Friday, April 27, 2012

Dumb Design in Daily Life

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
                                                                                 -Hanlon’s Razor

Easy is difficult. The evidence is all around us. Computers that we spend more time trying to make work than working on. Phones that stop us from reaching out and touching anyone. Shower faucets that scald us or freeze us as we fumble, in our most vulnerable state, to decipher them. The puzzler about such things is that every one of these impediments, and many more, were designed by somebody.

Over half the world’s population lives in urban areas. In Canada, about 85 percent live in such areas. We spend most of our lives in built environments. Most of our daily interaction is with manufactured objects and geography. Even those residing in the countryside have substantial interaction with the built, whether it be their houses, their roads, or their Blu-ray players.

There are undoubtedly many instances of Dumb Design in Daily Life. The washroom at my work is one. The building was erected in 1966.

The first head-scratcher is the location of the  washroom. It is in the stairwell. Not next to it, but in it. To use the washroom, I must enter the stairwell, cross the landing, and enter a combination on a keypad on the door. This is to pee, not to get access to nuclear launch codes. To be fair, however, the lock has kept the washroom free of hobos and ninja. Infestations of hobos and ninja are common in insurance company washrooms, so maybe it makes sense.

What doesn’t make any sense is what happens inside the washroom. If one uses the urinal and then, like any civilized adult, goes to the sink to wash his hands, he will then find that there are no paper towels anywhere near the sink. Where are they? Back at the urinal! The paper towels are back at the place you just came from and in the opposite direction of the door out. Either you wipe your hands on your pants or head over there, hands dripping, disturbing those who have yet to finish their urinary adventures.

Way over there, not near the sinks, are the paper towels

Urinals on the wall opposite the paper towels
These paper towel dispensers are the only ones in the washroom. If you have a couple of guys who have washed there hands and somebody at a urinal, you've got a small convention squeezed over in the corner there. I think somone just thought they simply must have a couple of those keen dispensers in a wall with the trash bins recessed in underneath and that was the only wall where the things would fit. Never mind that it doesn't make sense, going against both logic and the traffic flow in the room. Remember, this building was constructed in 1966, which means it's been like this for 46 years, without anyone thinking about moving the paper towels, or it has been renovated at some point and somebody thought this was an improvement on what was there before. I'm not sure which is more puzzling.

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