An almost clever water dispenser

Here’s your standard water dispenser – you’ve probably seen many of them and most look similar.

A standard water dispenser

A standard water dispenser

You’ve got cold and hot taps which you operate with the red and blue handles.

And now here’s the dispenser which I now face daily:

The "clever" water dispenser

The “clever” water dispenser

At first glance the only difference is that instead of handles you now have to press buttons – blue for cold and red for hot.

Here’s what I’m guessing the designers thought:

  1. Hey, let’s not use those old fashioned handles and instead put cool buttons – it’ll look much nicer.
  2. Yeeeaahhh! We’re awesome!
  3. Oh wait, there’s a small problem – it’s now really easy to unintentionally press the wrong one.
  4. Well hot is used much less than cold… let’s put 2 red buttons so it’s harder to make a mistake.
  5. But let’s make them really small, so it looks better.
  6. We’re awesome again!

Well in the end… the buttons are so small that are actually hard to press and by the time my tea cup is full my fingers are already hurting. So the clever workaround was only meant to hide a general usability problem – the use of buttons instead of something that’s better anyway.

My point – “new” does not always equal “better”. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. While redesigning keep in mind that it’s supposed to be used by humans.

Is this parking space free?

A friend of mine told me about this recently and I just had to see it with my own eyes!

Imagine you’re driving around in an underground parking lot, trying to find a free space. I guess two scenarios are common:

  • a space appears to be empty, but as you get to it you see that someone just parked a little bit deeper inside the space and you just couldn’t see him from a distance.
  • at every crossroads you try to see if something is empty and you should turn or continue straight (after all you can’t just stand there for a couple of minutes, because the drivers behind you will start honking).

So how to make parking easy and convenient? Check out this picture:

Colorful lights above the spaces indicated if they're free.

Colorful lights above the spaces indicated if they’re free.

Now what you see here are lights above every space which indicate if it’s free (by lighting up in either green, blue or red)! Genius! So you can just look at the lights and decide in a split second if parking is possible in this row.

The possible colors.

The possible colors.

Now obviously (because it’s a western country) red means the space is occupied and green means “free”. OK, but what’s blue? At first I thought it’s for spaces for the handicapped, because normally those are marked in blue paint. Well there was nothing like that, so I just parked there 🙂 I don’t want to say anything bad, because the idea is awesome, so here’s my explanation: the shopping mall where the parking lot is located is quite new and they’re gonna turn those into handicapped spaces shortly 🙂

A few Kindle Paperwhite flaws

A few months ago I wrote this absolutely positive review of my Kindle Paperwhite. To be fair (nothing is flawless) now the time has come to mention a couple of things that made a not so good impression.

First stop: the settings menu.

It offers me to shop for new stuff, restart, reset, etc. Maybe the problem is not immediately evident, but notice how “Restart” and “Reset Device” are placed next to each other (both begin with the letters “Res”and contain a “t” at some point after). Surely many people have misread the second option as “Restart Device” and pressed it instead. Now I’m quite certain that after pressing “Reset” you’ll get a dialog box asking you if you were sure (actually I’ve never tried it, because I’m scared that no dialog will appear and all my settings will be lost). But what if you don’t read it? After all – you’re used to being asked to confirm a restart… The simplest solution is quite obvious – just place “Reset Device” as the last option or rephrase it.

Restart and Reset placed right next to each other.

Restart and Reset placed right next to each other.

Second problem: “Personal Info”

Now you have the chance to personalize your Kindle. There’s an option called “Personal Info” and the caption only tells you that it’s gonna be used to identify your device. Pressing it brings up a modal window where you can insert your personal information. OK, but still I don’t understand what this is for! Here the designers had the opportunity to write a few more lines and actually tell you where this is going to be used and what kind of information is expected to go there, but they missed it. Should I input my favorite color? Or maybe my bank account info?

What is the "Personal Info" for?!

What is the “Personal Info” for?!

Still those are relatively minor flaws which are not enough to change my opinion – it’s a wonderful device 🙂

Water resistant watches

Finally it’s time to resume my blog – too bad the inspiration came from an unfortunate event.

I was enjoying my time at the beach some days ago and decided to go for a swim. I had unintentionally taken my watch with me to the beach and didn’t want to leave it lying there, so I decided to swim with it – after all it says on the back it’s water resistant up to 5 atmospheres and I wasn’t going to dive 50 meters below the surface. Later during the day I noticed the glass had fogged up, but thought it’s kinda normal. Check out the picture below to see what awaited me the next morning – it had stopped and a beautiful orange rusty dot had appeared right in the middle.

