11

Going through the question Why do washing machines have windows? I couldn't find anything opinion-based about it. The question describes a general observation and is seeking an explanation for it. Sure OP has provided some of his opinion's in it, but they are they are irrelevant to the core question.

Based on what was it determined that the question was primarily opinion-based?

Should it be reopened?

20

I think the solution (closure) may be attacking the wrong side of the problem. The problem isn't the question; it's the answers that need moderation.

The Moderator originally 'protected' the question (before ultimately closing it), because the influx of answers were reportedly widely speculative; offering little more than opinion than anything authoritative. But that doesn't make the question "opinion-based."

It makes it intriguing.

There is certainly an answer to why something is designed that way. This isn't something that is unknowable… or unanswerable. It's the type of interesting question that drives books like The Design of Everyday Things. But if the community is simply guessing, or "speculating wildly based on no research", that's their failing.

You have the basic tools of self-moderation to vet this content. Answers can be down-voted, improved, or removed (with thoughtful guidance) if they don't work for this site. You have to teach folks what is expected in an 'answer', and use the tools of self-moderation to vet this content so speculation and opinion do not pass as expertise or hard-earned experience.

But you shouldn't close a question simply because no one has been able to answer (yet). I think you need to reconsider a closure like this. If the answers aren't what pass as Q&A here, you should work to improve folks' understanding of what will work. But not by simply closing the difficult questions.

  • 1
    This is a good example of the type of question that tend to get an automatic close. I'm of the opinion that questions about the design of things, especially physical objects, is not automatically unanswerable as primarily opinion based. There are reasons for these designs, and someone out there might know and have a source to cite. – Charles Wesley Feb 4 '14 at 21:51
  • 2
    See my answer here Robert. I mostly agree that the issue is with the answers, not the question, but saying we need to downvote, remove and improve posts is what we were trying to do for the life of that question, but it attracts answers from people who are unwilling / unable to improve their posts despite requests and explanations of what to do to do so. (i.e. trying to teach them about what a good answer is). The community was failing here, so the question was closed for the overall protection of the community itself. – JonW Feb 5 '14 at 9:59
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    I disagree. I don't think the community was failing. There were lots of answers. The best answers got upvotes. They weren't the right answer, as there might never be one, but at least they gave some insight into the thinking processes that might've been behind the question's main issue. They helped. They weren't definitive answers, but they were answers nonetheless. – Dirk v B Feb 5 '14 at 22:34
11

Here's what happened with that question:

Jan 15 - 4 answers (one of which came the closest to actually answering the question)
Jan 16 - 8 new answers, then question is protected.
Jan 17 - 2 new answers
Jan 18 - 1 new answer
Jan 19 - 0 new answers
Jan 20 - Question closed

Of these answers some have since been deleted. One such answer (the one that prompted it to be protected) was the following (reprinted below in its entirety):

"to see if there is still water in it before opening"

The question was open for 5 days. It hit the top of the Hot Questions list and attracted a swathe of 'I have an unsubstantiated opinion on this' answers. The vast majority of these answers had comments from multiple users and even mod post notices placed against them requesting that they provide some actual reasoning or sources behind what they state. Of all these answers only one poster made the changes to their post.

Now I do agree that the question itself is not where the problem lies here, it is with the multitude of opinion-based answers. I added comments to the main question following the protection (four days prior to closing) requesting:

I'm protecting this question because all the new answers are all saying the same thing but none so far have really given an actual reference for their reason, it's all just opinion. This question is about WHY it is not 'speculate wildly based on no research'.

This question was closed because it was a specific question asking for a definitive answer (exactly what a suitable question for this site should be) but was attracting answers that did not answer that question. Many people speculated, some with better reasoning than others, but only one provided an answer - and that was posted on the first day the question was asked. All of these answers overwelmed the question, gave the impression that UX accepts any old crap as an answer and you don't even need to back up your opinion.

This question also hit Hacker News. In fact it hit it twice which often contributes to an influx of opinionated, unreasoned answers (they don't seem to realise that when they link to something their own readers will go in and contribute, and then in the HN comments they moan about people on the linked site not knowing what they're talking about, but I digress)

A comment on the HN thread sums up some of the problem these answers had:

Thank you, I'm not alone into thinking most UX stuff is BS. Another platform for 'talkers' to look like they build.

I understand the concept of making the interface intuitive and easy to use and I am all for it. But my God, some of the BS I've heard from people to justify crap is insane.

Most of them aren't worth their salaries.

I'm interested in UX as much as any of these goons. Difference is, I can actually code/build it as well.

Quite a long answer from me this time. It was left open for quite a long time closed with the best intentions - to keep the quality of the content up and not full of opinionated, unreasoned answers from people unwilling to improve their posts even when prompted to do so.

Having said all this, I've reopened the question. Lets hope it doesn't hit HN again this time, and that (hopefully) we can get an actual answer this time.

5

I think that this is a trait shared among most "Why is X as it is?" questions. People are curious creatures and love to reason and come up with theories. Proving the theories, well, that's hard work, we can leave it out.

I think that this could have been a good question if the asker had said, "Does a washing machine with a bull eye have advantages over one without?". Then designers can make a nice professional evaluation. But the asker asked "why". This is a whole other can of worms - it implies that this design was chosen for its advantages (at least in our designers' minds), and many people start thinking "why would I have chosen this one if I had been the designer" and start offering their ideas, however weak they might be.

In truth, there does exist a definite answer, but it is generally unknowable. Who knows, maybe the CEO of the first washing machine monopolist had an autistic child who loved watching the clothes turn? Note that even when there are perfect reasons to choose the design from a UX point of view, this is still not a proof that this is the reason why it was chosen. Not all products had an UX designer making the decisions; before the 40s, usability wasn't even a word. So there is no way to choose the correct answer.

The people qualified to find a solution to the "Why" answer are historians, not designers. All designers can do is speculate. And you see the results. This is something this one question has with common with all the other popular "why" questions - everybody's fingers itch to throw in an idea, nobody really knows.

  • There is substantial correlation between a desire to know what advantages there are to a particular design choice, and a desire to know the history behind it. Such interest often extends to the question of what other alternatives have been considered either at the time or since, and what was good or bad about those alternatives. Knowing about such things can help designers focus on ideas for improvements that haven't already been tried and found wanting. – supercat Feb 10 '14 at 17:07
  • @supercat Both desires exist and that's good. I agree that knowing the true story of the why behind the design has the advantages you posted. But the problem is that asking the question doesn't lead to that knowledge. The answer space gets filled with ideas with high truthiness and low truth. We are not creating knowledge with this type of question, we are creating a mythology, and others believe us, because we are supposed to know, and because it sounds plausible. But remember the proverb: it ain't what you don't know that kills you, it's what you know that just ain't so. – Rumi P. Feb 11 '14 at 12:00

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