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February 16, 2011 » What Bathrooms Have to Do With Websites

It’s a common occurrence in our daily routine. We have 5 minutes in between meetings and the bio break alarm we’ve been ignoring can’t be ignored any longer.

While most are washing up and thinking about how they forgot to print the agenda, I’m cursing the bathroom sink designer under my breath. It’s not that I can’t wash my hands effectively; it’s more that for an efficiency freak like me it’s extremely frustrating.

The soap dispenser is placed in a way that once you’ve gotten soap on your hands and start to lather up it spits more soap on your hands.

You can tell when someone is not a building regular as they experience the same double soaping. Others have been trained by the bad design to skew their hands and arms to the left. Others try and beat the sensors quickly going in for a rinse and then back out. I’m in the “get out of my way” camp. The dispenser is just loose enough that you can turn it so it doesn’t dose you again.

Bathrooms are one of the key areas that user experience designers look at as it’s something that’s so universal and is often over looked when looking at the whole building project.

In fact there is a whole community devoted to the importance of bathrooms in user design. During the annual bathroom blog fest bloggers from around the globe write about the importance of bathrooms in the customer experience. Their posts come from a wide range of perspectives that include sociology, marketing, research, psychology, environmental, customer experience, and user-experience design.

So what do bathrooms have to do with your website? Hopefully your site was built so that not only the main areas of your site were user-friendly but also the areas that could be considered the “bathroom” of your site. These are important utility pages on your site, but might be over looked because they are boiler plate or an afterthought once live.

Some of these pages might be a custom 404 page, a contact us form or thank you page. Apple has a simple but interesting 404 page that helps users find what they may be looking for.

Other times it might be something that users are doing that just makes sense, but didn’t appear until your site has been real-world tested. Just like when people move the soap dispenser out of the way, people often click on items that they think should be clickable.

One new tool that we’re starting to pilot can tell us this data. It shows where users are clicking, while most tracking tools only let you track things you determined should be clicked on like links in sentences or buttons.

I only wish that a building manger would notice all of the people moving the soap dish and make a change. If they only knew how much each extra dose of wasted soap was costing them.

Other useful tools that are becoming easier to implement are eye tracking studies. At the end, you get a very clear idea of where the majority of users are looking and if they are seeing your key call outs or messages. With their permission, we’re now able to tap into a user’s webcam, calibrate the software and present them with a simple image or webpage for testing.

It’s very important to make sure that you’re not just putting up a site to check it off of your tactics lists as a required need like a bathroom in a building. Taking the time to look at an optimal user experience across your site can make sure that your users view the “bathrooms” of your site like a high-end resort rather than your local dive bar.

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