The UX of Real Life — Door Handle

I spend a lot of my time wrapped up in the UX of our products, EdgeRank Checker and PostAcumen. For those who don’t know, UX stands for “user experience” or how a person experiences the use of your product. In the tech industry we leverage a wide variety of A/B testing, extensive interviews, or any other new tactic to get the latest insights into user experience.

But what about the UX of Real Life? Jason Fried has talked about this before: how do we interact with the real life objects around us? What is the UX or UI (user interface) of a house fan? How about a refrigerator? This line of thought has intrigued me ever since. What is the UX of real life? Everywhere I go, I try to examine this process to better aid me in the development of my understanding of how people use anything in the world.

Before you read further, think of a door handle. Imagine a door handle similar to this:

Door Handle

Imagine how you would walk up and open this door. Picture how each member of your immediate family would open this door. How would they grab the handle? Do they slowly and elegantly pull open the door, or do they rapidly extend a hand towards the handle and rip it open with a tug? Where did they grab the handle when they opened it? Why did they grab the handle in the location where they did? Did this change based on their height? Did it change depending on how hurried they were?

Now imagine these family members using this door handle a million times each. What would it look like? Is it starting to fade? Is it starting to warp? If we mapped where people grabbed the handle the most, where would we see the most usage?

Now you’re ready to scroll down to see a door handle that took this same punishment:

Heat Map of Door Handle

This door handle is an excellent and accurate representation of exactly how this door handle has been used. What’s amazing to me is that all around the world I’ve seen this same  usage pattern of this type of door handle.

A few things jump out to me:

  • Upper right corner is most used
  • Top horizontal bar is used more heavily than expected
  • Middle of vertical bar’s use is skewed to the top 1/3

I decided to film a door in our office and how it is used. Here is how Kelby & I use the door handle:

Embedly Powered

Kelby (5’5″) grabs right in the middle of the handle and opens it. I (6’2″) grab the upper right corner of the door handle. Significantly different heights, much different usage patterns.

If I were designing door handles, I’d want to explore this deeper.

  • Does height correlate with different usage patterns?
  • What can we do to appeal to all heights?
  • How can we improve our design?

What am I going to do with this door handle knowledge? Probably not much. However, I encourage everyone to look at obscure things like this in life to get a better understanding of how and why the world is the way it is around you.

I hope to gain deeper insights into how humans use things so that I can do a better job when they use the things we build.

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