Handles are better than knobs. – By @elisaczerwenka

Handles are better than knobs.

After watching the Nudgestock festival last week, I as yet again inspired by Rory Sutherland’s wit and wisdom. After the festival ended I was curious to learn even more so I listened to his book Alchemy – again.

I love reading books multiple times. Especially if there were a couple of months in between and you can feel your mind has grown since you last picked it up. Your brain is now ready to question things more, look at them differently and discover new meaning, in the same sentences.

So it happened to me when I read chapter 2.7, The Alchemy of Design. In this section of the book, Rory explains how objects are designed – of course, with the user in mind. Human bodies are shaped weirdly, and all of our objects seem to fit them. Our chairs are comfortable; door handles are just at the right height; everything seems to make sense. There are only three suitable positions for a human. Standing, sitting and laying. And what a surprise, we created the perfect tools for each position—the phone for standing, tablets for laying down, and laptops for sitting.

When designers created products, they historically assumed the user would be non-disabled. Unfortunately, this has made our world much more difficult to navigate for disabled people. In Alchemy, Rory makes me think of disability differently. All of us, at some times, are disabled. And all of us would benefit if we considered that. So why are we not designing that way?

First, let me explain. If you want to navigate a staircase, being in a wheelchair is a definite obstacle. Now, what about if you can walk, but have to carry a heavy suitcase? Suddenly, the staircase is impossible to tackle. What if you take off your glasses at night? You have just become visually impaired. A cup of coffee in your hand? or two? Try using your hands now.

That’s why, as creatives, we need to consider constraints in everything we make. Wheelchair ramps, for example, enable wheelchair users to enter the airport more quickly, but they are also great for people carrying suitcases. Phones with large buttons work incredibly well for the elderly but also for millennials after they’ve taken their glasses off. Door knobs are incredibly difficult to open with arthritis but so are they when you are carrying a cup of coffee. Or two. And that’s why handles on door are better than knobs. All you need is an elbow to push them open.

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