If a Toilet Requires Instructions, It’s Probably Badly Designed
One of the more trivial things I saw on my recent vacation to Scotland and England was a badly designed toilet on a Virgin train. My wife and I were on our way to Birmingham to do a Range Rover factory tour (something I'll write about soon, along with some fun visits to scotch whisky distilleries).
First off, the train's toilet door was overly complicated and over-engineered. Instead of just being able to slide the door closed manually (as you would do on an airplane) I had to search for buttons… eventually finding buttons and a TWO step process for closing and then locking the door. I'm not sure why this couldn't have been a single button. Unlocking and opening was a single button. Click the photo for a larger view.
Figuring out how to flush the toilet was worse.
Why do toilets and buttons and signs matter? Processes (as well as software and devices) should be designed to be intuitive, making it easy for people to do the right thing. Requiring signs and instructions is often a sign of bad design, a lesson I learned reading the great book The Design of Everyday Things many years ago.
So what about flushing the toilet?
The flush button was badly placed — BEHIND the open toilet lid. Therefore, it was hidden – thus requiring a sign.
Thankfully, the sign was located right where you'd be looking at it.
I guess it was cheaper for the toilet designers to add a sign than it was to relocate the button to a location that wasn't hidden.
Flying home on American Airlines, there was a much better example of a flush button that wasn't hidden:
There, how hard is that?
The “don't throw stuff in the toilet” warning sign is pretty similar… but it's a funny detail that American's warning has five items, where the train only had three (including, apparently, a sack lunch). I guess it would be difficult to “mistake proof” against throwing objects into the toilet… so I guess a warning (well placed) is the best way.
Thinking back to the design of our workspaces, patient rooms, etc. — are we hiding the flush button? Are we posting signs and instructions instead of making use obvious and intuitive?
Are we making it easy for people to do the right thing?