Did you say “somewhat warm”? That’s what it looks like, right? After all, the long pointer of the control is halfway in between HOT and COLD.
Or perhaps you thought, “there’s no way to tell without being there.” That’s the answer you’ll give if you have been in several hotel showers. Usually the labels can only tell you that the shower is capable of giving you both hot and cold water; after that, you are on your own.
The image above, surprisingly, is the “off” position. Here’s the position when the shower is at a comfortable “warm” temperature:
This caused no shortage of confusion while vulnerable in the shower. Say I want it warmer; I turn it toward the “hot” label. If you have any experience with hotel showers, you aren’t surprised at the result: it gets colder, so I turn it back to where it was so I can contemplate my next move. With a little experience, you know that you don’t want to turn it toward the label itself, but in the circular direction indicated by the arrow near the label. Here, hot is counter-clockwise. If you want it hotter, forget the label and turn it counter-clockwise.
However, when we see a label and a control, we don’t think in terms of circular direction, but it terms of absolute direction. The confusion means that this and every hotel shower will give you at least five seconds of brutally cold or stinging hot water every time you shower.
Furthermore, when I went to turn off the water altogether, I instinctively tried to turn the handle to off in the shortest way possible, which was in the hot direction. That made the water as hot as possible—the exact opposite of what I wanted it to do, and potentially dangerous to me.
But only when I contemplated writing this blog post did the real answer hit me: the short “hand” of the control is the actual indicator.
The neglected principle here is: the mental correspondence model is important. I had a dial and a label, but my intuition on how to make them correspond was wrong. This would fix it for me:
Bonus: From the same shower, here is the real UX defect. I hate it when that happens:
Look, it’s all over my bullets and everything. Notice the downward sloping top of the tub? How much maintenance has this hotel had to do to repair water-damaged ceilings and floors? You’d think we’d understand the direction of gravity by now, eh?
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