Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shower of Blessings

How many times you have opened the bath shower mixer tap not realizing that the mixer is set to the shower and accidentally got wet? Many a times I guess. But have you ever realized that it’s the bad design of the tap which has made you wet and not coz of someone’s mistake of forgetting to reset the mixer?

Design is problem solving. Tools were invented to solve some basic problems in life but later on the tools introduced another set of problems coz of the way it was made and used. So even though the primary problem was solved the secondary problems remained and most of the time was taken for granted by the users. The great example for this is computers. Computers were made to make many of the human tasks easy but it created a new problem for the humans to figure out how to use it. A good product design should not only solve the basic problem but also make sure the product doesn’t introduce any secondary problem. In the mixer tap case, the basic problem was solved by a single tap which took care of water supply to both the filler and the shower. But it created a new problem of people forgetting to reset the diverter to the filler after the shower usage which accidentally made other people wet.

The second generation mixer taps took care of this problem by separating the two functions. The water supply to the filler became the primary function of the tap and the shower was initiated by introducing a separate valve when pulled diverted water to the shower. On closing the main valves the shower valve got reset automatically. This was a gradual improvement from the classic design and it solved the problem to an extent. But the possibility of the shower valve being initiated before opening the main valves still had its purpose lost.

I recently came across this smart and minimalistic designed shower mixer which has a push button diverter which actually solves the “accidentally wet” problem. When the tap is opened, it’s always the filler which is initiated first and the push button acts as a diverter which switches from filler to shower and back on every push. When the tap is closed the button has no function i.e. when the tap is closed, you push the button and then open the tap it’s the filler which is initiated and not the shower.

The only issue I found with this kind of behavior is that the user might not figure out how the tap functions the very first time; it’s not intuitive enough. He might push the button and then open the tap and wonder why it’s always the filler and not the shower which is initiated. He might end up asking someone about it and feel silly after getting to know how it works. No product should ever make a user feel silly by making it tough for him find out the very basic function; however smart the design is. It’s ok if he doesn’t find out the advanced features; he wouldn’t mind taking help to figure them out.
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