In Practice

Dec. 21, 2004
Whirlpool products offer leveraged learning.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. is always looking for opportunities to make its products easier to use. One such opportunity is the company's leveraged learning concept, which enables consumers of all ages to master one appliance and then apply that working knowledge to another Whirlpool appliance. "Once a consumer learns how to program their wall oven, we use that same sort of programming logic to enable that consumer to go over and program their dishwasher," explains Charles Jones, vice president of global consumer design at Whirlpool. "So rather than having to relearn an entire sequence, we've driven consistency in terms of the navigational functional hierarchy. The concept is fairly unique to the industry." The leveraged learning practice also is incorporated into single appliances. For example, the manufacturer's Whirlpool Duet brand of clothes washer and dryer has different levels of washing and drying capabilities. "There are an intensive number of features and functions [on the Duet products]," says Jones. "Our challenge was to present [all the functions] to consumers in a non-threatening manner while enhancing the use of the product. What you see is a left-to-right level 1, level 2 and level 3 break out. Consumers can do a load of laundry without leaving level 1. As their experience and confidence grows, they can migrate over to level 2 and then to level 3. It creates a notion of stair-stepping knowledge." How hard is it for Whirlpool, which has 10 to 11 brands globally, to offer leveraged learning on all its appliances? "Strategically it's easy," says Jones. "Executionally it's incredibly painful considering each appliance has its own life cycle and refresh and redesign opportunities." Jones says the concept is managed through structured user-interface strategies by product category. Within each user interface strategy there is a provision for a design toolkit, which prescribes the logic, structure and flow of information, as well as high-level guidelines on the graphic execution of any given control panel. "How you execute it, that's where the rubber hits the road."

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