Another Problem with Mint Dental Floss, or How to Uncover Hidden Design Problems

Prairie dog that appears to be flossing

Photo credit: Angela N. via flickr

In a post six years ago, I wrote about one problem I had with mint flavored dental floss – that its oppressive flavor jams any other taste feedback that would be useful while trying to accomplish the task of flossing. Recently, I’ve discovered another problem with mint dental floss – a burning sensation in my eyes.

If I were doing research on other people’s dental floss usage, I probably wouldn’t have discovered this unexpected problem unless I worked really hard to find it. If I did a web search about the biggest problems with dental floss, it probably wouldn’t surface among results from both sides of the debate about whether flossing is effective or complaints about floss getting shredded or stuck between teeth. It certainly wouldn’t come up if I tried using various types of dental floss in the middle of the work day. If I interviewed dentists, I’d expect to hear a lot about how their patients don’t brush or floss enough and how their recommendations for better dental hygiene fall on deaf ears. If I ran a survey or did phone interviews with people about their flossing experiences, they might mention the challenges of flossing with braces. In a contextual interview, I might notice, or participants might recall, some more nuances like the challenge of getting a mirrored medicine cabinet door to close properly and not rebound back open while people have their hands bound together with floss.

However, if I dug deep with an ethnography or a diary study, established a high level of rapport, and observed closely or asked the right follow-up questions, perhaps I would discover that people floss before they go to sleep, and later they try to read a book in bed. Then, they instinctively rub their tired eyes and end up irritating them with the residual mint flavoring left on their fingers.