Doors and language

I talked a few weeks ago about how toilets and planes are bastions of usability. Of course, I missed out the number one usability battleground. As Don Norman covers in incredible detail in the Design of Everyday Things, doors are the simplest opportunity for poor and inconsiderate design.

And, although the world remains full of terrible doors, I found a great exception in a most surprising location. And for added marks, it was a toilet again. The loo in question was in a Starbucks, and has an ingenious solution to an often mangled problem. To lock the door, you lift the handle up.


Like all good ergonomics, the solution is elegantly simple. Providing visual feedback, preventing any attempt to open the door without unlocking it and reducing the total number of controls.

Unfortunate then, that the same smallest room also offered this feat of mangling of the English language:


When I was at Bristol university, our marvellous professor of Logic, professor Mayberry once spent 10 minutes showing what distinct meanings the phrase ‘every nice girl loves a sailor’ could have – mostly concerned with how many girls there are, how many sailors there are, and who loves who, in reality or in theory.

Well without getting all ‘That’s life’, this sign suffers a similar – and frankly filthy – ambiguity: Surely other things than paper are going to go down the toilet, and surely you’re allowed to do more with toilet paper than just flush it down the toilet.

Now I think I know what they intend the sign to mean, but surely a little effort could have been put in to the language, just as there was in the handle.