I've taken it upon myself to explore and write about an example of bad design, specifically a piece of technology used everyday at the iSchool: the front door.

Many users attempt to enter and exit through the front doors of the iSchool. However, one door in particular causes users issue. The door in question is handicap accessible and is the only front door that opens without setting off an alarm during the hours of 5pm to 9am, Monday through Friday, and during weekends. In terms of discoverability, it is clear that this is a handicap accessible door. However, it is unclear that this door does not give the same feedback as the other doors that are not specifically handicap accessible. Moreover, the handicap feature—the hand-push button—does not work 24/7; the handicap feature only works from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. No sign states the hours that the door is handicap accessible. Feedback is poor when using the door. It is hard to execute the action of opening the door. The immediate feedback a user experiences is that the door is locked and does not work. This has prevented use altogether of the door. The other feedback that users encounter is that the door seems to be heavy and requires a large amount of effort to get the door to initially open. It is only once a large force is applied that the door will then open on its own.

The proper affordances do exist to make this a usable, working door. However the door does not act like a user expects. The door has a panic bar used to push the door to exit the building and has a handle to twist and pull to enter the building. The door is handicap accessible so it is equipped with a mechanism to open and close the door without the use of human force during the action. But this mechanism does not work consistently. Signifiers are not properly used to communicate information to users. Although it is clearly marked as a handicap accessible door, there is no information regarding the buttons and that they will not work outside of the 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday hours. There is no signifier to let users know that they must push the door with considerable force in order for the door to recognize that it is in use. And there is no signifier letting users know that the door is usable and is not locked.

The conceptual model that users build regarding the door is complicated by a sign that only appears between 5pm and 9am and during the weekend; the sign informs users that in order to exit they must use this door only as the other doors will set off an alarm. Users will approach the door to use it and be met with what seems like heaviness and may assume it is locked, they may not be strong enough to apply the amount of force necessary to open the door (after all, it is marked as being handicap accessible, handicap is not limited to wheelchair use). Many users give up and use the other “forbidden” doors as those doors are not locked and open and close with ease, the only drawback is that doing so will set off an alarm (an alarm that a user does not need to be hindered with as they are exiting the building). Some users attempt to use the handicap button to get the door to open, but unfortunately there isn’t a sign that informs users that this feature does not work outside of 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.

I propose that more signifiers be used, signifiers that inform users of the amount of force that must be used to make the door work and that inform users that the buttons do not work during certain hours. If the door can be altered, and therefore the affordances of the door can be altered, then it would be helpful to make the door be less resistant to opening. Since I am unsure if the resistance can be adjusted, I believe that increased signifiers will allow users to better interpret the feedback they encounter. Overall this will lead to a better conceptual model on the part of the user.

Emily Kobroff