Typewriter (Morguefile)When I learned to type, it was on a typewriter. Not a sleek little electric portable, or even a mechanical portable, but a big, clunky machine with keys that had to be pushed hard enough to flip up the letters through a mechanical linkage, and a lever that had to be pushed over when a bell signaled you were approaching the end of a line. And what I hated worst was threading in a new ribbon.

It wasn’t a cartridge, it was a spool of ink-impregnated fabric that you had to thread through a finicky little gadget that held it where the lever with the letter on its end could strike the ribbon and leave a letter on the paper. It was impossible to thread the ribbon without getting ink all over your hands, so I generally used a ribbon as long as possible – until the letters it produced were getting too light to read.

Probably that’s why I try to do the same with cartridge ink and even toner.

No longer.

I’m not sure whether it’s bad design because of not thinking or bad design because the company wants to sell more ink cartridges/toner. In either case it’s bad design as far as customer usability is concerned.

My current inkjet printer is a 3-way HP Photosmart. It serves as a color copier and a scanner as well as a printer. I would have killed for a copier back in the days before Xerox when you layered paper with carbon paper to type, and woe betide you if you made a typo. Especially on the first page of a long document! Likewise a scanner – my first one was a standalone that cost far more than my printer. But having all three together is a great way to save space.

Unfortunately, there’s that design problem I mentioned.

All of my printers, laser or inkjet, now decide for themselves when the toner or ink cartridge is low, often before I even notice any reduction in quality, and simply quit working. Usually they send me a message that they need a new cartridge. Usually this is in the wee hours of the morning when all the stores are closed and when I cannot find the spare ink I’m sure I bought. When it’s a matter of printing something I usually just sigh and put a cartridge on my shopping list. But why on earth does the lack of a black inkjet cartridge keep the combo from scanning? Especially when I need to scan a signed contract and send it off by email, and I promised to do it right away?

It does not help at all that the exact name of the printer, and the size of ink cartridge needed, are hidden inside the machine, and it’s not obvious how to open it.

I finally went to the HP web site, looked for the machine that looked most like mine, and downloaded the instruction book – again. I still can’t find the one I’m sure I downloaded before, but I was able to find the instructions for opening the ink compartment, which (a) confirmed that I’d downloaded the right instruction book and (b) finally allowed me to figure out what kind of replacement cartridge to get.

I still think it’s bad design.