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.

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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)