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blog.gkaindl.com » Interface Design gone awry

blog.gkaindl.com

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Interface Design gone awry

Do you know these wall-mounted hair-dryers that you often find in hotel rooms? Well, at the place where I was staying in Venice last week, I had one of them, too, and it was probably the worst designed one I’ve ever seen.

If we push fancy features such as various heat and power levels aside, a hair-dryer has exactly two modes of operation: On and Off. Thusly, as far as interaction design is concerned, we only need to worry about how to switch the hair-dryer on and off in the most intuitive and convenient way. And that’s exactly where this particular model’s design totally blew it.


Usually, there’s some sort of button or push-switch on a hair-dryer to switch it on. Sometimes, we get funky twisting knobs, but even then, it’s usually clear how to operate them. That is because the button is perceived as an affordance in the context of wanting to switch the hair-dryer on or off. No matter how awkwardly it may be shaped, as long as it is possible to extract a visual and haptic “button-character” from it, operating the device is a breeze.

Now let’s look at the horrible design of the particular hair-dryer from my hotel room. Much like other wall-mounted models, it consists of a base that is firmly fixed to the wall as well as a removable head with a nozzle that is supposed to shoot out hot air to dry one’s hair. The two elements are connected by a flexible hose. Problem: There is no button! Even worse, there are various elements that can be twisted and rotated (such as the ring from which the hook extends that it used to hang the nozzle to the base when the dryer is not in use), but none of them acts as a switch either.

In short, there’s no intuitive way to switch the thing on. Consequently, my usage scenario was much like this: Take nozzle off hook, look for a switch, desperately twist, press and squeeze every moving part on the device, hang the nozzle up again, walk into room with dripping hair to ask girlfriend how to turn the hair-dryer on, return without clues, play around some more, and suddenly, heureka, it switched itself on. At first, I was totally puzzled because I wasn’t sure which of my actions finally breath life into this tauntingly evil piece of bad design, but then I figured it out…

It turns on by pulling out the part of the wall-mounted base to which the hose is connected. Let’s look at the three pictures below (You can click them for a larger version): In the first picture, we see that hair-dryer in all its glory, in the second one, we have a close-up of the “off” position, the third one, in turn, is a close-up of the “on” position.

hotel hair-dryerhotel hair-dryer in off positionhotel hair-dryer in on position

In theory, this design might have sounded like a good idea: Since you pull on the hose anyways when raising the nozzle up to your head, the hair-dryer gets switched on “automagically”. The only problem is: In the usual usage scenario, you try to switch on the dryer before raising the nozzle above your head. Additionally, you don’t try to switch on a hair-dryer by pulling various parts of it that do not look like a switch. For example, you might too afraid to break something (The model doesn’t exactly look too sturdy).

To sum it up, this particular design is a good example of something that looks great on paper, but doesn’t work well in practice because it is not modeled closely after a realistic usage scenario (again: It’s switching on and then raising above your head, not the other way around!). Horrible, horrible interface design.

Considering that such devices are mass-produced, I assume you can find them in other hotels as well. At least you know now how to switch them on, even though they probably couldn’t have been designed in a more unintuitive way…

About

Hi, how are you? My name is Georg Kaindl, and I'm a twenty-something from Vienna, Austria. During the day, I'm a CS student at the Vienna University of Technology, but at night, I turn into an independent software developer for the Macintosh platform, social nerd, lazy entrepreneur and intuitive researcher.

I like to write about everything that matters to considerate technology enthusiasts, but humbly retain the right to go off-topic from time to time.

My posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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