OK, so it’s sad to admit, but I think about user-interface quite a lot outside of work. (And should write about it more often, but that’s a different issue!) We recently bought a new house, which is great, but like a UX project, coming to someone else’s work, you suddenly realise all the things you take for granted as ‘just right’…
The cupboard handle that prompted a blog post
There is lots of built in storage in our new house, which is great. However, the handles on the cupboards look exactly the same as the door handles on the actual doors…Sounds correct, right? Good design, giving a consistent finish.
The only problem is that the cupboard doors don’t have latches, they have magnets and so are a pull handle, the main doors are turn and pull as they have mortice latches. The cupboard door handles still turn, so I find my self turning the handle, finding it stiff and wondering why the door isn’t opening with a click. I know in the back of my head that this isn’t the behavior as I’ve learned that through repeated annoyance, but I still do it wrong more times than right.
The thing this triggered in me was that interface should indicate behaviour, above design consistency even. I’d rather have different cupboard door handles (that look nice in combination with the main door handles, aesthetics being important as well!) but that clearly indicate the behaviour to be a pull, not a turn.
Things that look simple and 'just right’ are only that way because the person planning it did a good job
We were spoilt with our last house, and I didn’t realise it. My father in law is a retired electrical engineer and kindly helped up plan the electrics in our previous house. (which needed a total rewire) I have to say, at the time I thought the number of light switches he was suggesting seemed overkill. Why would I need to be able to turn the downstairs light off from upstairs? Why do I need a pull cord over the bed to switch the bedroom light off? Surely it’s common sense to have enough power sockets?
No so. Our new house, I have to walk downstairs to turn the light off, I can only turn certain rooms lights on from one side, so I have to follow a specific route in the dark to get to where I want to go. (not the shortest route obviously) If I want more than 2 appliances plugged in, in any room, I need a trailing socket. Now, none of these things are life-threatening, or even seriously annoying, except when you have come to expect that level of thought to have gone into something, you miss it when it is not there.
The lessons for me here were 2 fold. Firstly, that things that seems obviously correct, often aren’t as simple as someone made it look. Secondly that craftsmen are everywhere. Unassumingly doing a good job, and not shouting about it.
Finally, I’d like to say thanks Bryan for the excellent planning of our electrics. I only now understand how clever that 'simply right’-ness was!