Evedentally good design: Push or Pull

Posted by Tevi Hirschhorn on Oct 12, 2016 11:07:46 AM

Have you ever quickly grabbed a door handle, only to foolishly realize a moment later you were supposed to push, not pull? Don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault. It was the fault of all the people who put that door in place.


There’s a UX concept called “affordance”: making something look the way it’s supposed to work. When you see a door with proper affordance, you don’t need to think about it, you just instinctively understand what you’re supposed to do. Doors shouldn’t need signs and instructions telling you how to operate them. Just good, simple design.

Did you ever wonder how such a dumb door came to be? And how many times a day do people tug on the handle and feel like an idiot? It could be because of a number of people:

  • The interior designer thought the handle looked nice
  • The builder had a box of handles readily available
  • The contractor saved money using those handles
  • The owner is pleased with the cost savings by the contractor

All those people approached putting that door in place from the perspective how they do their jobs, and none of them actually thought about the people who would need to open and close the door and the ramifications from poor implementation. But that poor implementation can be very costly down the road.

The fallout from that door could be:

  • Signs needs to be created and posted to tell people to push and pull appropriately
  • Maintenance needs to periodically repair the door because people don't read the signs
  • Legal needs to deal with ridiculous lawsuits from people who spilled their hot coffee while trying to pull instead of push, or people who slipped on spilled coffee
  • Someone bombed an interview because she had coffee all over her shirt
  • Everybody has sign-blindness because there are signs everywhere, and they miss important signs now - such as "wet floor"
  • Maintenance costs go up because additional workers need to be hired to do more work that wouldn't have been necessary if the door was built properly
  • Maintenance costs go up because the glass door eventually shatters when too many people pull against the hinges

So was the pretty handle which saved the builder a half hour of work and $200 worth it?

Learn more about bad doors from the father of modern user experience design, Don Norman: It's not you. Bad doors are everywhere.