How user perception matters - in zippers.
February 10, 2015 12:17 PM   Subscribe

"a highly-automated, vertically-integrated manufacturer" Visit a zipper factory and see how a perceived design flaw translates into a more labor-intensive process. From the blog, bunnie: studios.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (41 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting!
posted by Going To Maine at 12:23 PM on February 10, 2015


This was an article you can really sink your 'teeth' into. Big manufacturers 'pulling' the wool over our eyes.
posted by Groot at 12:34 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Aaaaaaah that is maddening on every level.
posted by odinsdream at 12:37 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


How about making that tab a "thing?" Some marketing genius could logo-ize it, or make it a big and colorful dot or even bigger. Interesting story, and I'm sure someone has thought of my solutions already.
posted by cccorlew at 12:38 PM on February 10, 2015


I am not leaping off the couch to run around and inspect every zipper in the house to see if it has a little tab or not. No, I am not doing that thing at all. That is not happening.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:54 PM on February 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


I've always wondered why zippers are closed when you zip them UP.

Why in the wide wide world of sports don't zippers close when you zip them DOWN?

So you know, so gravity can help keep the barn doors shut?

That seems like a "design flaw" to me.
posted by NedKoppel at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2015


All the YKKs within reach of my desk have the little tab. I though it was so your fingers wouldn't slip off when gripping it.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:59 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Regarding the last thing he mentioned, I did pay extra to have my Macbook Pro have a satin (or non-glare) finish rather than a mirror finish. Everyone seems to love the mirror finishes, but I've been really happy with my decision - I can use my computer in all light conditions. Interesting that the mirror finish is technically harder to do, but because everyone else is getting it, the satin finish costs more as it is a special order.
posted by peacheater at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


If zippers closed downward then your jacket would always be tight around your neck and you'd only be able to ventilate your lower torso.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:02 PM on February 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


I also thought it was for grip, and would presume that it was slightly harder to manufacture if I thought about it at all.
posted by contraption at 1:02 PM on February 10, 2015


I wasn't talking about jackets.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:04 PM on February 10, 2015


Why in the wide wide world of sports don't zippers close when you zip them DOWN?

Off the top of my head, I can think of two things:

- I often want to zip just the bottom inch or so of a jacket - too warm to close it all the way, but I don't want the bottom flapping in the breeze either.

- It's hard enough mating up the zipper ends when I'm looking down with my chin tucked; how much harder would it be if I had to lift my chin to do it, meaning I can't look to line them up without a mirror?
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:04 PM on February 10, 2015


oh, never mind
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:05 PM on February 10, 2015


As it so happens, I got out of my car today and yep, XYZPDQ. So this was sort of forefront on my mind today.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The YKK zipper on my navy Uniqlo pants not only have the tab, but they also don't have the unnecessary mirrored finish. Pretty awesome little detail that I now appreciate.

Also, the "satin" MacBook screen mentioned upthread is called the matte screen option. Can you get retina MacBooks with that option??
posted by oceanjesse at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pants zippers go from bottom to top so you do not have to align the tab with the zipper before closing it. They start aligned and you can just pull it closed. If you made it so that gravity helped it stay closed, you would have to separate the two parts entirely to let your pants open enough to get in, then realign everything to close it. So it is easier to use at the cost of exposing yourself.
posted by procrastination at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


What about getting the ones *without* the little tab so as to keep more humans employed? Sincerely, Ned Ludd.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:15 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


What about getting the ones *without* the little tab so as to keep more humans employed?

Look at the person doing that. Watch the video for ten minutes and tell me you can't just feel the pain in their shoulders and neck from that hunched position. Tell me you can't imagine how their hands cramp up at night so a family member has to cut their meet at dinner time. Can you imagine doing this all day every day?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:24 PM on February 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh! Duh. Thank you, procrastination! I can sleep better now.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:30 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered why zippers are closed when you zip them UP.

I think this has to be because they started off on jackets rather than on pants. If they had started off on pants, I bet that they would go from bottom to top, because that's typically how most people button button-fly pants (at least, I can't imagine someone doing it the other way around, it'd be awkward).

