Monday, December 27, 2004

Not a Drop to Drink, Pt. 2

Hello again,
Here’s a great example of a technological breakthrough meant to make life easier for people (at least I guess that’s the rationale) that simply backfires.

Ever seen one of those sinks (typically in a public restroom) that operates by infrared or motion detection? You’re supposed to pass your hands under the faucet and produce a stream of water.

It’s a hazy memory now but I seem to recall being totally stumped by this when I first encountered it some years ago. The best examples actually provide some sort of explanatory signage, but not all do. Toilets proved especially anxiety-provoking without physical flushers, whereas faucetless sinks simply resulted in (aside from grubby hands) impotent rage -- ever-popular with those poor souls foiled by hardware. Well, that was then…you’d think I’d have gotten the hang of it by now.

And yet…and yet… I regularly encounter such fixtures and find them unable to produce the desired effect. I walk away from the urinal…nothing. I wave my hands like a madman under the faucet…nothing. I look for some hidden button, I try like an idiot to press or turn the faucet. Am I doing something wrong? Has the water been turned off? Is it just a defective sink? Typically the latter is the case, since other sinks (often provided with those silly antiquated devices called handles) do happily gush with water.

Lessons: Provide more than one way to do your task with a secondary control. Provide some explanation for your control even if you think everyone will know how it works; some of your users will never have encountered it before.

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