The more I learn and practice ethnography and design-thinking, the more I notice subtle but incredibly frustrating experiences. For example, I had a frustrating experience with a faucet that was in the hospital room where our adopted baby girl, Mylie, was born. This faucet is an automated one — with a sensor. So, whenever an object passes the sensor, the faucet would turn on even if the intention of the human was not to use the faucet.
A few facts about this faucet: this faucet was in the corner of the room, against the wall. It is a faucet that has a sensor, whereby an object would cross the sensor and then a signal would be sent for the faucet to expel water. I imagine the designers of this faucet designed this hospital faucet this way to encourage bacteria-free habits — that is, the sensor eliminated the need for a knob that both turns-on and turns-off the water. That is a good and charitable thought — but totally wrong. Here is a picture of the hospital faucet:
And another picture of the faucet:
Notice the faucet head with the sensor at the base. To the right of the base, notice the knob? What does the knob do, you ask. Answer: nothing. Whenever the faucet turned on, my first reaction was to turn the only-available knob, only to find out that the knob does nothing. Very frustrating.
Root Cause Analysis on “Why did the Faucet Turn on Unintentionally?”
Following Taiichi Ohno’s 5-Why’s, it is important to understand why the faucet turned-on when that was not the intention:
- Why did the faucet turn on unintentionally?
- Because whenever an arm or hand passed across the sensor photo-eye, the faucet would turn on.
- Why would an arm or hand pass the sensor photo-eye?
- Because we need to put or get our camera, jackets, or other belongings.
- Why did we need to put or get our camera, jackets, or other belongings?
- Because the only available counter in the room to place anything was beside the faucet.
So, we see from this quick and effective excercise that the root cause of unintentionally-turning-on-of-the faucet was that the only available counter-space was next to the faucet. Hence, whenever we needed to put or get our stuff, our hand or arm would cross the sensor and then the faucet would turn-on.
There are several practical solutions to the verified root cause. One simple and very practical one is to create more counter space, preferably away from the faucet and simultaneously eliminating the available counter-space to the right and left the faucet. Another practical solution is to revert back to the good ‘ol faucet with a knob that actually works. One variant of this “knob” is that it could be a foot pedal, thereby encouraging sanitized hands.
There are several that, I’m sure, you can think of. These are just a few that I came up with.
The True Tragedy of Featuritis
The real tragedy of poor usability of devices and products is that the user feels stupid. For a discussion, below is Kathy Sierra’s Featuritis Curve
As one walks the curve to the right, the user hits an inflection point where there is an equilibrium between the number of features and the user’s happiness. As the user continues that walk to the right, the user eventually gets to the point of what I call “user resignation” — where the user gives up, calls it quits, and blames self.
To some degree, I felt this way about the hospital faucet. Although the faucet didn’t have the complexity of features, it still behaved that way and I felt dumb that the “knob” wasn’t working like I expected it to work. Moreover, I felt dumb everytime the faucet turned on when I didn’t mean for it to turn on. The real tragedy of featuritis is that the user is burdened with feelings of self-loathing and self-blame. From a businesses perspective, this means that users are unhappy and will abandon the product or service.
Who’s Fault is it Really and The Customer Experience
Here’s what my good friend and fellow University of Chicago Alum, Aza Raskin, son of Jef Raskin (inventor of the Macintosh) says regarding Humane Design:
The main thing you have to remember—and please remember this, because it could be vital to your sanity—is that any problems you have with an interface are not your fault. If you have trouble using your microwave, it’s not because you’re “not good with technology”, it’s because the people in charge of designing the interface for that microwave didn’t do their job right. User interface design is incredibly hard, and carries with it a great deal of responsibility; this is something that’s taken quite seriously when it comes life-critical systems such as flight control software. But in today’s consumer culture, what should be blamed on bad interface design is instead blamed on the “incompetence” of users. Just remember that it’s not your fault.
A Crappy Faucet and A Cute Baby
The hospital is still there, probably with the same crappy faucet. But, I take with me a few things:
- Mylie is healthy and is home. Mylie’s birth parents are also home now. I am thankful to them for choosing us to be Mylie’s parents.
- The way interfaces, products, and services are designed have a profound impact on all of our lives.
- Simple is best — Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) — this is a true principle.
- There is still a lot of opportunity to do good in the world of products and services.
- There is still a lot of opportunity to do good in the world.