Hotels, you’ve heard this one before.

Someone used the phrase “I’ve had enough cheese” at dinner tonight and I’m still confused. Is there such thing?

Here are some design issues annoying me today.

Punting responsibility to the user

Found on my hotel room bathroom’s door:

A sign that says PLEASE BE ADVISED in accordance with
this door must remain closed to provide clear access to the exit in the event of an emergency.

When a designer comes across a legal, ethical, or compliance constraint, there are two ways to handle that constraint:

  1. Handle it for the user, so that the user doesn’t have to, and thus increase the probability that the user will be safe and secure.
  2. Make it the user’s problem.

Here’s a different view of that same door:

From the inside of a hotel room, a photo of the hotel room door (center). On the left, the bathroom door is slightly open, showing that if the door was all the way open it would fully block the exit door.

The architects who designed the rooms for this hotel clearly decided that ensuring a safe entrance and exit out of the hotel room while also complying with state law was too much… something.

They could have designed the bathroom door to open out a different wall. (There is another wall available.)

Instead, they punted the problem to you, the hotel room user. Now it’s your job to keep the bathroom door closed.

This is a generally easy task if there’s one guest in the room. When your entire wedding party is on the same floor of the hotel and everyone’s hustling from room to room trying to get ready and you accidentally walk in on a groomsman because he forgot to lock the door, not so much.

As the user, you want that door open to signal that the room is available, and closed to signal that it’s in use.

As the user, you also want the door closed — at least in this hotel — because you don’t want to have to pull the bathroom door toward you against a throng of people trying to shove their way toward the exit door in the case of an actual emergency[1]see also: the Boyertown Opera House fire.

Our responsibility (and the law[2]Responsibility null and void for unethical laws) is to help our users stay out of trouble, not push the problem downhill and pretend we don’t know the consequences.

Don’t make me squint

A shiny metallic sink faucet whose handle gets pulled up and turned left or right to dispense warm or cold water. A very tiny red dot and a very tiny blue dot indicate which is which.
Do you see the red and blue dots on that faucet? Because I sure as heck didn’t until I went looking really hard for them.
I dried the shower controls off so that you could see the red and blue dots here and they’re still almost impossible to see.

Here’s a fun fact if you’re an American: there are entire parts of the world where mixer taps aren’t a thing. You want to wash your hands in the sink? You stopper the sink, run some hot water out of the hot tap, some cold out of the cold tap, and wash your hands in the water in the sink.

Similarly, in some places, you have a hot control for the shower’s hot water and a cold control for the shower’s cold water.

Heck, I once lived in a place where the hot and cold water lines had been reversed going into a faucet’s controls, not because of culture, but because someone screwed up and the landlord didn’t feel like fixing it.

“Turn the handle to the left for hotter water and to the right for colder water” is not necessarily something that a person knows from experience.

Since the controls don’t have what Don Normal would call intuitive affordances, it makes sense that the designers added labels.

To make effective labels, we need to make them big enough to see. We must ensure that nothing is identified by color alone. If we do use color (in addition to shape, etc.), we make sure the two options are strongly contrasting.

And did I mention we make them big enough to see?

When we’re creating a usable experience, we’re not creating “shower controls”. We’re creating a nice comfortable stress-free shower.

No user wants to play guessing games while standing in their birthday suits at the end of a 10 hour flight.

Marriott, we’ve talked about this

Three toiletry bottles attached to the wall of the shower. The bottles look identical except at the bottom where the leftmost is labeled shampoo, the middle one conditioner, and the rightmost body wash. The left and right labels are both in a shade of green that is indistinguishable from the background color of the bottle.
Once again the hotel sets out to torture naked people under potentially cold water…

Me, packing: shampoo, conditioner, body wash….

My friend, listening: you know they have those things at the hotel. you don’t have to pack them.

Me, still packing: ha! Those bottles are traps designed to make you late for a meeting while you try to get body wash out of your hair.

Don’t do these things on the web, and don’t do them in the hotel.

The most frustrating thing about these avoidable usability and accessibility issues is that these are the things that I find at a good hotel. One where the room doesn’t smell, the bed is comfortable, the water’s hot, and the water pressure’s high. One where the toilet doesn’t run all night, I haven’t seen any vermin, and I can’t hear the couple in the next room over boinking all night.

On the web, our customers don’t put up with it. They go somewhere else. They go somewhere that the affordances are clear and the iconography doubly so. They go to places where they can meet their goals friction-free, where usability is invisibly present.

We can always do better.


1 see also: the Boyertown Opera House fire
2 Responsibility null and void for unethical laws

Author: Anne Gibson

anne gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)