Unexpected Hot Air
Messing with user expectations
Imagine you’re in a hotel shower. You turn the knob, and the toilet flushes.
That's pretty shitty UI/UX.
One of the most common questions I ask in a one-on-one usability study is: “Is that what you expected to happen?” Designers usually work hard to align their product’s mechanism of action with a user’s expectation.
During a recent pit stop, this Air Fury hand dryer tricked me. I reached out expecting to grab a paper towel but got a blast of warm air instead.
There’s a battle in lavatories across the world; air against paper. Most people prefer paper towels because they’re faster and dry your hands more thoroughly. But air dryers have one huge advantage: money. Paper towels cost 2-3 times more. Bottom line, dryers blow paper out of the washroom.
If you thought blowers were more sanitary, here’s another surprise. According to a 2012 systematic review by the Mayo Clinic, paper towels are more hygienic.
“From a hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers. Paper towels should be recommended in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics.”
This sneaky dryer looks like a towel dispenser and was placed above and to the right of the sink. Dryers tend to be placed on the wall opposite the sink or by the door.
I’ve never worked with a hand dryer client, so I can only imagine the ideation meeting at Splash lab, (the company that makes not only this lovely dyer but other sweet bathroom fixtures) went something like this:
A team is sitting around a grey table staring at a hand dryer. Everyone is thinking the same thing: “people hate these things.”
The design director picks up the creative brief, turns to the problem statement, adjusts his Mykita eyeglasses, and says, “how might we get people to use a dryer?”
The intern breaks a long silence…
“Fill it with paper towels.”
Can you think of any other examples where a product intentionally undermines a user's expectation?