27 July 2010

Bad Design - Bathroom Redux

I know, I know - I said I wasn't going to make a habit of taking photos of bad bathroom-related design, but apparently I just can't help myself. I double-super-promise this is really really really the last one I'll do (maybe).

Today's featured Bad Design is a very common paper towel dispenser which works (I use that word loosely) by exposing a small strip of paper towel which you're supposed to grab and pull to dispense the rest. You've all probably seen them... and probably had the same results I documented below:

I don't need to tell you that a person trying to pull out a towel generally has wet hands. Wet hands make wet paper... and instead of ending up with a full paper towel, we generally end up with two small corners of wet paper. I know I'm not the only one this happens to because the floor beneath these dispensers are always (A-L-W-A-Y-S) littered with scraps of paper towel corners.

From a design perspective, the problem here is that the dispenser's tension exceeds the strength of the wet paper towels. This makes it virtually impossible for a wet-handed person to pull a full sheet of paper towel and leads to litter & gnashing of teeth. But I bet the real problem is that when the designers tested the thing, their hands weren't wet.

So, the design lesson of the day is that when you're testing your design, you should make sure the test accurately represents operational conditions. If your users are going to have wet hands, your testers should too.


Glen B. Alleman said...

Classic. I'm going to use this picture, with your credits, on an IBR prep meeting this week.

The Dan Ward said...

Thanks, Glen! I'm glad to hear it's useful!

The Dan Ward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Heard a similar thing, having bigger consequences, may have been part of the iphone 4 antenna thing. Testers with nice clean hands (or even gloves), compared to sweaty hands.