Thoughtful Design: Lessons from a Soap Dish

My first lesson from the recent conference actually comes from the hotel.

I was staying at the Dallas Sheraton, which is pretty typical: a downtown hotel catering to the convention crowd, overpriced and conspicuously upscale. All convention hotels seem to be like that.

I got annoyed at the hotel early, though.

It happened at about 5:10 a.m. on Saturday, which obviously isn’t the toughest time to annoy someone. And admittedly, I was already quite exhausted (Friday also had a 5:00 a.m. wakeup, plus an unpleasant flight, plus a long half-day-plus of work that didn’t end ’til about midnight, so…)

The trigger for my annoyance? The soap dish.

Said soap dish was also conspicuously upscale: a minimalist, wire basket that looked good, maybe even cool.

It also didn’t work.

Soap dish

The soap fits neatly between the wires in the soapdish, as it did several times my first day in Dallas.

The gaps between the wires were larger than the soap.

Okay, the soap dish could hold the soap, if you were careful to put it across the wire rather than parallel with it, and nothing slipped. That’s a lot to expect of someone who’s tired and wet and up at 5:10 a.m., though.

From there, there wasn’t a whole lot that the hotel could do right in my eyes. The room lighting was all wrong, with switches in inconvenient places. Bathroom lighting was even worse: There was only one light, but a wall in the bathroom meant that parts of the room stayed dark. The internet cable was busted. The TV remote worked, but only after a few seconds of holding a button. The breakfast buffet required three hands, because everything was in trays that had to be held open, and then you had to hold the spoon with another hand while holding the plate. In the restaurant, the booths were too far from the table to be comfortable. (Eventually, I figured out that the booths were mobile in a way that the tables weren’t.) Et cetera.

All of this is stuff that probably wouldn’t be apparent to someone who’s just looking at the hotel. But it became obvious when I tried to do, well, stuff, that the hotel wasn’t set up for that.

There is value in thoughtful design. There is even more value in actually trying out that design to make sure it works the way you expect it. And that’s probably much more important for a museum than a convention hotel. The hotel, after all, had me as a captive audience—I wasn’t likely to just switch hotels, even if it were possible (a dubious prospect, given the number of hotel rooms the convention consumes). Museum visitors have a lot more discretion: make their visit a frustrating experience and they won’t come back.

At least make sure the soap’s the right size.

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One Response to Thoughtful Design: Lessons from a Soap Dish

  1. Pingback: Information Design and Marketing | Museum Beyond

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