03 August 2010

Bad Design - Hotel Internet Box

As promised, in this edition of Bad Design we're moving out of the bathroom and into... the sleeping area.

Specifically, we're in a hotel room somewhere in Tennessee. The photo below shows a small electronic box mounted on the wall. This box provides internet connectivity to any traveler fortunate enough to get a room at this fine establishment. As an added convenience, the Magic Box Of Wall-Mounted Electronics has a pair of LED which flash in a Very Helpful And Informative manner, providing all sorts of useful information to anyone who speaks LED.

What's wrong with this design, you ask? Well, the soft white object in the lower left corner of the shot is a pillow, resting on the bed. If perchance a weary traveler places their head upon that pillow and attempts to sleep on their left side, they are treated to a magical light show as they drift gently off to sleep... and who doesn't enjoy having blinking lights flashing at them as they try to sleep?

OK, the obvious fix here is to reposition the box - it could have been placed lower on the wall or on some other wall. It could have been reoriented so the LED's were pointing down or away. But mounting it in perfect alignment with the level of the bed is absolutely inexcusable. I can only conclude it was installed by either a blind person, someone who believes that nobody sleeps on their left, or by a misanthropic insomniac.

But issues of location aside, I have to wonder why the blinking LED's are there in the first place. As far as I can tell, they only communicate one thing: your internet is working (or not). And I can tell that by the fact that I'm  online (or not). Those blinking LED's are largely unnecessary and communicate very little 99% of the time. There's no reason for them to blink 100% of the time.

The main point here is that most bad design decisions aren't inevitable. Doing the right thing generally doesn't cost more. In this case they could have mounted the box a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e else in the room for the same cost and got better results. But the more subtle lesson has to do with signals and indicators. If we're going to make a light blink, it should do so for a reason, to indicate something meaningful. As Shakespeare wrote, blinking all the time is just "a sound and fury, signifying nothing."


Awadhesh said...

Is this a 5-star (premium) hotel?

The Dan Ward said...

@Awadhesh - Nah, not a super fancy place... sort of a mid-range hotel.