The attack of the badly designed shower fittings (part 1)

I first read Donald Norman’s the Design of Everyday Things a decade or so ago. It made me realise that whenever I can’t use a kettle or a telephone or even a door it’s not my fault. Somebody, somewhere, made a poor design decision. It’s never user error, always designer error. Ever since then I’ve kept an eye out for atrocious designer errors.

Last week I was staying in a hotel in the South West of England. Hotel shower fittings are notoriously badly designed and every badly designed shower fitting is badly designed in its own way. The one in this hotel room was, however, the worst I’ve seen in a long time.

I’ll give $50 of Amazon vouchers to the first person who can tell me how this fitting is meant to work and why I found this one particularly bad (note you need to do both for a chance of winning). I’ll also give $50 of vouchers to what I judge is the best design critique, at my discretion.

BTW, based on a straw poll here at Red Gate I think my money is safe.

Here it is:

Post your answers as comments to this post …

Next week I’ll tell you why this design is so bad. Subscribe to the RSS feed and don’t miss out.

15 responses to “The attack of the badly designed shower fittings (part 1)”

  1. Dave D. says:

    The top handle controls the water temperature while the bottom handle controls turning the water on and off.

  2. Kyle H says:

    The top handle controls flow (counterclockwise = more, clockwise = less)
    The bottom handle controls temperature (probably pointing left = hot, right = cold)

  3. Austin Salonen says:

    It looks more like a puzzle… If they are independent handles, you’re just given more options than you probably need. However, the two handles don’t appear to be totally independent of each other. The smaller circle looks like it may have some effect on larger circle (perhaps intentionally or by aging parts) so you may get unexpected behavior when modifying “one” setting.
    Also, the tubing from the spigot to the shower head could interfere with the dials.

  4. Chad Sellers says:

    Flow is controlled by the relative position of the handles, meaning if the handles are on top of one another then you get max flow and if they’re sufficiently away from one another (as pictured) then water is not flowing. Temperature is controlled by the position around the dial.

  5. Justin James says:

    It’s a red herring. One handle controls the flow of hot water, the other controls the flow of cold water. I bet, to make it extra confusing, that they rotate in opposite directions, too.

  6. Dan A says:

    It’s not actually a shower control, it’s one of those natty bits of functional modern art. The inner front handle shows the current hour of the day; the outer handle indicates the relative position of Venus in the sky.

  7. Pat McGee says:

    One handle controls the flow rate, the other controls the temperature. Without experimenting, I don’t know of a way to tell which is which. Which is, I think, one of the two reasons why you disliked it so much.
    The other reason I think you disliked it is that there is probably friction between the two handles. That is, turning one turns the other one. So, in order to control one variable independently, you have to use two hands, one holding the undesired handle still.

  8. ajs says:

    Plus it looks like there’s a button on top. I suspect that this is not just a shower, but also a bath and you have to turn on the water then hold down the button to get the water to flow to the shower instead of the faucet for the bath.

  9. It appears that the top of the fixture has a capped off pipe. Is one handle to control where the water should flow while the other controls temperature? It would be a 50/50 guess as to which one controls where the water flows but I’d go with the smaller one.
    Besides that, the shower host must be pretty long if you are a normal sized person and wish to wash your hair standing up – I’d think this would be wired to the top portion of the fixture…

  10. One more thought…
    It actually looks like this fixture is meant to be behind the wall with only the handles portion sticking out.

  11. elian says:

    I think you should change your criterias before choosing another hotel 🙂

  12. Mr. Flibble says:

    I think this has to do something utterly crazy for it to stand out amongst the myriad of appalling designs.
    So maybe the front lever is attached to the rear one, so as you rotate the rear one the front one also rotates – not actually operating the front lever, just changing your understanding of where on and off is.
    So what else… well there doesn’t look to be a nice useful affordance of hot and cold, neither colour nor text.
    But… I’m not sure that’s crazy enough because you could probably work that out pretty quickly. This has to be one of those totally stumped kind of designs, so my hunch is that the affordance it gives is opposite to how it works. So… does it require you to pull the lever towards you to give you water?
    Or maybe it contols the shower in the room next door …or it dispenses chocolate or something.

  13. Dan says:

    One of the handles controls water pressure (on/off), and the other controls temperature. You don’t know which handle does what, and you don’t know which way to turn a handle to achieve your goal. You have to monkey with the handles while watching and touching the water to find the correct settings.

  14. Abhi says:

    I just noticed your blog(visiting from JoelonSoftware)…and noticed this chain but would like to leave my comments.
    Maybe I have my understanding of “Design” wrong. I do not see anything wrong with the concept (which in my opinion is more of the “Design”).
    All the flaws you pointed out are in the execution or implementation of the design (of course I am writing this after reading everybody’s comments). The lever weights dragging the other lever, the friction between the bearings etc are all the result of the wrong choices of the material. Too heavy? bad gaskets etc. They could even be a result of improper maintenance. It is a hotel after all and probably gets more use than the ones in homes. It needs to be cleaned (from the inside – cartridges etc) more often to counter salt buildup which damages gaskets.
    The one design flaw I DO see is the fact that there is no proper marking which will stand the test of time and water (it either was not there at all or got washed off).
    In the interest of conserving water I think it is a good design goal to have two controls – for flow and heat.
    Almost all Cars have a similar dual ring design for windshield wiper control on the right hand side. The lever controls start or stop and usually a dial on the lever controls speed. The difference is that everything is clearly marked and the markings do not wear off very easily even after 10 years of use (at least in my honda accord).

  15. Ironmonger says:

    OK here’s my guess. The back lever conrols the bath, of which there is none. The front lever when rotated controls flow not temperature. The temp is controlled by tilting the front lever which naturally effects the flow at the same time to it’s a hard balancing act.. Shameless plug to some door handles that hopefully work better than this terrible shower handle!
    All the best Jo (Norwich UK)