At our office we have a dual garbage bin behind a door. Let's put aside the fact that you have to open a door, and then pull out the bins.

What has puzzled me is that the labels were placed on each side, while the arrangement of the bins is "front and back".

But my UX question is: if the labels were placed vertically, i.e. "top and bottom" then what would be perceived as the logical order, since the bins are "front and back"?

Translation: the top left label in the picture is for grey, the bottom right is for orange.

Garbage bin with orange for plastics and grey for other

Update: I cannot add an image in a comment for Martyns reply below so I'll put it in here. Martyn said "Using the gestalt principle of proximity would give you clearer instructions. We perceive things in close proximity as belonging together. Put the label for the orange bin on top of the lid and the label for they grey on on the drawer."

That makes sense with the drawer fully open. Can still cause confusion if people don't expect a second bin behind the first one.

Garbage bin drawer half open with label in front and on top

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    Not to influence the response (so don't read this if you want to brainstorm freely) but I'm thinking... If the labels were not on the drawer but on top of the lid, then it would be very straightforward: you just reflect the order in which the bins are laid out underneath the lid. So that would be grey in front and orange in the back. That seems to logically translate to the drawer as: orange at the top and grey at the bottom. Sep 5, 2023 at 12:51
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    This is a common pattern for stove ranges (the notches in the front control the different surfaces), and I've seen all sort of crazy "mappings". The approach that works the best for my mindset is to treat the front as a continuation of the back (i.e., top label matches the furthest area), but YMMV Sep 6, 2023 at 20:33
  • @SergioA.Figueroa that is a very useful perspective. If you'd phrase that as an answer I could accept it. Side note: I noticed we actually also have a set of bins placed side by side....where the labels are placed vertically 🤦‍♂️ Sep 13, 2023 at 10:12
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    Talking to chatgpt to get some input on this I used your stove analogy @SergioA.Figueroa and I then came up with a way to translate the mental thought process to something tangible. If you take the layout of the stove diagram on top of the stove and imagine it as a sticker that you pull off and stick to the front of the stove, then the choice is obvious. Because you'd tilt it towards you, not away from you. So back becomes top. Sep 14, 2023 at 13:31

2 Answers 2


Neither. The labels should not be placed horizontally side by side or vertically one above the other.

Instead, I recommend adding a removable triangular piece of plastic to a top front corner of each bin. On each piece of plastic, you can add a label, or preferably, a large, high-contrast, clearly understood symbol to indicate the purpose of the bin.

The colour of each piece of plastic ideally will match the colour of each bin.

Each triangles can quickly be independently removed when it is time to change the corresponding bag.

Speaking of colours, unless orange is used to denote recycling somewhere in Holland (I'm guessing the bins are located in Holland given the Dutch words on the current labels), I recommend replacing (or painting) the orange bin with a colour that visually represents plastic recycling. You can't reply on the colour as the sole cue due to the prevalence of colour blindness, but it can be a nice additional visual cue for many people.

  • Those are very valid points, and probably useful for people looking for ideas in general. But it doesn't answer the question on the orientation of the labels, which is focused mainly on finding the most common mental model behind this. So I'm upvoting this, but not labeling it as answer. Sep 13, 2023 at 10:14
  • Thanks Koert. I'm not aware of any international research that has determined which model is globally more common. It's unlikely to take place, because no one probably wants to put their name on such research. It's hard to get research funding to help quantify which of 2 bad designs is more common in the real world. I think the fact that neither you nor I know which is more common indicates that there is likely not an overwhelming leader in the race to finish last (or would that be first?) for those particular examples of bad UX/UI design. :) Sep 13, 2023 at 10:40
  • This is absolutely anecdotal, totally agree. And if my question had been: "What would be a good redesign of this?" I would not have doubted for a moment to press "Answered" In relation to the comment under the question: it actually is very probable that stove manufacturers did investigate which orientation worked best. Sep 13, 2023 at 14:13
  • I think Sergio's comment sums it up pretty well when they mention that they have "seen all sort of crazy mappings" for stoves. I concur with Sergio's observation, and have been burned (literally and figuratively!) more than once due to there been no standard or obvious mapping. I like the new ranges that have a control right next to each burner. No errors, no uncooked meals... and no burns! Sep 14, 2023 at 5:54

Using the gestalt principle of proximity would give you clearer instructions. We perceive things in close proximity as belonging together.

Put the label for the orange bin on top of the lid and the label for they grey on on the drawer.

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    Since I can not put an image in a comment I have updated the question with an example of putting one label in the front and one on top of the lid. Oct 9, 2023 at 12:22

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