Bad Designs: Trapped Between the Doors!
Bad Designs: Trapped Between the Doors!
This picture shows a short walkway connecting two buildings, with a set of doors at each end of the walkway. A friend told me a funny story about the first time she used this walkway.
She and a co-worker walked from one building to the other. They pulled the handles that opened the doors and proceeded down the walkway. Upon reaching the other end they again pulled the handles, but the doors wouldn't budge. Assuming the doors were locked, they returned to the doors from which they originally entered. But when they tried to open these doors, they wouldn't budge either. They were trapped in the walkway between the two buildings!
My friend and her co-worker spent the next few minutes trying to signal to people though the windows in the buildings, but the people they signaled seemed strangely reluctant to come to their rescue. Finally, after trying the doors again, they discovered they had to push the doors rather than pull them.
These doors have two problems. The first problem is the handles are designed for pulling rather than pushing. Doors designed for pushing usually have handles with flat surfaces that look easy to push and hard to pull. The second problem is the two sets of doors work in opposite ways. To pass through the walkway you must first pull open one set of doors and then push open the second set of doors.
My friend has observed many other people getting "trapped" in this walkway. While it makes for a funny story, imagine if people unfamiliar with these doors had to cross from one building to the other in an emergency, like a fire. Then it could turn from a comedy to a tragedy.
One way to solve this problem would be to install doors that swing both ways, that can be opened by either pushing or pulling.
Another solution would be to install appropriate door handles. Flat push-bar handles would be installed on the sides of the doors to be pushed; the pull-type handles like those shown here would be installed on the sides of the doors to be pulled.
Finally, push and pull labels could be added to the doors, but this would not be an ideal solution. Labels only work for people who read the language. They only work under adequate lighting conditions. In practice, many people do not read such labels.
The above is a textbook case of bad design. Some mechanically sophisticated individuals may be inclined to dismiss the victims as "dummies" and to absolve the architectural designer of responsibility, but as a professional architect I must disagree. Perhaps motivated by a misguided notion of what constitutes "simplicity", the designer imposed a highly misleading false symmetry on an asymmetrical reality. By doing so he set users up for their ordeal.
An ordinary walkway connecting two buildings is not supposed to be a gauntlet for testing the public's mechanical aptitude. Even if the user is mechanically adept and merely delayed by the amount of time it takes to pull on the handle, realize with irritation that it probably swings in the opposite direction, then push it open, the designer has already inconvenienced someone he was supposed to assist. Multiply this by the number of individuals forced to undergo the same inconvenience over the life of the building, and one can begin to appreciate the magnitude of the designer's blunder. Far from reflecting badly on the IQ of the end user, such problems reflect badly on the professionalism of their creators -- architects and industrial designers.
If a designer is enamored with symmetrical looking doors, he should insist on symmetrically functioning doors, i.e., doors that swing in both directions. Doors which swing in both directions may feature door pulls on both sides, push plates in both sides, or push bars on both sides. A door which swings in both directions can in fact be pulled open or pushed open from either side. Any such doors would telegraph from a distance how they operate, making them ergonomic and user-friendly.
Otherwise he should call for doors with door pulls on the pull side, and push plates or push bars on the push side. Such an honestly asymmetrical solution would bring form back in congruence with function, and would clearly communicate to any approaching user whether a door should be pushed or pulled, especially if the door is transparent and its asymmetry visible through the glass.
Specifying the same door pulls on both sides of doors that swing in only one direction is not "clean design", but bad design. If the designer's decision was intentional, then it was philosophically dishonest. If it was unintentional, it can be chalked up to naivete or negligence. Either way, the end user suffers, needlessly.
-- Bevin Chu
Explanation: Bad Designs: Trapped Between the Doors
Illustration: Trapped Between the Doors!
Author: Michael J. Darnell
Affiliation: Bad Human Factors Designs
Publication Date: 1998-1999
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect