On Bathroom UX

I travel a lot within the US. By car, by bus, by plane, by foot. And because of this, I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned user of American public restrooms. […]

I travel a lot within the US. By car, by bus, by plane, by foot. And because of this, I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned user of American public restrooms. From dirty gas stations to swanky hotels, classic fixtures to modern art pieces, falling-apart to high-tech, I’ve seen it all (except for Japanese toilets, that is still on my bucket list).

A public restroom is a place no one wants to be and everyone has to go, and as such you would think it would be designed to maximize user satisfaction and usability while minimizing actual time spend in said facility. However, many public restrooms in the name of “modernization” have installed technologies that have actually made this worse. A few of the worst offenders:

  1. Self-closing doors

    Everyone knows that unoccupied stalls are easy to spot by the way their doors are cracked open, a snap judgment that is especially crucial if you happen to be in the inevitable situation known as “excessive lines in the women’s restrooms.” (seriously, females, what is it about us that takes us so long to go?) But these self-closing doors remove all ability to tell whether a stall is in use, forcing you to either stand awkwardly with your legs crossed while there are 20 as-yet-unknown open stalls around you, or do the awkward “bend down slightly to look for shoes or bags and I really don’t know how to do this without looking creepy and gross” dance. And for what purpose? So no one has to acknowledge the toilets inside?

  2. Eco-toilets with the “Down” flush being the higher-water-capacity option

    I respect the multi-flush toilet concept. Water is a precious resource, especially in certain parts of our country where fresh water isn’t necessarily readily plentiful. So it makes sense that we would want to design toilets that most effectively use these resources: not every trip warrants a full flush. But most eco-toilets are designed completely the wrong way to actually save any water. Think about it: if you’re doing your business and reach around mindlessly to flush, without checking first to see if this toilets cares about hugging trees and saving cuddly animals, what action will decades of successful toilet training have conditioned us to do? Push down to flush.
    And yet, all of these toilets are designed with the “use more water” option as the “push down” flush, with the “use less water” option assigned to the counter-intuitive “pull up” flush. Why, if we want to maximize the amount of water being conserved, would we want people to have to make a conscious decision to choose to alter their behavior at a moment when they are farthest from thinking about it? Why not make the lesser flush the default, with the higher volume reserved for those people who are in the most need of it (and probably would have needed to flush twice anyway)?

  3. Dyson Airblade dryers

    I don’t hate on the Dysons. Sure, Dyson is like the Apple of consumer goods (well-designed, probably not revolutionary technology but certainly best-packaged, costs twice as much as anything else, fanatical consumer base) but their stuff does tend to work well. And the concept of the Airblade is a good one: normal hand dryers are notoriously ineffective at doing the one thing they’re meant to do (though they’re decent for randomly re-styling your hair in a grocery store bathroom) so the hand-drying space really needed to be disrupted. And the Dyson would be a great product if it wasn’t for one thing: there’s no freaking drain! Come on, Dyson, the water doesn’t just magically disappear once it loses contact with your skin. So now we’ve got water being removed from your hands quickly and effectively (good) and being sprayed all over your pants/shoes/shopping bags/small children (bad, unless the kids were misbehaving, then they probably deserved it.)

UPDATE: I feel so passionately about this topic that I gave it as an Ignite Minneapolis talk in 2015. Check out the video below:

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One response to “On Bathroom UX”

  1. Those things are so darn loud! I do hate on them. I just rambled over to your blog from a Tweet and had to read around a bit 🙂 Dave