Here is a random post from me, I apologize because it’s gonna be messy. In this post I want to practice ‘critique’. Today I just felt that we are not critiquing things as much as I expected. We are trying to relate theories to practical examples and that is great, but I believe we should also be critiquing a lot. I got this idea after today’s capstone class when Jeff asked us to critique each other’s work.

So, I’m gonna take a list of interactive objects that all of us deal with on a daily basis. I’ve tried to choose interactions at different levels just so as to experiment. Here is the list of objects:

1. Automatic Doorlock

2. Bathroom Shower/ Tap

3. TV Remote

4. Experience of watching TV

5. URL

6. Office softwares (Take any example, it sucks)

7. Political system

1. Automatic Door Lock

I’ve had a lot of troubles with seemingly simple door locks. While I was in my apartment in Mumbai and Fountain Park Apartments, I always had to ensure that I carry apartment keys as I stepped outside. Otherwise the door with lock automatically.

This simple design has its own benefits too. The lock ensures safety even if you forget to lock the door. If you are in a hurry, it becomes convenient to just shut the door and leave. But this comfort comes at the cost of a huge cognitive load and a tension to ensure that I’m carrying the keys. In ways, this design forces me to change my behavior. Why? Because I do not have any other choice. And I can’t live without using the design. In this case it is because of the situational paralysis. I can’t go and ask someone to change the lock with a valid reason, because the lock works fine. And admitting my laziness or negligence of carrying the key is embarrassingly embarrassing.

The images I’ve chosen are not the best, but I could not find anything closer. Actually I don’t even remember how exactly they looked. That’s how obvious was the function of this design that I never focused on it even after using it hundreds of times. I’m sure not everyone has similar locks and thus not have same problems. But I’ve noticed similar locks at various places now. And nonetheless, its a design worth a critique. If we compare this to locks in many hotel rooms these days, where the keys regulate electricity. There is a much better feedback one gets from the design itself. Since there is a value of saving electricity associated with sense of security (of not forgetting your keys), it not only becomes much easier to perform the activity but you also feel responsible for doing so.

2. Bathroom – washbasin tap & shower knobs

Another rant that comes from my ‘unpleasant’ experiences almost everyday. I end up burning my skin multiple times for not having the precision skills of an aircraft controller (btw, even they use autopilot mode as practicing those skills is cumbersome). This washbasin tap is controlled by a single lever. Now from a functional stand point, this is very convenient and an essential feature of design because mostly while using it I have something in my hands like a shaving cream, toothbrush, soap, etc. The design of this lever is very intuitive too – left for hot, right for cold. And here comes the problem. With such a design user will trade-off control over either the speed of water flow or the temperature of water. In my case I do not control the flow speed. It makes a lot of sense because there is no shortage of water in US. And that design choice leaves us the interaction that matters most – a comfortable water temperature controller.

But since left goes for hot and right for cold, the only way I can get warm water flowing is if I manage to push the lever back, exactly in the center. That just never happens for me 😦 Rather than having a frost bite with the cold water, I prefer to bear the burns. The reason I picked this interaction is because seemingly simple, there is a lot of detailed level design precision that was required and which is clearly missing here. This is a common design and I’m sure many people might be facing this issue. Below is a picture of the washbasin in my bathroom.

The shower knobs in my bathroom are a classic case of how not to design products. I hate to take shower because of this design. There are a lot of things I can crib about this design:

– There are two knobs here, primarily to give control over both speed and water temperature. I basically needed just one. I acknowledge the need to control both aspects, but operating two knobs is definitely not the solution.

– I have to un-intuitively turn one knob to left and other to right to increase the speed of water flow. This design decision makes me think every time I attempt to move them.

– The rate of change of temperature is way higher even if I make a very very slight twist. I know not all shower knobs are like mini cooper steering wheels and neither should they be. But this is a big problem. I’ve to spend a lot of time getting the two knobs to balance, so that I can take a shower without burning myself out.

3. TV Remote

I’ll try and keep all the remaining ones brief. To me, a TV remote is the most used and ugliest piece of technology in our hands. Not only is it confusing, but I’ve never ever met a single person in my life who even knew what all those buttons stand for. (Asserting without data) 99.99999% people use 5 buttons 99% of times – on/off, channel up/down, volume up/down, mute, and switch to previous. Still we have over 20 buttons. Now with touch interactions becoming the norm, the TV remotes are also changing soon. Apple attempted a iPod-esque remote. People like it for its simplicity, but it is very very limiting in what it allows one to do and some of the interactions are not very intuitive (I got this from talking to few friends who use Apple TV). In last semester, I did a physical prototyping project and attempted to re-purpose a computer mouse into a TV remote. The inspiration came from my observation that TV is becoming more and more interactive. TV is in the bedroom, older audience (people who buy) are comfortable sitting in front of TV. They know how to use a mouse, and mouse is not going to go away for sure. So why can’t the same device be used. I don’t know if my attempt is going to be a usable design or not, but I think of it as a direction worth exploring. Below is an image of my prototype. The extension is intended to be a touchpad.

