Design is critical to helping us understand how to do things and to make choices about what we want to do and I am particularly interested in how we organise and design content online to enable users to actually act – click, read, play, ignore etc.

Although it is content that floats my boat I am also interested in the broader principles of design and usability as they are strong influencers of behaviour – I am currently reading The design of everyday things by Donald Norman which provides great insights into how design works well and also fails us massively.

Yesterday, I was at a conference and I experienced some poor design that I thought I would share. I was going to wash my hands after going to the loo and had trouble figuring out how to use the tap. It didn’t last long but it wasn’t what I expected to have to do – taps are easy and I know how they work as I have had years of experience using them!

But this one confused me and it confused others who also had similar, momentary problems trying to figure it out.

The video might not capture the design issues too well but this is what threw me: the pointy bit was a cue for me to turn the tap because I had used taps like that before. But it didn’t turn. The blue and red tabs suggested to me that it turned – left for red, right for blue. But it didn’t turn. The pointy bit (like the technical term?) also suggested to me (it was a visual prompt) that the tap went up and down, but it didn’t.

It didn’t look like a tap that went up and down – seen plenty of those before – plus the visual cues I have described above suggested other ways of working which I pursued. But you had to push it down to make it work.

So what? Well even with very familiar objects such as taps we can make them difficult to use simply through poor and ambiguous design.

Relate that to how we act online (where we spend less than a second making decisions about web pages) and you can see how good design can ease the user’s path to the bits they want to get to.

PS I do not usually hang out in toilets videoing taps . . . honest.