#44 UX of public restroom door locks

Previously I talked about user experience of public restrooms, focusing on two aspects, 1 – many people did not wash their hands, 2 – some people did not flush.

This time, I want to talk about door lock systems in public restrooms.

So there are many different types of door locks across various public restrooms.

A small knob or a button on the door handle,

a separate knob under the door handle,

a simple horizontal bar that you can slide,

an auto-lock that you cannot open from the outside,

including the one that you have to type in a code to enter.

In some gas stations or super markets, you have to ask for a key or a code at a cashier in the first place.

The door locks for public restrooms are critical part of the user experience in various ways.

1 – You need a clear visual confirmation that a door is locked when you are inside, so that you feel safe, without having to worry about someone accidentally open the door.

Some public restrooms have door lock systems that don’t work well, or in a worst case, doesn’t work at all. This is a nightmare. 

There are also some locks that are hard to visually confirm whether it’s in a locked status or not.

When you come across this type of obscure door lock, it’s a blow on your piece of mind, which I really personally hate.

A restroom door lock should absolutely be deadly obvious and simple to see if it’s locked or not, both from inside and outside.

2 – You want to minimize a physical contact to door knobs, locks and keys if there’s any.

According to some research, public restroom door knobs are some of the most germ-infested objects.

Now that the world is in pandemic, this becomes even more concerning.

The thing about the door knobs and the door locks are that you have to touch those after washing your hands.

3 – You want to know if someone is inside or not from the outside

Many public restrooms don’t have clear visual indicators whether its currently occupied or not. This ends up people keep trying to open the door, only to realize that it’s locked.  This means you have to touch the door knob more than needed.

Also, if you are already inside and hear someone trying to open the door, this is not a good experience even though the door is fully locked.

These bring up an interesting UX question:

Can we create a door and a door lock system with a super-clear visual indicator if someone is using it or not, and the one that doesn’t require using our hands to lock and unlock?

While I don’t have all the answers to this, one potential idea that I can think of is something like this, inspired by a foot switch for floor lamps.

What if we make a public restroom door lock with a foot switch?

You just have a locking bar installed towards the bottom of a door that moves sideways using your foot.

Also, an indicator should appear on the outside of the door so that you can clearly see if someone is in or not.

This should solve those three problems that I pointed out earlier, so that …

1 – The locking bar gives you a visual conformation and peace of mind that it’s in a locked status when you are inside

2 – You can lock/unlock with a foot switch, without touching it with your hands. 

3 – You can clearly see “occupied status” visually from the outside.

I haven’t thought through this, so I’m sure that there are bunch of problems if you were to actually implement this in the most user-friendly way possible.

But it’s an interesting ideation exercise to take one of everyday life’s physical UX problems, and try to come up with solution ideas.

You should try these too!

It may give you some fresh ideas and inspirations, especially if you mostly deal with digital user experiences.

Check out YouTube version too.

Here’s another article on a user experience of public restrooms.

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