If you have to add a warning or instruction label to something that should be obvious in its use, then the item is probably badly designed. I think that's a pretty good design principle for products or software. Slapping on a label after the fact is a workaround, at best.
I've found a few recent examples of that principle in my travels.
First is from the North American International Auto Show (which I also blogged about here).
The BMW display, beyond the cool cars and the apparent 5S markings, had a step that many people kept tripping over, even with a warning sign.
The white step down onto a white surface… from the top of the step, people couldn't really see that light. So about half of the people tripped, even with the warning sign. It goes to show a warning sign can't make up for bad (yet beautiful) design.
The second example was from a Hampton Inn that I stayed at. The mirrored closet door looks completely symmetrical and you wouldn't know what side to pull on.
Tacking on the “OPEN THIS SIDE” decal is a sign that the door wasn't designed well. They could have had some sort of handle that indicated which side to open.
Why does this stuff matter? Am I just being a nit-picky grouch? I think it matters when we think about the workplace and poor human factors. Have we designed a workplace that's visual and obvious to employees, making it easy for them to do the right things the right way… or are we slapping up a bunch of warnings and labels as a workaround?
Last example was from a hospital cafeteria. It sure looks like a trash can…
It was really unclear what this was if it was not a trash can. It was near the area where you return cafeteria trays. There was no alternative to the trash can, I mean no alternative to the “non-trash can.” The sign seems to be a indicator of a design problem, the problem being that it's reasonable for people to assume it's a trash can because, well, it looks like one. It is one.
I have a collection of silly workplace warnings at my sister site www.BeMoreCareful.com… as the site description says, these “be carefuls!” rarely get to the root cause of any issue. The sign is a symptom of a problem. The sign is generally not an effective countermeasure.
The sign says don't trip… people trip and fall. A sign says “pull here” and the hotel guest pulls first on the wrong side (yes, that happened). A sign says “don't throw trash here” and there's probably always trash there anyway… don't blame the people, blame the system.
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