6-Dec

Design

How many designers do you need to open a door?

4 min read

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By Ola Claussen

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December 6, 2021

This is a short story where you learn about bad UX, defining problems, and Norman doors. Nah... It is actually just a story about how I hacked the main door to the apartment building I live in. It does not necessarily have anything to do with design, but more about my experiences of everyday things, in particular keys.

I’m going to start with the Norman doors.
Because this article is not about Norman doors. But I wanted to give Donald Norman a little homage for his focus on everyday problems. A focus that’s often forgotten. We are so used to bad UX that we don’t even bother to complain or fix it. One of his examples is doors that do not tell you whether they are push or pull, later called Norman doors. Why have we not fixed it? Nobody bothers, or have we just forgotten that they are shitty designed? I don’t know… But last year I had an experience that made me think about Donald Norman again.

The problem: shrinking keys
A year ago, I moved into my brand-new apartment. I had been waiting for 2 years, following the construction work, and choosing the customizable additions that were available. One thing I paid extra for was a keyless door. What a dream it would be to live a life without keys!

The one thing that made me believe that the wizarding world existed was this phrase from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:

"Sell them a key that keeps shrinking to nothing so they can never find it when they need it. …Of course, it's very hard to convict anyone because no Muggle would admit their key keeps shrinking — they'll insist they just keep losing it."

I’m pretty sure that someone has shrunken my keys several times, and obviously, Rowling and all other muggles feel the same way. Never again!


The good news is that you’ll get this RFID tag instead of a key!
So, I walked into my new apartment, it was wonderful, a code was everything I needed. Or at least I thought so… The main door to the building fucked it all up. It was smart and techy, but they said: “Codes are not safe enough, but the good news is that you’ll get this RFID tag instead of a key!”.
Someone just shrank my keys down to a tiny plastic piece that is bound to disappear, it does not even have enough weight to stay in the bottom of my pocket!

Why does this product even exist? If you look at the problem we are trying to solve, one thing is obvious, replacing a key with a tiny plastic piece is NOT solving anything!

Jackie Chan meme asking why going from key to chip

Let's solve the problem, at least for me!

  • Define the problem: Shrinking keys.
  • Define the goal: No need for keys.
  • User journey: Drawing of a normal life with more space in my pockets, and no lost-my-key-again-situations.

As a designer, I did my research and found some useful insights. The door could be opened from my doorbell answering unit. I had WIFI in my apartment, and the user (me) always have his phone with him. I skipped the sketching and went with my first and best idea, prototyping with Arduino!

I had to test this several times to get it to work. In short, it's a touch pen that mechanically pushes down onto the open-door button on my answering unit. Then I made a simple app on my phone using Blynk. I have no idea how to make an app, but Blynk was easy. Connected it with my Arduino design, and whoops! Just flick the Alohomora button on my phone anywhere in the world (if I have an internet connection) and the main door on my building opens.

Picture of the Arduino device with a funny snapchat-tekst, "Du sa du trengte en måte å åpne døren på?"
Bomb esthetique
Screenshot of the app showing a button with a wizard wand and the text alohomora
The Alohomora app


Do not accept bad UX
Did I solve the problem? Yes! Did I make the world a better place? Yes, but only for myself. Has anyone solved this problem before? Probably, but I think people, in general, are so used to being annoyed about everyday things like this, that the value of fixing these problems is so low that they won’t be prioritized.

My hope is that people designing apartments, or anything else, look at the whole service and experience of the user. Prioritizing to fix these everyday problems. But since everybody expects it to be bad, it won’t have any influence, people buy apartments either way. The worst is that they are tricking us into paying extra just to be able to have a code in addition to the key. No problem solved, just a lot of money used.

So please, everybody that has endured this little story, do not accept bad UX and prioritize problems 🙏

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  • “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman
  • Blynk for everyone interested in Arduino

6-Dec