Door Handles and Usability

I just finished watching "J. Crew & the Man Who Dressed America" on CNBC. I recommend it but then I love those sorts of pseudo documentaries. It's about Millard "Mickey" Drexler and mostly his time spent at the Gap and J. Crew. One interesting thing about him is that he is mostly responsible for the success of the Gap and quite possibly deserves a large amount of credit for the success of the Apple Store. He's a retail / fashion specialist.

So I'm watching this documentary about an incredibly smart micro-manager (in a good way) that turned the Gap around and is slaying it at J. Crew. He and the interviewer are in front of one of the J. Crew retail stores and Mickey Drexler spends 5 or 6 seconds trying to open the door for the store:

Mickey Drexler trying to open a door

Now I can't fault him because even though the tiny text above the handle says "push" the handle screams "pull." Donald Norman goes over this in The Design of Everyday Things (another in a long line of books I recommend highly). You can see some of his thoughts on door handle design here:

Door Handle Design

You may not be equally amused as I was at the idea of a design / fashion obsessed CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation not being able to open a door to his own store in under 6 seconds but for some reason the whole thing made me absolutely giddy, especially since it pointed to an example of the practical application of the lessons I had learned from Norman's book. This all has practical application potential in my day job as well: buttons need to simply look "pushable", there needs to be a visual cue for click to edit, the manual won't save you from poor design (see the small text above the door handle), and your poor user has no idea there's a context menu lurking behind that rather innocuous looking area of the UI. But, I digress.

Here's another instance that always makes me smile:

Intentionally Bad Usability

This is an instance where intentionally difficult usability is appropriate. The exit door for a school for handicapped children is made hard to operate. Making it extremely easy to use could have dire consequences (with no "undo" operation available to save the day).

I'll leave the "what we can learn from all of this" wrap up text as an exercise for the reader. For me it's just read more books and watch more non-fiction television. It helps me get my point across with what I consider to be cool phrases like: there are some doors that CEOs can't open.


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