Strange Choices

Lately, I've developed an interest in user experience (hereafter referred to as UX) design.  Designing for the user to have a specific experience is relevant not just in graphic design but in anything you can possibly design.  In his book The Elements of User Experience, Jesse Garrett uses the example of a coffeemaker.  If you can't easily get your hot brew in the morning when you aren't thinking straight, you probably won't buy another product from that company.  This idea can apply to anything: a product should never make the user feel dumb.  Garrett is a real expert in this field so I hesitate to refer to his work seconds before making my own judgments about a design, but here goes.

The new Kuyper apartment building on Dordt's campus is great.  It's spacious, well lit, and generally a good place to live.  But there's one really interesting design choice I can't get my head around: the light switches.

In the bedrooms, there are two separate light switches for the closet lights and main ceiling fixture.

And they make me feel dumb.

Every time I walk into the room, I automatically reach for the light switch next to the door.  This turns on the fixtures that are in the closets by the door.  I then have to decide whether to leave them on (because I didn't need or want them on in the first place), while taking another step forward to reach the switch for the main room light switch.  Sometimes I end up sideways trying to grasp for both switches at the same time, and they're just slightly further apart than my arms can comfortably reach.  After over a month of living in the building, I still have to do an awkward, time-wasting side step half the time.

Hey, there could be some benefit to all this.  I can turn the closet lights on and find clothes without disturbing a sleeping roommate, right?  No, actually the closet lights are bright enough to wake most people up... but not bright enough for working at my desk during the day.  Surely the architects had a reason for choosing the strange setup, but I can't figure out what it might be.

Southview, the next building over, has a much more elegant solution.

It seems so obvious!  Put the two switches together.  Users will learn within the first two attempts which switch is which.  Even in the dark, it's nearly impossible to confuse the positions of the two.  This arrangement is much more intuitive.

In short, I'm really curious why the choice was made to put the two light switches on different walls in Kuyper.  Every design is a compromise, but this particular compromise doesn't bring any benefits I can think of.

Next up, I'll find something that's designed well and explain why I think it is.  Stay classy, Sioux Center!