Room for improvement

Tap operating instructions

Broken tap in a ladies' washroom

Broken tap in a ladies' washroom

Scientist Dorothy Bishop is known for her work in childhood language disorders, but often blogs about all sorts of other issues. Her post about The Bewildering Bathroom Challenge reminded me of my collection of photographs of broken taps in public washrooms. Dorothy's piece is specifically about taps in hotel bathrooms, but I have found that the more 'designed' any tap is, the more likely it is to be broken, because people really struggle to work out how to operate them. Dorothy quotes from a website that's no longer available and not named, but was presumably a designer or manufacturer of taps:

A lot of attention in the design world is focused on creating products that are intuitive and easy to use, but sometimes a little ambiguity can be a good thing. Designed for use in restaurant and hotel bathrooms these taps embrace ambiguity to create a sense of intrigue to provide a more engaging interaction.
— Original source unknown, quoted from deevybee.blogspot.co.uk

I expect that these 'intriguing' taps frustrated rather than delighted restaurant and hotel visitors. This page (University of Cambridge Inclusive Design Toolkit) shows that approximately 5% of the UK population could be excluded by tasks that require dexterity. Good, inclusive tap design is possible, so why exclude and frustrate your customers, staff, or clients by specifying 'intriguing' taps?

On how to use a tap, a particular type of tap, that you may not have encountered before. But don't worry, help is at hand on extension 4219.

On how to use a tap, a particular type of tap, that you may not have encountered before. But don't worry, help is at hand on extension 4219.

Note the knob-type tap controls below, which are not allowed for sanitary conveniences under Part M of the Building Regulations. This photograph is of a tap in a staff kitchenette, and while taps are not specifically mentioned in clause 4.16 of the Approved Document, 4.16a requires that "All users have access to all parts of the facility".

Any bath or washbasin tap is either controlled automatically, or is capable of being operated with a closed fist, e.g. by lever action.
— Approved Dcoument M, 2013.
Taps should not need instruction notices!

Taps should not need instruction notices!

Separate, wall-mounted hand dryers are installed in the rail station washroom where this picture below was taken. Concealed hand dryers are a neat idea, but are counterproductive if customers cannot find them. I wonder whether the integral soap dispensers are too difficult to refill, or whether they are broken due to misuse?

"The soap dispensers are not working and in order to provide soap we are temporarily having the soap in gallons on the top of the sinks. We are sorry for the inconvenience."

"The soap dispensers are not working and in order to provide soap we are temporarily having the soap in gallons on the top of the sinks. We are sorry for the inconvenience."

Next month I'm off to the Bath Room in Clerkenwell, so watch this space for some good examples.

Revolting doors

Revolving door in the city of London

Revolving door in the city of London

The sign on the side-hinged door says 'Closed - Please use revolving door', but many people cannot use revolving doors. This is why Approved Document M states that:

Revolving doors are not considered accessible. They create particular difficulties, and risk of injury, for people with visual impairment or mobility problems and for parents with children and/or pushchairs.
— Approved Document M - Access to and use of buildings

For this reason, revolving doors are only permitted by Part M if an additional, accessible, door is provided alongside them. This door should be available at all times that the revolving door is in use, but all too often they are locked and have an 'out of order' sign directing people to use the revolving door.

This leaves all of the people mentioned above, and people with claustrophobia or cognitive impairment, waiting outside trying to get the attention of someone inside for assistance, making an accessible-but-not-inclusive entrance into an inaccessible inconvenience that segregates people by ability.

Policy 7.2 of The London Plan (2015) states: "The Mayor will require all new development in London to achieve the highest standards of accessible and inclusive design and supports the principles of inclusive design." At least one London borough supports this policy by not permitting any revolving doors but why not all of them?

Episode 93 of American radio podcast 99% Invisible highlights another issue with revolving doors in episode 93, available here. According to the programme, the revolving door was first sold on the idea that it avoided the 'After you,' 'No, please, after you...' conversations that happen with regular doors, although it was based on a previous door that was designed to prevent draughts and energy loss. 

The focus of the 99% Invisible programme is investigations by students of MIT and Andrew Shea into how many people use revolving doors when given a choice between them and conventional doors, and how this proportion can be increased with simple signs that highlight the energy saved by using the revolving doors, but also makes comments about ease of use.

Both studies (one in Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the other at Columbia University) revealed that approximately 75% of people use the conventional door when no sign about energy saving is present, perhaps because a conventional door is simpler, quicker and easier to use.

Saving energy and improving the efficiency of buildings is key to creating sustainable developments, but alternatives to revolving doors are available, and should always be used because inclusive design is also essential.

'Revolting doors' is not a typo - it was what an architect I worked called them once I'd convinced him to omit them from the project we were working on.