By January 9, 2012

Everyday Usability: Door Knob Choice and Orientation

No, this post is not about Phil Hinkle. It’s about how door knob design plays a big part in everyday usability, and how some door knob choices make for confusing experiences.

Okay, pop quiz — does this door open toward you or away from you?

inward opening door with inward opening pull handle

How about this one?

outward opening door with inward opening pull handle

Bonus question:

outward opening door with inward opening pull handle

If you said

  1. Toward me (in)
  2. Away from me (out)
  3. Away from me (out)

you were right.

Ask yourself how you made those decisions. Sedagive? remarked “I can see the plate through the door crack” about the first photo. Other people I talked to

Now think about if you would make the same decision if you weren’t taking a “quiz” and were cruising along on the way to a meeting, or into a mall, or out of a hotel room after a questionable tryst with a male escort.

The problem here is that the handle used on these doors are designed for pulling. Their shape is meant to be gripped, and the longer handle allows for easier rotation to engage the latch. In contrast, the handle has several disadvantages for pushing. The face of the handle, where pushing pressure is applied, is narrow. Since the handle design lends itself to being gripped, the hand, arm, and body positioning are out of alignment for a push maneuver. Most people pull open a door — especially one perceived as heavy — by putting their weight on their back foot, or maybe leaning back slightly, or rotating their hips. All of these things are out of whack when the “pull” handle is used to push.

More importantly than the design of the handle, the implementation of it makes people think. “How do I open this door?” “Is this the side of the door I push, or is it the side that I pull?”

The hallmark of good usability is that it should be transparent. It should just “work,” and feel natural. I got enough variance in answers from my co-workers that it’s clear that the handles are confusing. The setup isn’t intuitive, even if people figure out what to do and when to do it.

A more usable experience would be to put a push handle on the push side, and a pull handle on the pull side. This is where design or accounting/”business” may clash with usability. Maybe it would look weird to have a push plate on one side, and a large horizontal pull bar on the other. Maybe it would be too expensive to put different handles on each side of the door throughout the building. Maybe no one gave a shit.

So, how did you react to the door handles?

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3 Comments on "Everyday Usability: Door Knob Choice and Orientation"

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  1. Adam says:

    At our old office building, the main conference room door was poorly designed and led to a lot of people pushing when they needed to pull and vice-versa. At our new office building, I spent the first few weeks being very conscious of whether I needed to push or pull to go in (and the opposite for leaving). Then I realized it’s a door that goes both ways. I realize these can’t be used in all situations, but they are certainly handy when they can be used.

  2. Bond says:

    I didn’t expect this post to be about actual “door knobs”…still interesting though.

  3. Selki says:

    Pull, push, push. Although the plates look similar for 1 & 3, #3 looked like you could possibly push it, and it’s a funky door, so I went for the funky choice, possibly biased by the quiz.