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David Lee King

Bathrooms and Lightswitches



When you walk into a dark room and want to see, what do you do? Simple – you just flip on the light switch. Do you think about how it works? Does it confuse you? Do you stop to marvel at the beauty of the light switch hardware?

How many people ponder the intricacies of electricity or the skills of the electrician?

Probably none of the above … you just want some light, so you flip the switch without even thinking about it. It “just works” – letting you get on with whatever it was you were going to do.

How about bathrooms? When you’re in a restaurant and need to visit the bathroom … ? Do you wonder at the amazing wayfinding expert who came up with the clever directional signage? Do you thank the plumbers, the engineers, and the architects who helped create the bathroom? Again, I’m guessing not.

In fact, if you DO have to stop and puzzle out the bathroom or the lightswitch, the designers failed. Those things should be so easy to use that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to figure them out. The goal is to keep you going (no pun intended), not stop you in your tracks.

Your website needs to be that simple – start designing digital experiences that don’t get in your customer’s way!

pics by Martin Cathrae & Olivander

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/ Brian Herzog

    When I moved from the Midwest to New England, I was surprised to learn (the hard way) that light switches are on the outside of the bathroom. As you say, websites have to go the opposite direction from this regional quirkiness – they have to work for everyone regardless of where in the world they are, what browser they’re using, or what device they’re using.

    We can’t expect patrons to get into our website, close the door, fumble around in the dark for a little while, open the door, come back outside, and then find what they’re looking for. I like the “don’t get in the patron’s way” mantra. Web designers have to be humble – a library’s website is for the patrons, not for you.

  • http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net Brian Herzog

    When I moved from the Midwest to New England, I was surprised to learn (the hard way) that light switches are on the outside of the bathroom. As you say, websites have to go the opposite direction from this regional quirkiness – they have to work for everyone regardless of where in the world they are, what browser they’re using, or what device they’re using.

    We can’t expect patrons to get into our website, close the door, fumble around in the dark for a little while, open the door, come back outside, and then find what they’re looking for. I like the “don’t get in the patron’s way” mantra. Web designers have to be humble – a library’s website is for the patrons, not for you.

  • academic liberrian

    Bathroom signage can be actively annoying especially when they try to be cute and have pictorial representations for men and women. An Egyptian-themed movie theater I used to go to had artistic silhouettes on the doors. In ancient Egyptian art, everyone wears skirts! Very confusing! “Dont’ make me think” indeed.

    But I like the analogy for most library websites. I don’t go to restaurants to use the bathroom (well there have been exceptions!) – I go for the content, ie, the meal. The same is true with lightswitches – I am interested in the content of the room, not the tool that helps me navigate the room. I think often we get very attached to our site, hoping patrons will love for its own sake. I remember when the idea of “sticky” sites came out in the late 90s, wondering why this was supposed to be a good thing outside of ecommerce or ad-driven sites. I don’t want our site to be sticky, I want it to be bouncy. I want our top click path to be no more than two clicks – home, 2nd level page, and hopefully out to the thing they wanted to get to. Now I’m off to contemplate a bouncy bathroom light switch.

  • academic liberrian

    Bathroom signage can be actively annoying especially when they try to be cute and have pictorial representations for men and women. An Egyptian-themed movie theater I used to go to had artistic silhouettes on the doors. In ancient Egyptian art, everyone wears skirts! Very confusing! “Dont’ make me think” indeed.

    But I like the analogy for most library websites. I don’t go to restaurants to use the bathroom (well there have been exceptions!) – I go for the content, ie, the meal. The same is true with lightswitches – I am interested in the content of the room, not the tool that helps me navigate the room. I think often we get very attached to our site, hoping patrons will love for its own sake. I remember when the idea of “sticky” sites came out in the late 90s, wondering why this was supposed to be a good thing outside of ecommerce or ad-driven sites. I don’t want our site to be sticky, I want it to be bouncy. I want our top click path to be no more than two clicks – home, 2nd level page, and hopefully out to the thing they wanted to get to. Now I’m off to contemplate a bouncy bathroom light switch.