Left: the rusty dot. Right: "Water resistant 5 ATM"

Left: the rusty dot. Right: “Water resistant 5 ATM”

I took it to the watchmaker and explained that I had taken a swim with my 5 atm. water resistant watch and the reply was simply “ARE YOU MAD?! THESE atmospheres are not like the OTHER atmospheres”. But my favourite was “Why didn’t you read the manual before swimming?” – oh yeah, I carry the manual for my watch and read it carefully every time I put it on!

Well I guess now it’s my fault the watchmakers use traditional units in a totally random (and deceiving to the normal user) manner. What’s the problem in using plain words to tell people what the watch can do, like “Suitable for swimming”, “Suitable for diving up to 10 meters”…

So here’s your takeaway message:

5 atm / 5 bar / 50 meters = you can wash your hands with it, but not swim
10 atm / 10 bar / 100 meters = you can swim, but not dive

RIP my love, I’ll never forget the last 8 years ;(

Some cool stuff

I guess it’s time to finally say something nice about a product, so here are two things that made a nice impression :).

Think of the following situation – while roasting some tasty chicken in the oven you decide to add some more spices. What do you do? Two options – open the oven, pull out the grate just enough so the whole thing doesn’t fall out or take it out completely (requires you to actually put on the oven mitts first). Well maybe this process could be optimized. This ancient stove you see here is made by Siemens. Here’s what happens – the whole tray comes out and you are free to do whatever you want (also you don’t have to ever stick your hands in the oven, so you can’t burn yourself).

The Siemens stove

The Siemens stove (yeah –  I wasn’t roasting chicken, but you get my point 🙂 )

OK great! Now you’ve added the spices and closed the oven door. You suddenly feel thirsty and want a glass of tap water. Of course before pouring a glass you let the water flow for a second to be sure not to get the hot water that was waiting in the pipes. Well this tap here measures the water temperature and the built in color LEDs light up in blue (cold), green (just right) or red (hot). This way you know if the water is good for drinking and you don’t even need to turn on the light if it’s dark and all you need is a glass of water (imagine getting up in the middle of the night and trying to avoid turning on the light, cause you’ll be blinded).

Blue/Red/Green tap

Cold / Just right / Hot

A horrible water heater

Here’s what I came across – a tankless water heater. I guess those are getting more and more popular recently (just hope this particular model isn’t).

Unusable tankless water heater

The horrible water heater

What do we see here?

  • on/off button (that’s clear)
  • knob with some red and blue markings on the bottom

What do I need to know when washing my hands?

  • how to regulate the water temperature
  • how to regulate the water flow

So how am I supposed to do both with that single knob? Here’s my mental model: turning the knob left/right would control the temperature and the more you turn the more water comes out… but wait – if I turn more to the left would that mean that it also gets hotter? Well I played around with it for quite some time and it turns out that the knob only controls the amount of water and the temperature always remains warm (never hot, never cold). I asked the person next to me (this water heater’s power user :D) how to set it to cold (I simply wanted to drink) and he replied that the only way to do this is to TURN IT OFF.

Well what’s the point of such a thing anyway. You can never drink from the tap and the temperature remains in a position preset by the manufacturer. What if it’s too cold/hot for me?

Walk buttons at pedestrian crossings in Germany

The wide variety of walk buttons inspired this post. I’ll cover the three types I’ve personally come across, but surely there are more.

Let’s start with the worst example. This one here is apparently touch sensitive, but touching the red dot results in absolutely nothing. There is no feedback and no way for you to know if you actually did something (it may as well be a placebo button). It’s so bad that they actually put a large label to explain the usage. And they even messed up the label! It’s written in both German and English, but there’s no separation between the two (and clearly “Touch” is not the direct English translation of “Fußgänger roten Knopf bitte berühren”).

The "no-feedback" walk button

The “no-feedback” walk button.

Now this next one’s a bit better. It’s also touch sensitive, but at least once it registers your action it displays a red sign which tells you everything’s fine. It’s certainly better than the previous example. So what’s the problem here? Well I just don’t like this “let’s use touch sensors to seem more technologically advanced” attitude. I’ve seen people (young and old) trying to press it in all kinds of ways – from touching it gently with one finger, through pressing it 3-4 times just to be sure, to slapping it as hard as possible with the whole palm. And of course the only way to be sure you did it right is to look directly at the device and wait for the red sign.

The advanced touch sensitive walk button.

The advanced touch sensitive walk button.

And here’s my favourite – simple, robust and reliable. It has a real button in the form of a large plate that clearly affords pressing. There’s strong haptic feedback and you’ll be sure of your actions. If not – there’s a red lamp on top (just in case). Too bad someone labeled this as outdated technology, because in my opinion it’s still the best.

Old school walk button (Photo Credit: http://goo.gl/0hJYz)

Old school walk button (Photo Credit: http://goo.gl/0hJYz)