Bathroom Usability

As many of you know, I am currently doing some teaching and doing a little rest and relaxation in Hawaii. Yesterday, I watched a Japanese woman helplessly fuss with the paper towel dispenser in a public restroom at Hanauma Bay: She was trying to pull the shreds of paper towels out of the greedy jaws of the dispenser, not realizing there was an "inviso handle" that would unjam the towel jam. After helping her out, I got to thinking:

Forget web sites and technology interfaces for a minute. What about public bathrooms? They generally rank high on the "suck meter" for usability and customer experience. Here are just a few common irritants:
  • Horrid stall doors with locks that never seem to work
  • Hand dryers that wouldn't blow an eyelash of your skin
  • Toilet and sink sensors that play hit or miss games
  • Soap dispensers that regularly fail, or are empty
  • Small, narrow, wall-mounted garbage bins overflowing with trash
  • Double roll vice-grip dispensers that will not dispense the T.P.
  • Banked sink counters, which collect puddles of water that A) dampen your personal property if you set it down; and B) Dampen your garments if you lean in to wash your hands
  • Airport bathroom stalls too narrow for a person and a roll-aboard
Now, I am presenting my next complaint largely from the perspective of a girl.  We are "sitters." I'm sure you "standers" have your own bathroom usability problems, and I don't paricularily want to know what they are. However, even the standers need to sit at some point -- and I am sure all of us want to know the answer to this question:

Who was the braniac that invented the gigantic roll of one-ply toilet paper?!

"Giganto-roll" is inevitably too heavy (unless half empty) to rotate with a single ply pull. in, find free end of the paper, and pull it to get a few squares --- or some shreds.  Pull it again - get more shreds, which will begin to litter the floor.

To get enough paper out of a Giganto dispenser - installed above shoulder level while sitting, you must twist at the waist and, in awkward feat of acrobatics, reach over to pull the paper with one hand while "coaxing" the wheel of paper around with your other hand. I call this move the "Twist and Shuffle."

If you are lucky enough encounter a Giganto Roll installed, as they often are, below the handicap railing - at armrest level - you get to try an even more sophisticated move. While twisting, you must also bend at the waist to reach up UNDERNEATH the dispenser to blindly locate end of the toilet paper, and then shimmy the giganto roll around in circles.  I call this move "The Angry Squirrel"
Now, while you are in the impossible act of squirreling away to get your measly squares of TP from the dispenser you will often get another thrill.  This one is one of my favorites (NOT).  As you bend over, the automatic toilet flush sensor will inevitably pick up your movement and WHOOSH -- flush the toilet while you're in mid-squat!  Let's call this the "Involuntary Water Ride." Awful!

After you recover from your in-stall experience, compose yourself, leave the stall to endure the entire handwashing experience, you must then check yourself for "Clingons" -  the micro shreds from the failed Giganto pulls .... clinging to your pant cuffs and/or shoe heels. Charming!

Okay, so probably enough time dedicated to this subject. Maybe I'm just too jet-lagged to be more profound, but I thought his was worth mentioning. Don't even get me started on the "Perch and Hover" (We've ALL done that!).

As for a solution?
I dunno. I'm not sure there's really enough incentive for anyone to improve bathroom usability. I mean, it's not like they'll give out an award for public bathroom innovation. But who knows -- it's the era of social media  where people have more power!  It sure would be nice to see some improvement.

So all you architects and contractors out there: some food for thought! ;-)

The image is a picture of complicated, multi-function toilet which frightened my pal, Kelly Goto in Japan. This is probably proof that things won't be getting easier for us any time soon.


Anonymous said...

Readers here might be interested in the Bathroom Blogfest, where bloggers comment on issues related to public bathrooms. There's a facebook group, and you will also find most posts if you search using the tag "ladiesrooms", without quotes.
Great article, sorry I didn't see it sooner.
It's open to anyone -- if you have new thoughts on the topic, we'd love to have you join us.

CB Whittemore said...

Leigh, this is a classic! Yes, we will have to figure out how to let it shine in the next Bathroom Blogfest, as Susan Abbott suggests. Thanks for sharing :). Best, CB

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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