The myth of simplicity

Vignesh Nandha Kumar
Published in
3 min readOct 19, 2016


The omnipotent faucet-lever (Image courtesy:

During a recent trip, I found this faucet-control in one of the hotels we stayed at. It looked elegant. When I tried to use it is when the confusion started.

There was a shower above this and another tap-like outlet below. Now, how do I turn the shower on? I rotated the lever both sides, nothing happened. Hmmm.. maybe I can pull it? But will it open the shower or the other outlet?

Wait… They just told me hot water is available. How do I get hot water in this?

I just stood as far as possible from the faucet from where I could still stretch my hand and reach the lever, then started pulling the lever in all possible directions. It moved in whichever direction I pulled it. 😄 Sigh.

Anyway, at least water started coming out of the tap. Great, now it wasn’t hard to guess it must be the button-like switch above the lever that might change it to shower. Yaayyy! First part of the puzzle solved.

Now, we just need to figure out how to control the flow of water, and how to adjust hot/cold. After some more trial and error, I figured out that pulling the lever forward controls the flow, while rotating it sideways controls hot/cold — one side hot and the other cold.

Does it really have to be this hard?

It took me a couple of minutes and some amount of puzzle-solving mindset to figure this out. What would my mom do if she were to use this?

Is it such a complex problem yet to be solved? Haven’t faucets been in use for a few centuries now? Why did it suddenly become so hard?

If you look at the design, it’s clear the designer has tried to achieve the functionality with minimum number of controls (wrong understanding of “minimalist design”). It’s great that they could achieve it, but oops — they overlooked usability.

What went wrong?

If you’re a designer, you might already know what the terms affordance, perceived affordance and signifier mean. In any case…

Affordances — all possible interactions the control is designed for
Perceived affordances — what interactions people think the control provides (which can be ambiguous)
Signifiers — specific indicators to convey what actions are possible (make the perceived affordance clear)

Now, in our faucet above, the lever “affords” to be pulled as well as rotated (and both together). However, the perceived affordance could be to rotate the lever in most cases. But if you’ve seen some “modern” taps, where you need to raise the lever, you might think pulling it is possible too. Perceived affordance is ambiguous here!

Even if one figures out both the affordances, how could we convey which interaction controls what. And in the interaction to control temperature, which side is hot and which is cold? Signifiers is an answer.

But, it looks like Jaguar had to cut down costs, so decided to produce it without signifiers. Poor Jaguar! 😜