What's Wrong With This Picture? (Burning Sensations)

Loren Mack is a design architect in xDesign who creates strategic and tactical designs for the Service Oriented Architecture/Business Integration group at Sun.

Is someone burning, or is it just me?

Some time ago I realized that my shower fixture was really out of date. I came to this realization just moments after one of my shower knobs broke off in my hand. Actually, it was probably the moment after the valve shot from the pipe, hit me in the leg (!!!), and sprayed really HOT water at me non-stop. It was like one of those movies where they’re torturing the prisoners in their cell by spraying them with a fire hose, only it was my own home and I was being tortured by my 1950’s bathroom.

Not a problem – close the main valve, have a quick dip in a waist-high vat of Aloe-Vera (which I keep handy for just such emergencies), and then off to the hardware store to find a new fixture.

Modern Design Meets "Huh?" ...

While perusing the many styles at my local store, I came across one that had me scratching my head.

At first glance I was already remodeling my bathroom to work around this beauty. It was shiny, sleek, and smooth. But then I really looked at it. What the...? Which way is "on"? I liked the "anti-scald" feature because I certainly couldn't figure out how to get "warm". The design was so dangerous that they actually had to engineer in safety measures?

There were other problems as well...

  • The knobs (of which there are two) would be slippery when wet and soapy - hard to manipulate
  • There was no indication which knob is "flow" and which one is "temperature"
  • There was no way to determine which direction to move the knobs
  • Whatever the smaller knob did would be hard to do in small increments as the leverage afforded is minimal
  • And like any other single-control shower knob, if you accidentally bumped it during a soap frenzy, there's no telling if you'll go to scalding hot, icy-cold, or just "off"

In this situation, the design is unfamiliar and despite the neat-o looks, it would be hard to get your shower the right temperature at the right rate of flow. Also, if I know myself at all I'd be cleaning it after each use as the finish would immediately show water spots. Sleek, smooth, shiny, and poorly designed.

I kept looking and found several others, not nearly as bewildering, but with similar problems. Some were nice looking, but hard to manipulate. Others, you needed a printed instruction sheet to figure out. At that point I decided the "old-skool" designs were still the most usable.

Older Fixtures Make for Better Showers

This one wasn't as snazzy looking, but it solved a number of the problems with the previous one.

  • You would be able to grip the knobs with soapy hands
  • You could tell which was hot and cold (by placement as well as the letters on each)
  • There was no mystery about how to activate the shower-head.
  • No "anti-scald" feature required for normal use

And... probably the best bit here was the fact it would fit with my vintage bathroom without having to completely remodel it. Not that I'm lazy, mind you, but the time and expense would keep me from being able to shower regularly -- which was what I was trying to do in the first place!

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