Bad, Bad Design: The Refrigerator Top-Freezer Handle


So, a bit of a back story.

I was recently cooking food with my girlfriend, and she goes into the fridge to pull out something.  Next thing I knew, BAM and “AAHHH” were the sounds ringing in my ears.  She had stood up and smashed her head on the freezer handle of the refrigerator.  After a string of unmentionable words from her, I told her I’d blog about this.

How many of us have felt this same, unbearable pain?  Why, does this keep happening?  WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?  Well, the issue here is two things (besides the worst head pain ever):  memory and placement.  The handle is placed at a point where our short-term memory will completely forget about it.

When we kneel down to reach for something, we have the inclination to look around us to see if we are in a “safe zone”.  Once we have identified the area as “safe” we proceed into doing what we initially set out to do.

At this point, our minds are focused on what our goal is now and have pushed out that short term memory that initial “safe zone”.  The resulting factor is a head-splitting headache and a string of bad words.

This design does not understand how users think.  We as designers need to fully understand the process of which users take use of our products.  This includes their thought process.  The design of this refrigerator does not take into account how users’ minds function, and it sometimes results in a very frustrated user.

Again, we can avoid this by understanding our users’ needs and goals.

4 thoughts on “Bad, Bad Design: The Refrigerator Top-Freezer Handle

  1. Let me just say, this is a serious problem. Many times my roommate has been retrieving something from the fridge and I will want to get something out of the freezer. We’ve setup a callsign system where I’ll yell “CLEAR” to prevent him from cracking his skull on the swinging freezer door. Really not the greatest design if you think about it, but this two door setup for fridges have existed since their inception, or at the very least is the traditional design. Bad design being pervasive because that’s how we’ve always done it.

    Anyway, good post! Hopefully in the future more fridgekind will look like this instead…


    • I have to say, that’s a really neat idea! It’s very interesting to see what we as users can come up with to maneuver around a bad design.

      You mentioned traditional design. Do you think it’s because the design was “always how we’ve done it” that the designs eventually changed?


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