Saturday, July 22, 2006

Good Design

I am back from the wonderful trip to South Korea, where my wife comes from. We spent some time sightseeing Seoul and some time meeting with Miae's relatives. I am already looking forward the next time we visit Korea and will travel around the country.

Before one of the meetings we had, I had to go to a restroom. It was in a very luxurious 5-star hotel. As I was sitting there and doing my business I noticed a little white box mounted on the wall. This little device had a display and many buttons. As I can read Korean script (Hangul), but have no idea what I read, I had absolutely no clue what this magic white-box is for. Naturally, I knew there was a connection with the human waste disposal unit I was sitting on.

What was even worse was the fact the the most common button - FLUSH - was nowhere to be found. I checked the usual spots around the toilet, but I found absolutely nothing. So I decided (as a citizen of a developed country and an educated man) that I have to have a crack on this thing and must be able to flush using basic logic and common sense.

Koreans are probably laughing at me right now, but I failed miserably. I pressed few this-must-work buttons, but could not make that damn thing to flush. So I left with shame, leaving a surprise present for the lucky person who would come after me. Luckily, no one was waiting so I got away with it without too much embarrassment.

This whole story reminds me of an excellent book I read long time ago. The design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman talks about the good and bad design of things we use everyday. He says that if things are designed well, no manuals, no labels, no description text is necessary. You simply grab the thing and use it in a right way. How many times you tried to push the door that was meant to be pulled just because the door handle was easier to grab and push? How many times you pushed the wrong light switch because the switches were not in logical order?

Well, I don't know if it was me this time or a bad design. Why do we need so many buttons for the toilet anyway?

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