So today I want to try to show you that good design is hard, and how we're stuck with the catch 22 where if you try to design something new you often end up with something worse, but then sometimes if you just do what others have done before, that can be bad design too. And instead of focusing on websites, which I work on, I want to talk about stuff from around town So today I want to talk about a catch-22 of design -- sometimes there’s good design that people shouldn’t change, but they do, and sometimes there’s bad design that people should change, but they don’t. Got that?
This used to be my kitchen timer. We used it on a daily basis. It worked just fine. Then it went missing. (I'll blame my daughters for that.) So I go into Arnotts to get a new one. Arnotts has my exact timer that I can replace it with, and it's 8 euros.
But I'm a sucker. And for just another 3 yo-yos, they've have this nice bright orange timer, and it looks like it does a lot more things. Mind you, I've no idea what other things I needed this timer to do, but who can say no to progress for just 3 euros?
So this is the timer I buy. I can't figure out how to use it. I have to read the instructions -- for a kitchen timer! I’ve only gotten it to work once. This still is up on my fridge, but now it’s just a toy for my kids -- it makes nice beeping sounds! So I was the standard stupid consumer who got suckerd by the lure of more features.
Now I want to show how sometimes what seems like a completely valid and workable design solution can actually stink. Like the open/close door buttons on elevators. What's so interesting about these is that right now, when I show everyone here these buttons, I guarantee you have no problem telling me which is the open one and which is the close one.
No problem right? But that’s the wrong context to look at these. You have to think about when people actually need to use these buttons. You can picture it -- someone’s making a bit of a sprint for the elevator, and you want to open the doors so that, well you don't look like an inconsiderate ass.
But which one is it? Ahh? Door closes. Sorry buddy. This is design fail -- in the split-second when it really matters, most of us simply can’t decipher these symbols, despite seeing them in almost every elevator. So what's the solution?
I think the answer is, words.This is the simple image I suggested in my blog post about this. We can read these in a fraction of a second, with complete confidence. And one of the commenters on the post included a photo that shows how a combo of signs and symbols can work. But the message here is clear -- sometimes we can't trust design convention.
So now let’s move into a target rich environment -- the bathroom. This is a bathroom in a pretty fancy office building that's about 5 years old. Everything about this building has been designed to look good and impress. Real attention to detail.
Like their all-in-one towel dispenser and hand dryer unit -- pretty slick right? Never mind those standard hand dryers they’re not needed here. So here’s the problem: We all want to be green and eco-happy and all that, but this machine makes it really hard to opt for the hand-dryer. Why? Well the towels are sitting there so invitingly, and look at that air outlet -- it's tiny! Drying your hands with this is a joke.
So what happens? No one uses it of course. You end up with a bunch of used towels at the end of the day. But that's not all. You see, when you pull out the towels, which I'm ashamed I do every single time (along with everyone else I've seen in these toilets), you almost always accidentally set off the hand dryer as well! Look where it's positioned. So not only am I killing trees, but I'm wasting electricity too -- a nice double whammy of bad design.
But sometimes designers do pull it off, when they focus on what matters -- like the Dyson Air blade. Genuine innovation, and it works. Sure, it happens to look pretty silly, and sadly that probably dooms it from appearing in fancier bathrooms, like the one we just looked at.
And then we have the good-design knock-offs. Engineers are told: "Make a cheap version of the Dyson one." And that's what we have in our office. You can guess by the look of thing that’s it’s not gonna work very well.
Not only that, but they added this strange feature -- the countdown clock. Once you stick you hands in, a 10 second countdown happens. The first time you use it you're really thinking -- what's gonna happen when it hits zero? Will it shock me to remove my hands? Will it just turn off? Will it explode?
Nope -- it just blinks. That's it. So I suppose their rationale went like this: well, we can't make a handryer that will actually dry your hand in 10 seconds, but maybe this ticking time-bomb countdown effect will make people remove their hands when they're still wet, thereby saving the environment and the world. High five team!
So the last thing I want to talk about is this: small blue boxes that are taking over our city, crosswalk by crosswalk. Here's someone trying to solve a problem that I don't think was a problem -- crosswalk buttons.
What's the problem? Affordance -- that big button-y looking thing on the bottom. Well it's not a button, it's a light that really makes you want to push it. And it doesn't give. Then they seem to almost try to talk to you: You - people, point your finger, at the button.
But where’s the button? The next thing I did was push the top of it -- that looks like it might depress. No. Well maybe this ridged thing on the side -- I mean, I'm kinda desperate here. Of course you all know the answer -- you need to push that totally flat image that's also a button, right above the two other equally flat images, but that aren't buttons.
And you know what -- it's from Sweden -- so much for Scandanavian design solving the worlds problems! Give me these old ones any day -- one big round button-y looking thing -- and you push it!
So good design is hard -- either way you can mess up. And so I just want to leave you with what are possibly the bet elevator buttons ever
The Catch 22 of good design in elevator buttons, bathrooms, and crosswalk buttons