It is the little differences between the US and the UK that really interest me.

I was out in Berkeley visiting a friend, it was late and we were sharing a few beers in his apartment before we retired.

On thing I notice is that Americans, contrasted with much of the rest of the world, seem to have much more faith in technology than most. I’m not sure what it is, perhaps just a symptom of the infectious American optimism and the idea that all technology is fundamentally a positive and infallible force.

Perhaps it was the beer.

Anyway,  in a moment of inspiration I realised this sort of bathroom lock (pictured) – which I’ve not seen anywhere outside of America – may be the perfect example of this sort of optimistic faith in technology.

When in the bathroom, you push the central button in order to lock the door from the outside. A twist of the handle springs the lock and opens the door.

What was interesting to me was that there was no feedback as to whether the lock was actually engaged. You pushed the button, and that was it.

There is no way to test it since twisting the handle would automatically disengage the lock. In other words, you had to trust that the mechanism was working as it should… which to my European software engineer’s mind left me with nagging doubts as to whether or not I would be interrupted while in the middle of something, so to speak.

This is to my mind a very good example of how an attempt to create a simple interface unintentionally creates a poor user experience.

Perhaps its just a cultural difference (which is nonetheless an important consideration), but I think many would find feedback comforting in this sort of situation.

3 thoughts on “Faith in technology

  1. I can lend you a book about this kind of thing – “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman. Written in 1988 or so but still totally relevant. Suffice to say, it would agree with you 🙂

  2. My gran had the same handle in my bathroom and my gf’s house has simillar. Although the system appears simple and easy to use, I found having the button an unsatisfying user experience too. When you turned the handle from the inside the button pops out and the door unlocks. Leading you to wonder if it was even locked. The other one has a knob instead of a button. Turn the inside knob and the door locks and the handle won’t turn leaving you in no doubt it’s properly locked.

  3. A unit test tip for next time: Before closing the door, you keep a hand on the exterior knob. With your other hand, push in the button on the interior knob. Test the exterior knob. If it doesn’t turn, you know the lock works. At this point, you can usually just close the door while it’s in this state. If it won’t close for some reason, or it becomes unlocked when you close the door, you can always push the button again while the door is closed and (reasonably) expect it to remain locked.

    As a last resort, you can always take care of your business with your back to the door. If your business involves more complicated transactions, of course, you would be better served by another restroom. 🙂

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