4. Experience of watching TV

I do not have a TV, and I do not intend to buy a TV in future too. Atleast until we have an elegant solution to that experience. I understand we are in a phase of transition, but that does not warrant a compromise on experience. Today most people have to use two remotes. One to switch channels, other to control TV on/off and everybody uses hacks for volume controls. Often, controlling it with just one of the remotes does not work well. So people use both. To me this is a big design fail. I know that set top boxes are manufactured by separate company than the TV. But there are finite number of manufacturers. Why don’t streaming products sync with TV manufacturers so that their remotes become the only remote? There might be several reasons for not getting this in place, but I fail to understand why companies don’t think of tapping this opportunity. Google fail, Apple fail, Boxee fail. Atleast in this regards.

5. URL

I came across a visual design attempt of Microsoft Windows 8 by a person outside Microsoft. Then, Tarun asked me a question couple of days back on Facebook group – Would eliminating the URL bar be the best idea for new users? Is search the only method that should be on by default?

This made me think a bit and then I realized the evil of URL. It’s true that today URL is the only way we jump, skip and hop on internet. But if you think deeply, we don’t really need URL in its current form because it has some inherent problems: We can never type a URL in the address bar unless its or You would realize that if you turn off autocomplete in browser. We essentially either click or copy-paste URL. Also, they look ugly and creates a mess everywhere they go. They also expire. We experience that often with news articles or with local sites. But no matter how ugly they might be, they serve two core purposes: link to information & reveal identity of source. Both of these aspects are crucial for sense making of the information we are presented with. I never try to read the entire URL, but my eyes are trained to ignore anything after .com and read everything before that. And I assume most people do that. That very interaction of ignoring the rest and reading the domain name deals with the issue of trust and if stated in philosophical terms, the smell of information. URL’s in their primitive ways serve to search engines, not to humans. We still do not have an elegant solution that would address both the essential requirements and hence are stuck with these today. But soon I believe they will give way to beautiful and elegant solutions. I have high hopes with the advances in holographic technologies. I guess the digital signatures fall into same category, but since not many people use them it is not as important to discuss I believe.

6. Softwares for professionals (in almost any IT company)

This is a classical paradox to me. Organizations crave for productivity. Their business relies on how efficient their employees are. Yet they are presented with the most horrible tools to work with. Often startups focus their heart and soul on solving user’s problems, but neglect their own problems. If they succeed on user’s side, they grow. As they grow they have often less time at hand to analyze their own productivity lags. They often make it up with hiring more people. And hence increasing the problem manifolds. And the chain continues. For big organizations, not only they suffer with productive tools, but also with lack of speed in decision making. Since the professionals get paid for using the pathetic softwares, the lack of focus on self is to an extent practically justifiable but not rational.

Taking an example, the HR department suffers in almost every organization with tools that were designed over a decade ago. Over last 5 years, their inability to cope with their own systems and the rise of cloud based social networks like LinkedIn and many industry specific job portals, the HRs have changed gears for good. But what about people who are any kind of analysts. The only software they rely on most of the time is an excel sheet spitted by the database coupled with few custom made templates they possess. Google docs is still very limited, Microsoft took a crack on cloud excel. Such tools might be their angel.

If small and agile organizations spent part of their time to develop custom tools that might help them cover up miles. One problem I see in this is that we interaction designers don’t often deal with complex UI (admin tools, CMS, document repository, etc.). One reason could be that most tricks we’ve learned in schools deals with focusing primarily on user. Often complex information flows, and information architecture takes a back seat. And this makes a lot of sense too since people can adapt to those situations if they have all their bases covered. But it requires a lot of extra efforts to deal with so called ‘complicated’ situations. I’ve experienced such situations many times and every time I figured out that it was just the perception of people which prevented them to investigate the problem space. The problem were actually very simple. But implementing the solution needed a lot of motivation, which is rare to find.

I know I deviated from original point, but these emerging thoughts also held some values.

7. Political system

This is the last example I’ll attempt tonight. I had few thoughts when I began and now I’m a bit lost. The political structure that we abide by, affects our lives on a daily basis. Although we don’t directly interact with the government, but our actions are a outcome of our understanding of those rules. As the rules change, we are made aware through media, newspapers, etc. and we start following new rules or we start expressing our concerns mutually to each other. In extreme cases we come out and Occupy. To me, there is an interaction here as well. I guess I’ll have a better time articulating it once we cover the socio-technical part of the class. I’m right now struggling to frame my convoluted thoughts and understanding their sense myself, so I better not confuse others.

If you are reading this, than thanks a lot for your patience. I hope you might want to critique back few things. Please do that in comments. And if you have more examples, please talk about them too.

Short Conclusion

I can go buy a new lock or tap and change it instantly, still I don’t. I can’t change the political system around me instantly, still I crib. So moral of the story – users keep cribbing for all sorts of things and often don’t do things they soooo want to do. So I think as designers, it becomes very critical to not just critique designs, objects, etc. but also to critique the findings we get from our user studies. My two cents, after a looong post 😛