Just Don’t Build A Handle

Originally published on Medium  Sep 21, 2015

On a recent visit to Amazon HQ in Seattle, I noticed something very interesting (to me, at least) about their restrooms. Some of the higher-capacity restrooms had two doors. The door on the right had a push handle and the door on the left had no handle at all. In fact, the hinge was exposed on the door to the left, making it clear that this door swung outward. When I stepped back and thought about it, this was the most thoughtful & simple application of User Experience I’d ever seen. Why, you ask? It was everything you’d want in user design:

  1. It was simple — two doors, but one clear path.
  2. It was elegant — there were no noisy signs dictating which door people should use.
  3. It leveraged known user behavior data — this office was located in the US where walking patterns tend to mirror traffic patterns, meaning that in bi-directional pathways the right side is “forward” and the left side is for those traveling in the opposite direction. tl;dr: I naturally would’ve gone that way anyway.
  4. It directed users to a desired outcome without having to think about it — while two doors existed, I intuitively knew which one to use.
  5. It made me feel like an insider — now, this may sound silly, but even though this was my first time using these restrooms, I was confident that if anyone had seen me anywhere throughout the entry/exit process that they would have no idea this was my first time using this door configuration. This made me feel like less of an “outsider.”

So as you’re building your websites, iterating on products, and re-evaluating features & functions, start to look for extra “handles.” Find duplicate points of entry, buttons/sections that require explanation to the user, or things that just don’t feel intuitive to first-time users. Optimizing your user experience doesn’t always have to be a heavy development process that involves adding tons of bells & whistles (cool, but essentially useless features). Usually it’s quite the opposite — it’s about removing unnecessary fluff that adds layers of possible friction to the user experience. If people are running into each other coming in and out of the bathroom, you could do a ton of cool stuff that requires upkeep- Install motion detectors to signal when someone is on the other side of the door from you, create a buzzer system that only allows users to turn the knob from one side at a time, etc. Or, you could just not build a second handle.