It's sort of an interesting example of something becoming 'standardized' in a way that makes sense in one application but not in another.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:31 PM on February 10, 2015


Factories are never quite what people think, I guess.

A few months ago I toured (the non-classified part of) an assembly plant for jet fighters. I was expecting a whole lot of noise and robots and fire. Molten metal pouring into molds, accompanied by screaming guitar solos.

But it was remarkably quiet (except for the occasional brief zip of a power tool) and clean. Meticulously, zealously clean. There were posters everywhere reminding people to stow tools properly and keep everything free of debris at all times. (Probably ten notices about this for every one about general safety.) There were inspectors at every station with flashlights and hand mirrors checking the cleanliness of everything.
posted by Foosnark at 1:35 PM on February 10, 2015


Regarding the last thing he mentioned, I did pay extra to have my Macbook Pro have a satin (or non-glare) finish rather than a mirror finish. Everyone seems to love the mirror finishes, but I've been really happy with my decision - I can use my computer in all light conditions.

It's a bit more of an even tradeoff with display screens. The matte finish diffuses light that passes through, making images less sharp and dimming them somewhat.
posted by indubitable at 1:36 PM on February 10, 2015


I remember touring a casting plant that seemed to primarily make turbine blades and:

a whole lot of noise

An appreciable amount, anyway.

robots

A track carrying ceramic molds. Also, a 3D printer! (a decade or so ago, before they were common)

and fire. Molten metal pouring into molds

Lots of this, handled manually by workers in some seriously bulky protective suits

accompanied by screaming guitar solos.

Does AC/DC on the stereo count??
posted by indubitable at 1:49 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered why zippers are closed when you zip them UP.
Why in the wide wide world of sports don't zippers close when you zip them DOWN?
So you know, so gravity can help keep the barn doors shut?
That seems like a "design flaw" to me.


I just wear my pants upside down so this isn't a problem.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:58 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


What about getting the ones *without* the little tab so as to keep more humans employed?

Look at the person doing that. Watch the video for ten minutes and tell me you can't just feel the pain in their shoulders and neck from that hunched position. Tell me you can't imagine how their hands cramp up at night so a family member has to cut their meet at dinner time. Can you imagine doing this all day every day?


That's true of many, many jobs that have been or will soon be eliminated by automation, though, and when, for example, the topic of self-driving cars comes up, a common complaint is that it will eliminate millions of jobs in the trucking industry (among others). At least the person in the zipper factory faces a relatively smaller chance of dying/killing someone suddenly while on the job with the slightest error in judgment or lapse of attention.

I do generally favor getting people out of terrible, dangerous jobs that will ruin their health and happiness, but there are significant human costs with each side of the argument. I don't think doubling down on artisanship and/or hand-sorted zipper tabs is a long-term solution, though, so on a societal level we really do need to figure out how to manage the ongoing replacement of human jobs with automation. The person in the zipper factory whose job is lost when they stop making the smooth zippers isn't going to go away or transition smoothly into a job in middle management.
posted by Copronymus at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Every pants-fly zipper I've ever seen is a locking zipper (i.e., the pull cannot move when it is folded parallel to the zipper, as gravity tends to do—it can only move when the pull is flipped perpendicular to the zipper, which can only really happen when you are holding onto it. So gravity is helping to keep the fly zipped, in that it causes the zipper to lock.

It would be interesting to know whether zipper factories in high-wage countries (there are several still operating in the US and Japan I believe) have automated this task, and if so, how.
posted by enn at 2:03 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, lately we've been watching "The Making", a sort of mid-90's Japanese How It's Made that goes to a wide range of factories. The distinction between automated vs. manual tasks is just bewildering. For instance, in one episode, the entire system for making a certain complex peep-like pastry is almost entirely automated, from mixing to shaping to wrapping, except for one step: picking up the individually-wrapped pastries and putting them into boxes. I'm sure there was some interesting cost/benefit analysis going on there for sure.

