March 16, 2007

The Door of Deception

The DoorOur office building has a front door that is a fantastic example of bad design. It is so bad that we have a course in the building on how to use it.

The door itself is fairly heavy, so an automated opener was added. But this makes it dangerous, so a motion sensor was also added to prevent it from opening and squashing somebody standing too close. After swiping your card you need to step back or squeeze to the side, otherwise the door will not open (with no sign of what is wrong). Visitors who get the door opened by the intercom will be standing in the no-opening zone and have to be told to move away.

Nonautomatic automatic doorOn the inside a button for triggering the opening was added. Note the signs proclaiming that it is an automatic door, yet also pointing out that the button has to be pressed. Most people tend to think that automatic doors opens automatically, but in this case they are wrong. The signs also make it clear that one should not stand too close; too bad that the door opens outwards. On the outside there is a much smaller warning against standing too close.

Dont press the green button!The button was apparently added too high for the reach of wheelchair bound visitors, so another opening button also exists at a convenient height. This green button is also side by side with a green box with the button for emergency opening: when triggered the door opens and remains open until reset by the building manager. Having two green buttons next to each other is of course an invitation to slip, which happens occasionally. There ought to be a plastic 'Molly-guard' on the emergency button to signify that one really has to mean it when pushing, but it is lacking.

Once the door is open there is fairly deep access into the building straight from the street, which just happens to be a bit of Oxford's "the wrong side of the track" (complete with a methadone clinic, probation office, homeless shelter, modern art museum and the salvation army).

SignsOf course, deep access is only possible if one can climb stairs. The entrance leads directly to a flight of stairs that are impassable for anybody in wheelchair. At the stairs there is a bell to call for assistance that maybe connects to someone somewhere. The assistance would mostly consist of telling the visitor to use the back entrance, which is very handicap-friendly and equipped with a hi-tech elevator that talks. No sign about this among the warning signs on the door.

Our hypothetical wheelchaired person would have had to struggle to get in anyway. Beside the steps outside the door, the motion detector would not have allowed the door to open if there was a wheelchair in front of it - and moving back would likely mean descending the steps, and then having to ascend them and get in through the door before it closes.

ElevatorPreviously the door had to be unlocked after hours by a passcard and a key. Both had to be used within a few seconds of each other, requiring preparation or a very deft hand (doing it while carrying something else was extremely hard). When that system failed it was replaced with a card and keypad, with individual codes generated centrally and then haphazardly told to the people in the building. The back entrance which merely requires swiping the card at three different readers (and a slow trip up one or two floors in the hi-tech elevator) is much more popular after-hours.

Why is this door so amazingly badly designed? According to people who have been around, it has never worked properly. But the building houses several disparate university departments that normally have nothing to do with each other. The door is not the responsibility of anybody in the building, it is just a problem for everybody. Pooling resources for adding a secretary at the entrance is unlikely in the extreme. So instead whenever a problem is discovered outside agencies are invoked to fix it. And they have indeed fixed every problem - if only to produce new problems.

I'm pretty sure this can be turned into a parable about the nanny state or something, but most of all it is a demonstration of just how badly designed everyday objects can be - and that we put up with it. After all, it is not my job to fix the door, I just work here.

Posted by Anders3 at March 16, 2007 06:26 PM