This week my best friend came to visit me from Greece so I spent some time with her showing her around the city, going to different restaurants, museums, shops etc. So while we were exploring New York, I had this assignment in mind and tried to think more deeply every time I used a piece of interactive technology in public. One of the things that I constantly encountered and started noticing during my friend’s stay was the touchless faucets in every single bathroom I visited. This is something I have always been curious to explore because it really drives me crazy how bad my experience with this piece of technology really is.
Looking back, it is interesting to think about how fast and how drastically the design of such a major appliance that we use every single day has changed. I was inspired by the reading of Graham Pullin’s “Design Meets Disability” that recounts the evolution of the design of certain products and highlights the meaning of that evolution so I decided to do some brief research online to find out the history of faucets. According to www.deltafaucet.ca, faucets were originally invented with two handles, one for cold water and one for hot water. Their designs always varied from handles that you pull up or down, to handles that turn and to handles you simply need to press down. Later on, the single-handed faucet designs were introduced and after that the simple touch faucets as well as faucets with foot pedals were introduced. The foot pedals actually became quite popular for some time and then suddenly disappeared. Faucet designs really vary depending on the places you go and I really find interesting how the experience is different almost every time.
Now, let’s look at the touchless faucet that has really become mainstream and was developed to help conserve water prevent against the spread of bacteria that can cause illnesses. Even though I do believe that the touchless faucet was a great solution to these problems, I believe that the design is really flawed. First of all, I personally look down almost every time I am about to wash my hands because I am so used to the foot pedal faucet for some reason. I think it’s probable because they used to be very popular in my country in Greece. Another problem is that I don’t always understand where the sensor is because it is not really visible in the sense that your eye doesn’t get drawn directly to it which is something that should happen instantly. Also, most of the times I am trying to find the sensor, I get my sleeves wet because most sensors are placed in the “spine” of the faucet which is deeper than the aerator (where the water flows) since the “spine” of the faucet usually forms a curve. I observed 15 people and only 5/15 could tell where the sensor really was from the first time. I noticed how most people would just put their hands under the tap, some higher some lower, which reflects that they are not sure where the sensor is and how it works. I saw how some people really felt embarrassed because water was not coming down and they didn’t know if they were doing the right thing or not. Also, some people (like me) would get their sleeves wet. Finally, 3/15 got it right the third time they tried and 7/15 got it right the second time. Therefore, washing your hands in public places has definitely become a bad experience!
I started looking at some models of different touchless faucets like the ones below. As you can see in the model on the right the sensor is not even visible.
I think that in order to solve this problem first of all people should know where the sensor is by making it visible. Another solution is to place a sensor around the aerator which is from where the water flows so they wouldn’t have to think about where the sensor is and also there would be no risk of wetting your sleeves because this would just be a natural part of the interaction people are used to and have been used to from the past. Simply putting their hands under where the water flows and everyone know from where the water flows. But I feel that really changing the location of the sensor and the design AGAIN might confuse people all over again so there really needs to be a visible affordance where your eye is drawn directly where the sensor is to solve this problem.