Wednesday, March 07, 2012

One place not to present a swanky existential conundrum

In other news, I just had lunch at a relatively new restaurant in town. While the décor is more glam-hotel than hipster, it has definitely seen the efforts of a determined designer striving for, I don’t know what – friendly chic? At any rate, my UX radar bleeped loudly only at the point when I attempted to find the restroom.

Painted vertically on the wall in "cool" but unnecessarily industrial lowercase font were the necessary ‘men’ and ‘women’ — but there were no doors! Beside the ‘men’ was an alcove that looked as if a door ought to be there, but there was only a padded leatherette, nearly floor-to-ceiling, rhomboidal panel. Didn't look like a door, but I gave the wall a light shove just in case and, not surprisingly, nothing happened. I moved on down the hall, thinking perhaps... but no, here was ‘women’ with a similar situation. No handles, no further signage, nothing that actually looked like a door. At this point another male customer came along and blithely pushed open the ‘men’ wall and entered. Aha. I had not pushed the correct side of the wall.

I wondered why they’d designed the restooms as if they were meant to hide Anne Frank.

Forgive me, but it seems to me that a restroom is one of those items that above all else ought to be totally accessible and user-friendly. I have ranted previously on this blog (otherwise I would again here, since I ran into the same problem today) about “automatic” fixtures that don’t work as expected and have no instructions. But all that is moot if the person-taken-short in question can’t even figure out where the restroom is, or how to enter it.

Bentley's Principle of Control Visibility: Labels (‘men’) are good, but controls (a doorknob or even an indication of where to push — or pull!) are pretty dang necessary and should not be hidden or designed right out of usability.

There are a number of perfectly good more or less traditional ways of signifying a restroom. A place to pee ought not to present a swanky existential conundrum.

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