Tasks that are automated include gouging out the peep's eyes with red-hot pokers, which was probably a good call.
posted by phooky at 2:07 PM on February 10, 2015 [18 favorites]


phooky: “For instance, in one episode, the entire system for making a certain complex peep-like pastry is almost entirely automated, from mixing to shaping to wrapping, except for one step: picking up the individually-wrapped pastries and putting them into boxes. I'm sure there was some interesting cost/benefit analysis going on there for sure.”
I'm always fascinated on How It's Madeand similar programs when there's a human being in what is otherwise an automated process. I think at least in some cases, it's to allow for a set of eyes to do quality control.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:20 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, lately we've been watching "The Making", a sort of mid-90's Japanese How It's Made that goes to a wide range of factories.

I think we can all agree that there was no need to link to that. (Note that I returned to this window after watching only one video, a masterpiece of self-control).

I feel somewhat proud that I had noticed the thickness of the tab at the pulling end of the zipper, which made me feel good. Is there a video of the nylon spirals being flattened to make the teeth? That'd be awesome.
posted by ambrosen at 2:39 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


On good quality outdoor outerwear, the pocket zippers, at least, close by zipping down and open by zipping up. That makes it harder for snow to fall into your pocket when you open it.

The fly still zips up to close, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:00 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


If flies zipped down, checking that it's closed would be a lot more obvious and awkward.

Then again, it'd also give one an excuse to scratch and juggle. That's always a win.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:26 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


My favourite (now discontinued) Lowe Alpine climbing pants have an inverted fly zipper, and people are always telling me my fly is down. It's a minor inconvenience against the convenience of being able to pee while wearing a harness, but an inconvenience nonetheless.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:32 PM on February 10, 2015


I have a Aerostich Roadcrafter motorcycle riding suit whose main zipper goes from the collar down. I have owned similar one piece riding suits whose zippers are in the conventional bottom-up orientation, and the top-down zipper is much more convenient. It makes a huge difference in how easy it is to wear that riding suit, day in and day out.

I'll have to check it to see if it has those tabs on the zipper pulls.
posted by elizilla at 4:16 PM on February 10, 2015


ambrosen: “I think we can all agree that there was no need to link to that. (Note that I returned to this window after watching only one video, a masterpiece of self-control).”
Wait, wait. I quickly looked at a random sample. Are you telling me there's no narration at all? That's sublime.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:29 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's true! They don't even have music! Oh my god those are great.
posted by odinsdream at 4:56 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


It has long been a favorite party trick of mine to have a combo of the (silent) visuals of "How It's Made" and some kind of plinky/frequently changing music like The Books on my laptop together in the naughty kids' smoking room. People just get lost in it.

Thanks for this post; it just nails all my nerd spots at once.
posted by lauranesson at 5:16 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I wonder if he's too pessimistic about the possibility align non-tabbed zipper pulls. It's entirely possible that no one has found a cheap easy way yet. I think people are too quick to dismiss the possibility that it could be automated.

Besides, not only are you saving the labour cost but you'd be able to hugely improve the production rate of the tabless pulls which would have a significant return.
posted by GuyZero at 8:32 PM on February 10, 2015


Andrew "bunnie" Huang, previously on his in-depth report on microSD Flash card anomalies, and my lengthy bio post. He can dig into seemingly mundane details and write about it so well that it's really engaging and interesting.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:53 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Andrew "bunnie" Huang, previously on his in-depth report on microSD Flash card anomalies, and my lengthy bio post. He can dig into seemingly mundane details and write about it so well that it's really engaging and interesting.

Bunnie is amazing. The Novena laptop project, wow! Why can't you add an oscilloscope module to any laptop, huh? Huh?
posted by Chuckles at 11:36 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine is a metals engineer of some sort of another, and he once went on a long rant about how much cheaper milk would be if we didn't insist on having it driven around in tanker trucks that are perfectly shiny on the outside because making tanker trucks perfectly shiny makes them twice as expensive as they would otherwise be. This reminded me of that.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:33 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


They'd just spend those marketing dollars on something else.

Also he may have been over estimating how much a full polish job adds to the cost of milk on a per unit basis. I'd bet it is less than a cent per gallon.
posted by Mitheral at 7:13 AM on February 13, 2015


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