Azzcat Blast

Design stories & tips, peppered with life's little tidbits

Flush Away Poor UI

October 3rd, 2010

Toilet_Paper_9190 (4)

UI, as known in the web dev world, is about user interface, or how a user interacts with a web page/application.

Most users don’t give a damn about UI.

Until is sucks.

It’s the same in the real world—if the user interface works, we’re good and no one notices. If it doesn’t, we’re…Not. Happy.

Real World UI

The Light Switch

Some time ago, while renovating our first home, I walked into the bathroom project where Jim and his friend Lou were installing a new door and light switch. Drywall and door frame were in, sawsall was busy making switchbox hole. They were both proud of their progress, yet puzzled by the look on my face. (I find it difficult to be subtle.)

I waited. Looked at the switch hole. Looked at the door. Looked at the switch hole. Looked at the door. Subtle was NOT working…

Opened the door. Closed the door. Pantomimed reaching for a light switch with door partially opened…


Duohhhh! (They’d cut the switch hole to be behind the open door…inaccessible unless you were already in the room w/door closed.)

Fortunately, due to early user testing (by me) my handy husband and friend were able to patch, repair and relocate the switch to a much better spot. And no one ever noticed it again!

The Urinal to Toilet Switch

Just last week, we took our 18-yr-old daughter to university, moving her into the dorm. Jori’s dorm is pretty much standard—old as the hills, poorly lit, cramped and covered in years of accumulated paint layers.

I was pleased. She would not be spoiled.

Then I went to use & check out the bathroom facilities. I was. Not. Happy.

Understand, I don’t seek out confrontation. Most of the time I avoid such things. But when my family needs something…well…I’m a force to be reckoned with.

The facts

It’s an all girls floor with a single communal bathroom… stalls (4), bank of sinks (6), showers (4). The problem was with the stalls. I’m not talking dirty/yucky or backed-up. I’m talking ‘not’. As in 2 of 4 porcelain fixtures weren’t toilets. On a girls’ floor! 2 stalls were urinals—without even a toilet paper holder!
How’s that for some shitty user interface?

Wait, urinals aren’t even designed for #2, are they?

Long story short

This mad Mommy took the issue to the RA (a sweet male foreign exchange student who had never entered the girls’ bathroom). The RA sought assistance with a more experienced RA (female cheerleader type who tried to convice me that all the girls would learn to respect each others’ schedules…blah, blah, blah). She gave up on me, and passed me off the to the Resident Hall Director (nice man who wanted to please me, the students, etc. and didn’t want a graphic description about why women need toilets vs. paperless urinals!). The Director agreed that the floor needed another toilet and promised me that one urinal would be switched out for a toilet within the week. A 50% increase in available toilets…FTW!


Turns out that they switched both urinals to toilets the next week. (Oh my, the things of which I am proud!)

WTF Do Toilets Have to Do with UI?

Well…if the switchbox had been near the door opening, would I have noticed? If all 4 stalls in the girls’ bathroom had been equipped with toilets, would I have made a fuss?

Hell, no!

And that would have been successful UI and therefore, a successful user experience!

5 Responses to “Flush Away Poor UI”

Rosalind Wills
October 3, 2010

My mom jokes occasionally that it’s frustrating to do a lot of housework because no one ever notices that the house looks really clean, but when it’s messy you can bet someone will speak up.  Same general idea, I guess; people (except maybe other designers) won’t really go out of their way to notice when you’ve done something really intuitive, but they’ll be glad to let you know when something doesn’t jive properly.

Great post — good analogy, too. =D

Jude Mahler
October 12, 2010

Oh Catherine! I just read your rant on the urinal/toilet situation and can’t believe the kids have grown so much. Good for you for ‘rectifying’ the situation! Miss you! When you coming back to Chicago?

October 13, 2010

:D Jude!

I haven’t made much progress leaving the dirty doo doo dept. Didn’t we meet when our boys were in diapers?

No Chicago trips planned in near future, I’m afraid.

You’re always welcome to visit us in Portland. Come in winter and I’ll take you downhill skiing. :)

Jeremy M
March 8, 2011

Funny rant/note! I hate working on a client’s website and having to deal with a mucky UI that looks and works like crap. So many people cheap out on design and nobody thinks about UI, which is pretty paramount to what we do as web developers, right? You’d think clients would care about things like that. (grumble grumble)

March 8, 2011

That’s why I like redesigning sites from ground up. Get to fix all the problems AND make it purdy!