings, with respondents being evenly split between 2 person apartments and larger groups. The majority of respondents had lived in the complex for 2 or more years, indicating a highly stable population.
As far as laundry habits were concerned, more than half (54%) of all respondents indicated they washed 2 or fewer loads per week. Additionally , of the 2 laundry machine reservations allowed per week in this laundry room, only 38% claimed to use both reservations in a typical week, while 15% of respondents donʼt use the current reservation system at all. Comments included, “We use the free machines,” and, “We donʼt make reservations because the system is not working that well,” possibly indicating frustration with the current booking system.
There was relatively little variation in interface choices. For making a reservation, 100% of respondents said they would prefer to use a website. For receiving reminders, 69% chose SMS. What was unexpected here was that the same user would prefer to make a reservation using one system, and receive a reminder using another. This suggests that what had been seen as two parallel systems (one for the computer, another for the mobile phone) should instead be interpreted as a single integrated system. This would seem to indicate that certain aspects, such as the mobile reservation system and the e-mail notification, could be de-emphasized or discarded altogether.
The survey indicated that the most significant booking problems for users were those that occurred when a machine had been booked, but then could not be used during the booked time (due to either mechanical failure or lack of observance of the rules). Users viewed the problem of finding a machine without booking in advance as less of a problem (although one comment did emphasize that being able to see what machines were available right away from home would be the most useful feature). The problem of machines going unused despite being booked was not regarded as significant.
Multiple users wanted the system to be able to show what machines were in use right now, regardless of their reservation status, so that they could better decide whether it was worth trying to wash without a reservation. Adding this functionality to the interface would require that the system was linked to each machine, a considerable additional expense; however , itʼs possible that the reduction in user frustration, and the increased efficiency in the use of the available machines, would permit the owner to have fewer machines per tenant, offsetting a part of the increased system cost. This new feature will have to be considered for addition to the system.
Appendix 1: User Survey [Table not shown]
Appendix 2: Complete Results [Table not shown]