This is the story of the time when everything, well almost everything that could go wrong went wrong, and it made me realize how bad product design was well you could say dangerous. You would say dangerous is an exaggeration but wait till you hear my story.
We never realize that the products we are using every day , be it the lock on our door, or the seats of the bus, or the handles of the doors are designed by someone, and that person has put in lot of thought how not to let you notice that effort. Because using everyday objects should be mindless, intuitive, and easy.
Well, same was the relation with me and the elevator of my hostel that I used every day to go up and down from my room to the ground floor or to the pantry (there was one pantry per block).
So, one Sunday night, technically Monday morning, I was working on the 20 pages’ report that was due in a few hours when I realized that I was thirsty. I reluctantly got up from my table, kept the laptop on the bed, and looked around for m bottle. There it was on my side table waiting to be filled. So, I took it and pressed the downward arrow button of the elevator almost next to my door.
It took some time to come all the way down from the eight floor where it was. I was used to not going out with my keys and phone, almost to the point of obsession, but it was late, I was tired, and it was just six floors down, and I knew I would be back in no time.
I reached the pantry, filled up my bottle with some cold water, pressed the upwards arrow on the elevator and waited, wondering who was the person on the other floors who was awake at this time of night. But it was a hostel of Masters students, what was I expecting.
Well, the door opened, I got in, pressed the button to the fourth floor, and impatient that I was pressed the <> button rather than the >< button, which took some more time for the doors to close. Well, in my defense they were placed next to each other, and much below the level of my eyes. Of course, I was not going to bend just to check the fact I was almost confident of.
Finally the doors closed, and I seemed to be moving. I must have travelled a couple of floors I guess when it stopped, and the lights went off. I got scared and started frantically looking for the alarm button, or the phone button, but of course I couldn’t see anything.
I tried to remember if I had noticed the alarm button somewhere before, was it on top, or was it bottom, was it near other keys, or was it separate? So many questions and I was already panicky. There seemed to be no other option than pressing everything hoping to hear something when I hit the right button.
Luckily for me, I must have hit 3–4 buttons when the power turned back on, and I started moving. The first thing I saw after the lights went on — where was the damn alarm. There it was, between the <> and >< buttons. Who would have guessed! I would have thought there was a differently shaped, easier accessible button somewhere more intuitively placed.
I would have said my concern was small and it was not that big of a deal, but I recently read the “The design of everyday things” by Donald Norman, and he brought forth a very useful point — users are not stupid because they don’t know how to use a product, it’s the job of the designer to make it intuitive and easy to use. And I totally agree.
There is still lot of room for improvement in the design of everyday things.