Stupid Doors

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I’m sitting at a Starbucks, watching with amazement at how many people coming in and going out can’t properly operate the doors.

In usability circles, these are a classic example of what are unaffectionately known as “Norman Doors”.

How bad is this particular set of doors? I couldn’t open the door on my first attempt today, and this was my Starbucks for years when I worked on Market street, a convenient few steps from my evening bus stop.

And here’s the research to show you I’m not an idiot:

For 20 minutes, I counted all the people who opened the door, excluding those who piggy-backed. 22 out of 56 (39%) failed to succeed on their first attempt! If I had excluded those people who clearly had seen which direction the door opened prior to opening it, the percentage of failure would have been even higher.

What’s the problem? The horizontal bar on the outside that must be pushed on is the perfect diameter to grab—an affordance that tells our brains that we should grab it and pull.

Which brings up an interesting survey question. Should the doors on a coffee shop open inward or outwards? To me, the answer is obvious, but I’m curious what your opinion is.

Author: Peter Sheerin

Peter Sheerin is best known for the decade he spent as the Technical Editor of CADENCE magazine, where he was the acknowledged expert in Computer-Aided Design hardware and software. He has a long-standing passion for improving usability of software, hardware, and everyday objects that is always interwoven in his articles. Peter is available for freelance technical writing and product reviews, and is exploring career opportunities in interaction design. His pet personal project is exploring the best ways to harmonize visual, tactile, and audible symbols for improving the effectiveness of alerting systems.

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