Critique of doors

I know, it sounds dull. I will keep it short and sweet. This is also a sort of overdone topic ever since The Psychology/Design of Everyday Things.

The basic idea here is that the use of doors should never enter consciousness. We should not do any “thinking” at all about them.
However, this is a difficult premise because people commit errors when using poorly-designed doors. Usually it is in pushing when they should pull or trying to open a locked door. It is the case that most of us don’t want to perform a complex cognitive task to open a door. Does that sound unreasonable?

Below is a picture of some of the worst doors in Northwest Ohio. They are of the entrance of the The Toledo Museum of Art.

Do you push or pull?

These doors have identical pullbars on both sides.

There is no cue of hinges because they aren’t visible. If you look closely at the top, you will see ambiguous knobby projections. These are odd internal pivots that act as hinges for the doors.
And yes, the doors open only out, but because they are identical on both sides, visitors do not have any clue before they try to open them.

Some designer must have thought that it was beautiful to hide the hinge-pivots inside the door. Perhaps that designer just hated museum visitors.

Although I am no expert on the aesthetics of the doors, it seems to be that doors have a single main use–they are meant to be opened. If they don’t do this well, they are not good doors. There is plenty of style inside the museum that does not cause visitor distress. Door style should come second to door function.

Beyond the designs that cause user errors, another issue exists… public restroom doors!

Q. What is a common problem of public restroom door design?

A. They open IN!

This is a terrible thing for restroom doors to do. Washing my hands is the last thing people do in the restroom (at least ideally people actually wash their hands). Many restroom designers have realized that people do not want to touch the same handles, faucets, and towel dispensers that everyone with dirty hands touches. That is why many new public restrooms include hand-sensing automatic faucets other such gadgetry that eliminate unneeded hand-to-object contact.

It is sad that after putting in that much consideration toward my pure and clean hands, the overall design of the restroom fails to leave them clean because upon leaving the restroom I have to open the door inward, therefore ensuring that my hands must touch the same dirty pull bar as every poor slob before me.
Opening the door with a paper towel makes sense, and sometimes people can even “three-point shot” the paper towel into the trash from the doorway. Unfortunately, this does not help in restrooms that have only hot air blower-style hand dryers or restrooms that run out of paper towels.

Anyone who would design a restroom without cleanliness in mind has odd priorities. This is especially true for places where clean hands are essential, like restaurants and medical buildings.

One positive note: I have heard that the value of opening doors outward is now being enforced by new building code. It is not for clean hands, but so people (especially the disabled) can move out of the restroom faster in case of an emergency.

Now if people would admit that doors can not only be physical obstacles, but mental obstacles as well.

*Update 9/11/04* The Clean-Escape is an example of good design that overcomes the inward-opening bathroom door problem. It is a simple bracket that is mounted to the bottom of the door. It that allows a person to use his/her foot to open the door.

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