Nick is a creator for and explorer of the web & beyond. His latest title is Product Design & Front-End Developer, but he is known to work in whatever medium best suits the project.
He keeps a presence on the web through his personal site where he displays some of his past personal projects and the occasional “Hip Musing”. His musings under 140 characters can be found on Twitter @hipsterbrown, where he also enjoys casual conversations with people around the world.
Designing A Door
Many of my musings about design and user experience usually relate to the web or mobile; these environments are quick to prototype in but are also ephemeral, with no real physical presence in the world. Such realizations led me to thinking about user experience in the real world and how some of the pains I’ve run into can improve through thoughtful design. One such pain I’ve given a lot of thought to is the perfect public restroom design.
When I say public restroom, I’m referring to the single toilet, locked door versions found in coffee shops and fast food establishments that result in such varying experiences. These are some of the thoughts that occur when I encounter a Starbucks restroom, for example:
“Is there someone in here already?”
“Is this door going to stay locked?”
“Where do I put my backpack or jacket?”
“I really hope there’s no pee on the door handle.”
This could all just be personal paranoia, but I’ll bet I’m not alone in some of these concerns. How do we make this a comfortable, or at least less stressful, event for people to go through?
A Walkthrough Solution
Let’s focus on just the approach, the door. This portal to the potty is the source of nearly all of my problems, so thinking through its design should provide simple solutions for public restroom owners everywhere.
As I walk up to the door, how do I know if it’s already occupied without going through the awkward dance of jiggling the handle, hearing a stressed “Occupied!” emanate from the other side, and feeling like a jerk for interrupting what should have been a peaceful time in their day? Of course, this design challenge already has a solution present on every airplane in the nation—the most elegant solution: that simple sign on the outside of the door that switches to OCCUPIED when it’s locked. Adding this feature to the restroom leads to solving another issue: confidence that door locks and stays locked.
There are many restroom doors in the world with those weak, flimsy handle locks; the ones that, when turned, give a timid click if you’re lucky and always seem a little too loose for comfort. They give little confidence to the user if the door will stay locked or not. Give me a deadbolt or give me death. I don’t want to “lock” the door, go about my business, and have someone burst in due to some weak latch not doing its duty. Deadbolts give a strong, confident thud when I turn them. They may also act as the switch for the OCCUPIED sign on the outside of the door. Without the aid of a battering ram or a super-powered kick, there is no way anyone is coming through that door unexpectedly.
In the event I forget to lock the door, the next issue of being caught with my pants down, can be solved in two steps. First, make sure the door swings inward, and second, position the porcelain throne behind the door—not directly behind, of course, you don’t want a door to the knee or face in addition to the surprise of an accidental intruder. This gives the current attendee some buffer time to shout out words of occupation before the bathroom burglar has a chance to spot them on the pot when bursting into the restroom.
To finish off this fabled door’s design, it should have two key items attached to the back of it. First, a sturdy hook for bags, jackets, etc, because no one wants to place whatever they’re carrying on the questionable floor of the public restroom (that’s one stigma that can’t be solved with the currently available technology). Finally, due to the inward swing of the door, be sure to add one of those fancy foot pedals for the germaphobes who know there is at least one person who didn’t wash up after doing their business and won’t dare risk being tainted by the knob on the way out.
The restroom door doesn’t contain any attachment to the building’s plumbing or other internal systems, so replacing or modifying it should be a simple process. Change the lock and hinge direction, add the necessary tooling as described above, and your customers’ experience will increase exponentially*. Take a chance, and don’t forget to wash up on your way out.
*This is a theoretical design, so no results are guaranteed but go ahead and give it a try anyway.
The Other Side of Empathy
I love the web, and I hate the web.
Twitter is awesome, and Twitter is terrible.
Twitter (to me) is the vision of the web-inside-the-web where every person has his or her own domain and is free to share anything from anywhere in the world. I believe it is one of the best ways to communicate and connect with a community available today. But, as with most nice things, there are
people trolls who feel the need to ruin it for the rest of us. We should be able to have nice things.
It’s not just the “trolls” who come with using Twitter, or any social network, who have inspired this essay; it’s anyone who acts on the gut-reaction to immediately whip out a phone and rage tweet their immediate thoughts when they see some new feature or design pop up on the interwebs. If you don’t know what I mean, just search “design sucks” in Twitter and you should get a pretty good idea. We have all done this at some point in time—yes, even me—and seeing well-respected individuals of the design/development/tech community take part in such mob mentality troubles me. This is a problem we created together, and it is a problem we can solve together.
As designers and product builders, we are told to empathize with our users in order to create awesome experiences for the web and beyond. I propose we take a look at the other side of empathy, and make an effort to empathize with the creators behind the products, features, or designs triggering those rage-tweet reactions seen across many a timeline. After all, these are people who probably frequent Twitter about as often as the rest of us. Few things can sap creativity and inspiration as quickly as seeing a mob of tweets tearing down one’s creative efforts in such a public forum.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t comment on the work of others. However, before making harsh, vague statements, we should fall back to that old lesson (with an addendum) :
“If you don’t have anything nice* to say, don’t say anything at all. ”
*Because we are adults, “nice” needs to be constructive. Compliment on a specific aspect that enhances the design. Comment on something you think could use improvement and offer a solution. These are principles we all should have learned in school but we seem to forget the minute we are granted the relative anonymity of social media.
Proclaiming the new Twitter profile pages “suck” because “they’re just copying Facebook” or it wasn’t how you would have done it does not count as valid, constructive feedback for the designers at Twitter or other similar companies. The same can be said about empty positive comments like “Great work! ” or “Wow”, which are quite popular on many Dribbble shots. Of course comments like this are a nice ego boost (and who doesn’t love that from time to time) but they leave nothing for the designer to iterate and innovate on.
This also includes the unsolicited redesigns that populate Dribbble and BeHance (I’m looking at you, iOS 7 redesigners). They are usually created without the context or data that the original designers used in their work, and they often fail to fulfill the principle reason for design — “to solve the right problems with the right solutions” (Jason VanLue, Three Pipe Problems ). Taking that into account, what problems do these unsolicited redesigns help solve? Empathize with those original designers by considering which problems they were solving and use those lessons to build upon our own designs.
So the next time Facebook announces a change to the News Feed, take a deep breath before launching that New Tweet dialogue and ask yourself a few questions. Is this your opinion, or are you joining the mob? If you really care for the future of this product or service, how can you help? You could file a bug report, send a detailed email to its creators, offer some assistance if it’s an open source project, or pass it along to a friend to help out. Overall, you will probably need more than 140 characters to provide any constructive feedback. Take a shot at the other side of empathy, ask “why would they do that?” instead exclaiming “that sucks!”, and hold yourself and others accountable for moving design forward.