Bad Design #2 — pull or push, tell me more

in design •  3 months ago

It doesn't matter where you are, bad design is everywhere. These doors are at the University of NSW. A place full of “smart” people. Well, the smart people were not consulted when these doors were implemented.

Can you spot the problem?

When you approach these doors, from either side, you are presented with the same types of door handles, ie. the long vertical bars. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if the doors were able to swing in both directions, ie. in and out. But these doors physically can only move in the one direction. Looking at the photo above, these particular doors can only open towards us (out of the photo). It is not possible to swing them away from us (into the photo), it is physically impossible to do so due to how they have been constructed. The hinges give us a clue to this.

So what happened in the real world?

As I approached these doors (into the photo), I was presented with vertical bars. My first instinct was to pull on the bars. Bars are an elaboration of handles, and handles usually are used to pull. They ‘afford’ pulling. Hence I pulled on the bars, and voila, I was able to pull the door towards me, and walk straight through. No problem, I got this.

But, when I returned to these doors, from the opposite side, I was again presented with same vertical bars (you can see in the photo, that there are bars on both inside and outside of the doors). So what did I do? I tried to pull the bar of course, and…Bang! What? The door does not open? The door does not swing towards me? But the door has bars? What gives?

What’s happened here is that the bars, in my mind, are a cue to pull, but these doors cannot be pulled in that particular direction.

What’s happened here is that the wrong type of hardware has been used on the door. Bars, or handles, should not have been used. Instead, ‘push’ plates should have been used, just like in the image below. These doors too, can only swing in one direction (push into the photo). 

 But in the case of these hospital doors, the correct hardware has been used. These doors swing in, therefore can only be pushed in from this direction.

Push plates, appropriately named, do not have handles or bars, therefore only allow for the “pushing” of them. There is no way to confuse the person who is trying to operate them. It’s obvious.

As I always say:

Every problem is an opportunity.

In the case of this problem, ie. informing the user through design, in which direction the doors can be pulled or pushed, solutions already exist. You can see one in the above photo of the hospital doors, the solution, use the appropriate, and available, hardware. 

In the university’s problem, I cannot foresee any reason why the designer could not have implemented the correct hardware, and resolved the problem. So one needs to wonder what were they thinking. And of course what other factors came into play… budget? stubborn architect? good deal on handles? aesthetics?.. who knows.

Until we know what the problem was that was being resolved through the use of the same door hardware on both sides of the doors, we cannot begin to propose solutions. It would need more investigation, because solutions exist.

 - - -

CitizenRod is an entrepreneur, industrial designer, artist, and thinker. Follow his artwork at rodrigoantoniomunoz, his rants here on Steemit,and his current business at

Note: This article was originally posted on Medium by CitizenRod. 

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