Skip to comments.Fly UI - User Interface Technology in the European Urinal
Posted on 01/23/2003 10:45:44 PM PST by Swordmaker
I have seen one of the finest instances of user interface design ever, and I saw it in the men's room at Schipol airport in Amsterdam.
In each of the urinals, there is a little printed blue fly. It looks a lot like a real fly, but it's definitely iconic - you're not supposed to believe it's a real fly. It's printed near the drain, and slightly to the left.
I asked a user interface designer I knew at Nortel about this, who happened to be Dutch and who was familiar with this particular piece of toilet technology. And he told me that washrooms are much cleaner when these flies are there. Presumably because they encourage, in a very subtle way, good aim.
Now I love this kind of interface, because it's so psychologically clever. If they had put big circular targets, and arrows with a little printed message "pee here!" (like it would probably be if anybody ever tried such a thing in America), it would backfire. A certain percentage of men would deliberately try to disobey this instruction.
But this innocuous little fly just invites being peed upon, if such a thing makes any sense, but in a non-insistent, gentle, and entirely effective way. If you're the user interface specialist Donald Norman, I suppose you'd say the fly affords being peed on.
I would love to know if Dutch toilet user interface designers (there's a title for a business card!) tried focus groups with other icons - bees, smiley faces, eye icons, circles, letters? I would love to know what process they used to decide that it should be slightly to the left.
My hat is off to the inventor of this design.
Several prominent blogs linked to this article, which caused dozens of other blogs to link to it, which caused...
So I've now had e-mails from some friendly Dutch industrial designers and other interface professionals, who are happier than one might normally predict to tell me the details of their nation's clever solutions for pee-pee time.
A Google search on vlieg urinoir turns up some interesting stuff. For those who don't read Dutch (which includes me - I can make out the gist if I squint real hard and pretend it's badly-spelled German), here are the interesting findings: (Thanks to correspondents Branko Collin and Inne ten Have)
A discussion about the question why the fly is on the left and not in the middle:
A new technology is being introduced: this is a plastic strip that will change color when peed upon. (This seems to me like a reasonable next step. User Interfaces typically benefit from immediate feedback, after all.)
An alternate design shows a urinal with the image of a burning candle, right in the center this time. Apparently, it is special that in this case the image is part of the ceramic, which saves on cleaning. The flame is apparently an invention by scientists of a German university so that men can quench their boyhood desire to become a fire fighter. (!)
After the Dutch indistrial designers weighed in, I started getting e-mail from British folks knowledgeable in Victorian toilet technology. They have been able to provide the most likely origin of the idea (thanks to correspondents Rupert Goodwins and Jez):
British Victorian Urinals had various targets to aim for, some literally being a target like on an archery range.
My favourite was that of a Bee to aim for, much like that of the fly used by the Dutch, but as an (British) English speaker it is worth noting that Latin for Bee is apis, so a rather erudite visual pun in a lavatorial setting is quite unexpected and amusing
[ed: I wonder if the Dutch had English-language punnery in mind when they made the animal in their pissoirs a fly - 'cause you have to undo one to pee on one. Hee hee!]
I wonder how many man years are wasted each year staring at a tile wall...
The man years wasted has to be broken into two categories.
Those who stare upwards...
...and those who stare downwards.
All horizontal movement of the eyes or head is strictly forbidden.
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