the User eXperience of shower handles

So I was staying in a Homewood Suites in Birmingham, AL when I first noticed this. I meant to write about it at the time, but forgot. I just noticed it again in Plainview (Long Island) NY and it got me again, so I had to write about it.

The shower handle confused me. It may be only me, but usually when a human has issues with the usability of something, other humans also do.

Part of it was prior knowledge, part of it was failed expectations, part of it was being sleepy while trying to use the thing.

Shower Handle in Homewood Suites

Seems easy enough. Colors, labels. Point the handle at the temp you want and off you go!

Keep in mind though, that I usually shower in the morning before I put my contacts in. I am EXTREMELY nearsighted without my corrective lenses, so the shower handle actually looks like this to me:

Shower Handle as Seen by Nearsighted Eyes

The tiny, almost imperceptible bump on the top apparently is the ‘pointer’. The giant pointer looking thing sticking out the bottom is NOT the pointer. Silly me for thinking the giant pointer looking thing was the pointer. What a fool I was!

So I proceed to turn the shower on in my sleepy state and fought with the handle for a few minutes twisting it back and forth confused because I was sure it was broken. I was pointing the big pointer looking thing at the red for warm water. It came out cold. Finally I just pointed the pointer to cold assuming that maybe the label was on backwards or the handle was on backwards.

After a cup of coffee (and a shower) and drying off the handle, I went back to take the picture and it dawned on me that the little teeny bump is actually the pointer. I guess i should have realized it, because it was pointing to the ‘Off’ label when it was idle. But again, I was sleepy, so brain wasn’t fully processing all of it. I just saw a big huge pointy looking thing and figured it was the pointer.

So, lessons to interface designers:

Context is important! — when are your users using the thing you are designing

Temporal disabilities are important! — are your users temporarily disabled by something or the lack of something while using your product?

User testing is important! — test with your specific user base (if possible) in the context they will be using it (if possible).

For this interface the users tested should be adults who are traveling and most likely tired, cranky, sleepy, had a bad night’s sleep, had a rough plane flight the day before…

As obvious as you think your interface design is, people come in with prior knowledge, previous experiences, and assumptions. ALL of those play into the usability of YOUR interface. Next time you take a shower, see how easy the handle is to use. And try not to think of me. :)