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.

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?

Taps in the UK

I was visiting a friend in the UK a while ago and had to face a monster like the one here:

English: Separate taps for hot and cold water ...

Separate taps for hot and cold water in the United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now for those of you who haven’t seen this before:

Left tap = hellfire

Right tap = Antarctica

You get two options for washing your hands – move them with lightning speed between the running taps or fill the sink. I guess filling the sink with mixed water is considered the “proper” way. Well I have just one word for you: “hygiene”. That thing actually turns a simple task into an impossible one!

Apparently separate taps are quite common in the UK. It used to be considered quite smart 1 million years ago when diseases were spreading through the hot water and having a mixed tap meant that drinking from it would expose you to the danger (‘cause there would still be some hot water left in the pipe). Good. But it’s time to move on and embrace the modern world 🙂