25 January 2011

There's a right way and a wrong way...

Today's design lesson is on user behavior and how to influence it.

The image below is of a metal cabinet I encountered at a particular educational institution which shall go nameless. Let's just say it's a university that teaches the defense acquisition community. 

Inside the cabinet you'll find a bunch of shelves. On each shelf is a laptop. The whole contraption is on wheels, the better to roll in and out of classrooms. With me so far? Excellent.


Imagine that you were asked to move this wheeled cabinet from Point A to Point B. Imagine yourself approaching the cabinet. See yourself reaching out to put your hands on the conveniently located handle that someone thoughtfully installed near the top of the cabinet. Grip the handle. Feel its cold metal against your skin. Lean in towards the cabinet and feel the wheels begin to turn. You're moving forward.

STOP! 

Wait a minute! What does that yellow sticker say? Let's zoom in on the photo a bit, shall we? As always, this image was captured by my handy-dandy, oh-so-fuzzy little camera phone. I apologize for the quality but I'm sure you can understand the diagrams even if you can't make out the words...



Um, if the directions say "never apply force at top - always push near middle," then why in the world did someone install a handle at the very top of the box? What's the point of a a handle nobody is supposed to ever use? And really, who thinks a sticker is going to trump a handle?

See, installing a handle is one way to say PUSH HERE. Posting a wordy label is another way. And when the two contradict each other, the user is left a bit confused. There's a good chance they'll simply grab the handle and push, not paying any attention to the sticker.

As my brilliant colleague and friend Dr. Joel Sercel often says, designers need to make the right way easier than the wrong way. Installing a handle at the top of the cabinet does the reverse - it encourages the wrong behavior. It makes it easy to push from the top. As an alternative, installing the same handle in the middle of the cabinet practically guarantees proper pushing behavior. And with all due respect to my friends in the Sticker Engineering profession, a yellow sticker is a poor substitute for a well-placed handle.

5 comments:

Awadhesh said...

It sounds so obvious when you talk about any design issue.. but doesn't always come to our mind in the first instance even if we come across the same thing ourselves..

The Dan Ward said...

Very true Awadhesh - design thinking is indeed a discipline. It requires practice and deliberate effort to see things this way. The trick is to move beyond the first look and take the second and third look...

Awadhesh said...

Very interesting.. I will try doing that next time :)

Glen B. Alleman said...

I love this kind of posts. Can you share the hi-res version of the mens room paper towel pull instructions with the torn paper in exactly the opposite positions?

I have an upcoming briefing that will be perfect for that.

The Dan Ward said...

@Glen - Thanks! Glad you like it!

And sadly, that IS the high-res photo on the bathroom papertowel post (http://rogueprojectleader.blogspot.com/2010/07/bad-design-bathroom-redux.html).

If you click on the photo in the post, you do get a slightly larger version... but I'm afraid I already stretched my camera phone's resolution to the limit. :)