Tag Archives: Water Fountains

Design of Everyday Things: Drinking Water Fountain

9 Dec

Drinking water fountains are visible everywhere – airports, restrooms, parks. It’s a great way to let thirsty people, adults and children alike, to drink water when they are not in the comfort of their homes. It’s also a great way to waste water. More water goes down the drain than a person’s mouth. In absence of a cup or a glass, there is no better design available that minimizes loss of water.

A few months ago, I got off a flight at the Atlanta airport. I was thirsty and went straight to the first water fountain I saw.
Drinking water fountain - sensor activated

I first looked for a button to press or a knob to turn that would get me the water, just the way I’ve always done. When I couldn’t find it, the next second, I noticed a label that showed how to waive my hand under the fountain to activate the faucet. Oh, that’s helpful, I thought and was immediately impressed by the use of sensors in a water fountain. I waived my hand. Nothing happened. Waived again. And again. Nothing. A feeling of embarrassment clouded me, and I felt people looking at the idiot who couldn’t figure out how to waive a hand to activate the fountain. I quickly left and didn’t stop at the next fountain.

Two days later, while returning, I was again at the same airport. I decided to try waving my hand at a different fountain. It worked, and I felt smart again.

Drinking water fountain - mechanicalDesign issues

  1. Use of sensors is a good idea. Nobody touches the button. No more passing of germs from one hand to another, at least through a water fountain. This might be the reason the designers decided to use sensors.
  2. The designers ignored a fundamental design principle and the scenario when the sensors are not working: feedback.
  3. There is no way someone would know if the sensors are not working. A mechanical fountain has a button that people have to press. If they press the button and water doesn’t come out, that’s feedback enough indicating that the fountain is not working.
  4. What if my hands are not free, if I’m carrying something or a baby that I can’t put down? I can use, and have used, my body to press the button to drink water from a mechanical fountain but I can’t do it with this one.

Finally, if you need to use an illustration to show how to use an item as simple as a water fountain, that is, in my book, a bad design.

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Design of Everyday Things