Doormats: a comparative study

Based on a talk I gave at the Boring Conference VIII, 5 May 2018 at Conway Hall, London.

It all started with an accident.

One day, coming back from work, I got into the lift in my block of flats, and got off at the wrong floor. How did this happen?

Our building has two identical lifts. Identical, except for two different control panels with completely different button placement:

I’m not quite sure how this could happen. Imagine you’re a housing developer. You go to a lift manufacturer, you ask for two lifts of the same size, to go into the same building, and you get two different control panels. Surely it must have taken more work to do this than to make two of the same?

But I digress, because what happened next is more important. I walked to where my flat would be if it was my floor (all floors are pretty much the same). I was almost ready to put the key to the front door, and then I noticed it.

There was a doormat in front of the door.

I don’t have a doormat.

That wasn’t my front door.

But this got me thinking: what differences could I spot if I went through all the floors in my building?

So on the evening of 28 March 2018, while my wife was out at the gym, I took exactly 22 minutes to go through all 22 floors in our building, and photograph all the doormats I could find.

It’s good there’s no CCTV in the corridors, otherwise it might have raised some suspicions, and instead of writing this I might be sitting in a police station.

After all doormat theft is a serious crime. It’s happened in Gloucestershire in the UK:

https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/cheltenham-news/what-doormats-being-stolen-outside-422703

And a very lousy thief in Australia decided to steal a lot of doormats and then return them to the police station:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2318872/Is-doormat-Bizarre-burglars-collection-handed-owners-Australia.html

But I didn’t set out to steal doormats, only to collect data. And with that data available, I’m going to take you through:

  1. A quantitative analysis of doormats
  2. A qualitative analysis of doormats
  3. What this all means for you

A quantitative analysis of doormats

Let’s start with the basics. 53% of people had doormats outside their doors, 47% didn’t. Sounds like a similar statistic from a a famous recent referendum:

Definitely not implying there’s any correlation between people‘s doormat ownership and attitude towards the European Union

But that’s a bit high level, let’s dig a bit deeper. When I photographed the doormats, I recorded on which floor they were, so we can see that the top half of the building has around ⅔ of the doormats.

I also have the plans of the building, so I can correlate doormat ownership with the size of each flat:

There’s only one three-bedroom flat in our building, and it had the largest doormat of all, probably enough for all the people in that flat to stand on it at the same time:

Still, the above doesn’t give us enough insight into why people might get a doormat or not. So I decided to look for the money.

In the UK, the Land Registry publishes a dataset of house prices as open data:

Since our building is new and all the flats got sold in the last year or so, the prices should be an accurate indicator of what the each flat is worth.

If we correlate doormat ownership and house prices, it turns out that if you paid a lot for your flat, you’re more likely to have doormat:

Remember kids, correlation does not imply causation

In fact, flats with doormats were worth on average £30,000 more than those without. Want a quick way to increase the value of your property? Get a doormat!


A qualitative analysis of doormats

Ok, enough with the numbers, let’s look at what’s actually on the doormats.

And that’s really important because the wrong doormat design can get you into trouble. In January 2017, Amazon was forced to remove a doormat depicting the Indian flag from its Canadian store after complaints by India’s top diplomat.

You probably don’t want people stepping on your national flag either …

Fortunately, my neighbours didn’t have anything as controversial. In fact 8 of them had very plain doormats, with no text or patterns on them:

One person even tried to make their doormat invisible:

Maybe this camouflage was meant to evade doormat theft?

Beyond that, I’ve classified doormats into 3 broad categories:

I’ve copied the terms of Wikipedia, if you’re an art historian please don’t shout at me!

There were some doormats displaying geometric patterns:

If I were an art historian, I’d say that those patterns are meant to convey motion: triangles, flowing lines, lines with variable spacing … all seems appropriate for a space that people cross regularly.

Moving into representational art, the dominant theme is nature:

Especially things that you won’t find a lot of in Central London like exotic birds, bees and pineapples. I wonder if people in the countryside have doormats with cityscapes?

Finally, there was an interesting variety of text-based doormats:

The most common word was “Welcome” (10 doormats), way ahead of the word “Home” that was only on 3 doormats.

With text comes the opportunity for personalisation, which 2 of my neighbours have tried.

I don’t know who “P+N” or “Stephen & Philippa” are, but I reckon if I searched our building residents’ Facebook group I could find out. Which makes me think: do doormats constitute Personal Data? Have I inadvertently broken GDPR rules by showing you pictures of doormats?

What I wasn’t expecting to find in a dataset of only 43 doormats was duplicate ones. Here’s two of the doormat pairs I found:

The first one is I guess the Minimum Viable Textual Doormat you could have — if there’s one word you’d put on a doormat, that would be ‘Welcome’. The second one is a £5 IKEA doormat.

People tend to underestimate the potential of duplication in small data sets. An analysis of the Birthday Problem (also known as the Birthday Paradox) shows that it takes only 23 people in a room to have 50% probability of a pair sharing a birthday, an with 70 people this probability rises to 99.9%.

The third example of a duplicate doormat is even more interesting. Not only these two people had the same doormat, but they couldn’t agree if it’s darker inside or outside their flat:

And of course there were a couple more doormats with a fiction theme, including the obligatory Yoda joke:

Looks like there’s so much variety in doormats … how do you even choose which one to put outside your door?

Don’t worry, a couple of respectable British newspapers have made it their mission to give you doormat buying advice and even recommend the top 10 doormats you should buy:

I thought the advice would be superficial, but for the designers amongst us, it’s good to see some advice around seeking the balance between style and functionality:

I was wondering what “functionality” means in the context of doormats, but then I read this review:

But if you get it wrong, don’t worry. Through the power of Google Reverse Image Search, I managed to find out the original source and price for most of the doormats in my building. Turns out the average price of a doormat is only …

Of course if you have enough money you can always splash out — here’s the most expensive doormat I could find at a whooping £329:

What this means for you

Are you a scientist?

In the spirit of scientific collaboration and reproducibility of findings, I’ve made my data set of doormats available as Open Data:

There are plenty of things you could still explore, for example:

  • Do people with expensive houses tend to have more colourful doormats?
  • What percentage of doormats gets placed off-centre or misaligned compared to the door frame?

Do you have a shop that sells doormats?

Feel free to use this as a starting point for the classification of doormats on your website:

Everyone else …

First, be grateful that you’re allowed to have a doormat. In 2006, the city of Bristol in the UK unsuccessfully tried to ban doormats from their blocks of flats, worried about residents tripping over:

Second, think of all the things and places that are so close to you but you know nothing about.

One day, on purpose, take a wrong turn. Get off at the wrong bus stop. Get off the lift at the wrong floor.

Look at what’s there, and it might inspire you.

Go forth, and explore the mundane!

Thank you!