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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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?

Ticket vending machines

The other day I had to buy a ticket from a vending machine similar to this one here:

German Ticket Vending Machine (Photo Credit: flickrhivemind.net/Tags/fahrscheine)

German Ticket Vending Machine (Photo Credit: flickrhivemind.net/Tags/fahrscheine)

The ticket costed 2.50 € and I didn’t want to put in a 50 € bill so I used my bank card.  I entered my PIN, took the ticket and boarded the train calmly. Some time later I got a feeling I might have forgotten something and checked my wallet – I’d left the card in the ticket machine :D. Well the card was recovered (by a friend who was fortunately near) and so the story ends.

Now let’s see why slips like these occur. They are called Premature Conclusion Errors – forgetting to complete the action sequence because the main part of the goal is accomplished (getting my ticket). They are common for activities which people do over and over again.

To those who think “well it’s your fault, because you weren’t paying attention” I’ll say – “of course it isn’t”. The vending machine is clearly poorly designed – it deals with money and allows you to make such an error. What’s the solution? Every single ATM does the following: forces you to pull out the card and only then gives you the cash, thus avoiding precisely this kind of slips. Couldn’t the ticket machine ask me to get the card before spitting out the ticket?

P.S.: I didn’t use the 50 € bill because of fear: what if it gave me 47.50 € in coins. This points out another problem – I don’t understand how it works, so I’m scared to use it.

Using the stuff at the bottom of Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s news feeds

A lot of websites use something called “infinite scrolling” – once you reach the bottom of the page new content is loaded automatically and you don’t have to switch the pages manually. The whole point is that there is no real bottom. I’m sure you’ve seen this already – 9GAG and Blogs use it.

And so does LinkedIn’s new feed. There’s a “spinner” for a second until the new posts are loaded. Here’s how it looks like:

LinkedIn's infinite scroll

LinkedIn’s infinite scroll

But notice anything strange? The very bottom has links like “Careers”, “About”, “Developers”, etc. Well how am I supposed to click them (or even read them) if in just a second they get pushed way down…?

Now if you’re patient and scroll down 3 times the thing stops and instead a “Show More Updates” button appears. Finally you have the chance to press the “Careers” link… But what if you gave up after the second try?

And here’s the same thing on Facebook:

Facebook's infinite scroll

Facebook’s infinite scroll

Except that they don’t even have this “3 times” rule…

I really hope they miss some brilliant employees who think that companies with limitless resources should be better than this.

Sports commentators and touch screens

Football is one of my passions. Several days ago I was watching a match of the Bulgarian league and couldn’t help but laugh at the commentators. They were analyzing some interesting situations in front of a big screen.

Commentator in front of giant touch screen

Commentator in front of giant touch screen. (Photo credit: BNT World)

As you see there are several controls available on the bottom.  They allow them to navigate the video and draw some circles and lines while they’re explaining. That’s nice right? They can easily point out players’ mistakes and so on.

BUT:

1. They often need several attempts before the touch screen actually registers their actions.

2. Because the screen is so big, the people need to take 1-2 steps, press the desired control (while completely blocking the view), then walk another 1-2 steps back and only then start explaining their point.

Commentator blocking the view

Commentator blocking the view. (Photo credit: BNT World)

Obviously this distracts them (breaks the train of thought) and is also annoying to viewers – instead of listening to the analysis I’m watching a guy fighting with an unusable system.

A clear case of “look at us – we’re so cool, we’re using touch screens” 😀

The usability of window blinds

The other day I was watching Family Guy’s latest episode (“12 and a Half Angry Men”). This funny scene inspired the post.

Peter struggling with the window blinds

Peter struggling with the window blinds

Well I guess the animation says it all. To open/close the blinds you’re supposed to alternately pull on the two strings. Although I knew the theory I could never do it in practice – one of the sides was always lower than the other (that’s not an april fools joke – I really can’t operate those things). Clearly no one wants to have the left part all the way up and the right – halfway down, so why was it designed this way?

Why couldn’t there just be a single string doing all the work or one for opening and one for closing?

Troubles with kitchen utensils

Let’s move to the kitchen. Take a look at this pot that I proudly own:

My cooking pot

My cooking pot

Seems quite normal right? I also didn’t notice any problem when I bought it.

Now let me teach you how a pot is used – you put it on the stove, fill it with food and wait :D. Then you take it by the handles and move it somewhere… or at least you try to, ’cause the handles on mine are part of the body (entirely made of metal) and are hot as hell! Why should I be forced to use oven gloves every time?! Who designed this junk? How hard was it to put some plastic there like normal cooking pot designers do (no idea how these people are called, but I’m pretty sure someone decided how it should look like)?

It does the job (I’m not gonna starve or something), but it’s just annoying.