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EPH 3rd Floor Washroom Design Case Study

This is a case of bad design in a men's staff washroom at Ryerson University.

washroomdooroutside.jpgFig. 1: The outside of the door to the EPH men's staff washroom.

In late 2007, the 3rd floor of Ryerson University's Eric Palin Hall was renovated to house the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Included in the renovations were the installation of men's and women's staff washrooms. These washrooms were intended to be “accessible” and were, presumably, designed with some attention to human-centred design.

However, the washrooms are, in fact, horribly designed. Here's why.

figure 1 shows the outside of the washroom. This door opens on a corridor about 1.25m wide. The usual signs are present on the door. But notice large OCCUPIED sign above the door. It lights up when the door is locked from the inside. This was installed because too many people were trying to open the door while the washroom was occupied.

The problem here is that the sign is far too high. It's just not visible because it's above the field of view of most people. Given the narrowness of the corridor, you've really got to crane your neck to see if the sign is illuminated.

Fix: A smaller, more discrete sign at eye level.

doorinsidesign.jpgFig. 2: Signage on the inside of the washroom door.

figure 2 shows the view of the door from inside the washroom. If you look closely at the door handle, you will see no locking mechanism for the door. A washroom door that doesn't lock? Of course, there is a lock, and you will see it next. It is sufficient to say here that one using the washroom will look at the door and wonder – how do I lock it?

My office is right across the corridor from this washroom. Approximately once a month, someone asks me to explain how the bathroom door locks, because they cannot figure it out.

Also, notice the yellow sign. This sign states that the door is automatic. Given the lack of obvious lock, is one to assume that the door locks automatically? In fact, it means that there is an electric mechanism to open the door automatically. But where is the button (usually a large metal one with a blue wheelchair symbol in it)?

Fix: Proper signage.

doorandsink.jpgFig. 3: The sink and door of the washroom.

Now look at figure 3 and consider how close the sink is to the door.

Instructors will often wash their hands after a lecture to clean them of chalk dust. Given the non-obvious lock for the door, one might be inclined to not lock the door if one is only quickly washing one's hands. But if the door is not locked, and one is standing at the sink, then one will be struck – possibly quite hard – if someone else opens the washroom door.

(Note: the sink is so close to the door to give sufficient clearance between the sink and toilet for a wheelchair to navigate the small room that has an electric hand dryer. So for the sake of accommodating a wheelchair, able-bodied users are put in danger.)

Fix: Change the electric hand dryer to a device that requires less wall space thus allowing the sink to be moved further away from the door.

Or just fix the !@#%~^&?* lock.

doorlock2.jpgFig. 4: A close up of the control to open the door automatically and the door lock.

Figure 4 shows a closeup of the wall opposite the sink and to the left of the door (per Figure 3). The large button is the usual automatic door-opening button. The smaller blue button to the right is the bathroom's door lock. (There it is!) One pushes the blue button to lock the door. There is a small red light above and to the right of the blue button that comes on when the door is locked. To unlock the door, one simply turns the doorknob (see Figure 1).

An audible click is made by the door when one locks it, but the click comes from the door, not the button. This can be startling to people – could that noise mean someone else is trying to get into the washroom? The spatial disconnect between the sound's source, and the thing that causes it means that people will misinterpret it.

A red right usually means danger or failure, not a success in locking something. And what if you can't see the colour red (i.e. you suffer from red-green colour blindness)?

paperdispenser.jpgFig. 5: The toilet and paper dispenser.

Fix: Install a normal, mechanical lock on the door, like those in airplane washrooms, that include a small, discrete sign indicating that the washroom is occupied.

figure 5 shows the toilet, support bar, and paper dispenser. The support bar is positioned per regulation, to ensure that a person requiring extra support will have it. But the geometry of the room therefore constrains the paper dispenser to be located too low.

Paper is dispensed from the bottom of the dispenser. In order to reach the paper, someone sitting on the toilet would have to lean far forward to reach the paper. In that position, one would be carrying most of one's weight on one's legs. But people confined to wheelchairs would presumably have weak, if not entirely powerless, legs. Leaning forward will virtually guarantee such a user will fall forward, face-first.

dispenserdoneright.jpgFig. 6: A better toilet dispenser arrangement, at OCAD.

Now look at that round table across from the toilet. I've checked the distances: a person of average height who pitches forward off the toilet while reaching for toilet paper will drive his forehead into the edge of the table. The emergency call button is low and just to the right of the toilet. Pitching forward off the toilet ensures you'll be just about as far away from the call button as you can get and still be in the washroom.

Finally, just to make sure you know that doing things right is possible, I include figure 6, which is a picture of a washroom at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Here we see the support bar and a properly positioned toilet paper dispenser. Note that one doesn't have to lean forward to get toilet paper here.

Considering that this washroom was designed “from scratch,” and is very recent, it is a pretty horrible design. If the designer of this washroom were in any of my design courses, he'd fail.

design/eph_washroom_design_case_study.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)