The (Bad) Design of Everyday Things (Part 1)

On 2010/04/16, in Design, by Greg Woods

Recent trends in bathroom design, often seen in hotels, but increasingly so in residences, put style ahead of usability. Here are some observations, from a recent hotel stay in Lisbon. Part 1 – the demise of the shower head rail.

At 6’2″, non-height-adjustable showers are just an abomination. It should be illegal based on some sort of heightist discrimination.

Why do this? I suspect that hotels are sick of repairing flimsy ‘chrome’ plated plastic rails that have broken in two, pulled off the wall, or had one of the two friction holds fail, so that the shower head either slides to the bottom of the rail, or droops impotently, until turned on – then to soak the opposite wall.

I can imagine the cause being this desire for lower maintenance costs, coupled with the architect or designer’s obsession with simple lines.

Specifying a fixed height shower holder is simply the wrong solution. The real solution is to fit better quality products.

Here’s my shower head list of requirements

  • User can easily adjust shower height. Adjustment range should accommodate dwarf to giant
  • User can easily adjust tilt of shower head
  • User can easily remove shower head from the rail, and easily reattach to the rail
  • User with a weak grip should be able to perform all adjustments
  • User should be able to treat the rail as a secure handrail. Shower rail and fixings should be able to withstand any sudden grab, and the accompanying sideways force, from a user who may slip in the shower
  • Hotel maids, or householder should be able to perform servicing on the rail mechanisms should they fail. Training materials (likely video) should be made available for servicing
  • The fitter should not use his own fixings. Shower rail pack should always include approved fixing hardware. Options for both tiles on wall board, and tiles on brick/block should be available
  • Customer should be able to easily obtain or order more spare parts
  • Customer should receive a selection of spare parts when bulk ordering
  • User should never have to fish a popped-off decorative plastic part from the plughole or U-bend.
  • User should never see rust stains down the wall. Fixing screws should be rustproof (likely a high quality stainless steel)
  • If fittings screws are visible (which is likely if the ‘easy to maintain’, and ‘no pop-off decorative bits’ requirements have been met), they should look nice (torx or hex head?)
  • Fitters should find it really hard to damage fixing screw heads. Ensure no awkward angles are required to tighten, and supply hardened screw heads (likely if stainless steel used)

As with any customer – designer – user interaction, it is usually immediate cost which is king. This is so often the case with software development. Long term maintenance costs are difficult to factor. User dissatisfaction almost impossible to convert to dollar amounts. Whose fault is it? That may need to be the subject of another post.

If you are involved in interactive design in any way – be it shower heads or software, then ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ is a must read. Click the image to buy from


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