Uhhh…How Do I Turn This On?

We were down in Santa Cruz this weekend for a family reunion, (deStwolinski’s unite!) and we stayed at a lovely hotel nestled away in the forest hillside. Everything about the weekend was spectacular, except for one thing that kept bugging me. One thing that over three days and two nights became, at least in moments when I was feeling a little extra dramatic, my nemesis: the bathroom water faucet.

The mystery faucet

Now, I’m a reasonably intelligent grown man; I’m fairly good at manipulating physical objects and understanding how they work; I study and practice design and usability for a living; I’ve successfully used a wide variety of water faucets; and I’m even somewhat familiar with the inner workings of faucets as I’ve repaired and installed a few. So why can’t I figure out how to turn this stupid thing on?

In my own defense, I didn’t spend all that much time trying to figure it out. We weren’t in the room very much, and there was another sink. The inscrutable one was in the outer bathroom area, and a perfectly easy-to-use one was two steps away in the inner bathroom area that housed the bath and toilet. I did spend more time on this than my wife, who after hearing me say “I can’t get this faucet to work” just once, proceeded to not care about it and simply use the other faucet.

As a designer, I know it’s not my fault if I can’t easily figure out how to use the faucet—it’s a design problem. But still, why can’t I figure out how to turn this stupid thing on!?!

I tried pushing, pulling, and twisting every part of the faucet in every which way, but nothing. Not a drop. Now, I did exercise caution by not applying too much force—I didn’t want to accidentally damage anything. But still…why can’t I figure out how to turn this @*$&#! thing on!?!

The Tipping Point

Shortly before we checked out, I’d had enough and decided I was willing to risk applying a little more force to the issue. Our bags were packed and around a corner out of spray range just in case, and I had a few ideas of what I might tell the hotel manager if needed.

So I went back to pushing and pulling with a little more force, and suddenly there it was. It was just a little trickle at first, but after regripping the top of the faucet to get better leverage, I was able to get a full flow of water.

The mystery faucet revealed

This was an attractive modern-looking faucet. Not quite my taste, but I can appreciate its aesthetic appeal. And I won’t critique the non-traditional spout; (it does pivot up and down to adjust the angle of the water flow.) That said, this was still one messed up faucet design.

One Messed Up Faucet Design

Clearly at least one person wasn’t able to easily figure out how to use the faucet. I could be relatively unique in that, but I doubt it. Even so, look at the picture of me turning the faucet on. Look at the reflection of my index finger in the mirror; does it look like that finger is having a good experience? If instructions came with the faucet, should they really need a troubleshooting section with advice to “regrip the top of the faucet to get better leverage”?

In order to turn it on, I had to grip the top tightly and lift up with my thumb (on the smooth chrome surface) as I twisted the whole top to the side. Just pushing on the side of this “handle” wasn’t enough.

Also, I had to hold the handle in this position to keep water flowing. If I let go, the water instantly stopped. So hand washing, at least getting them wet and then rinsing off the soap would have to be done one hand at a time. I didn’t try it, but I wouldn’t look forward to trying to turn it on with a soapy hand.

I presume that pushing it in different directions would adjust the water temperature. I was able to lift-push-tilt it straight back, but had no more time for testing. We really were about to leave the room and check out. I just had time to grab a couple quick pictures with my phone, (hence the blurriness.)

Final Grade and Recommendation

Assuming the purpose of the faucet was to be used as a faucet, this one failed miserably. While it turned out to be functional at least, (i.e. water would come out,) it was incredibly frustrating to figure out and use. Now, if this was there simply as a decorative element or an intriguing puzzle for guests, I’d give it slightly higher marks.

As for what to do? I recommend removing it with some nice, ergonomically designed tools from Oxo or someone and replacing it with a another faucet. There are many, many less-frustrating models to choose from.

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