Home > Everyday usability > Everyday Usability 29: light switches

Everyday Usability 29: light switches

The photo below shows the design of a light switch (top of the photo) from an office were I used to work. The office in its form, as I worked in it, provided space for about 40 people, a huge room. Design for a light switches in the building and this room was maybe not easy because the rooms are intended to be flexible – either smaller offices or a big room from the length of the building. As our team moved in it was a big office from the length of the building. The lighting switch design was misdesigned in (at least) three ways.

In the sketch below you can see the rectangular form of the building. The red marked areas in the corners are staircases that was to both sides accessible by doors. Those doors were in parallel main entrances to the big office room. Of course the big did not have a single lamp. There were at least 12 different switchable lamps. There were some columns in the room for statical reasons and which could be used to separate the room into smaller offices. The light switches were rather random positioned in the room. Some where on the columns, but not on each column and some on walls. It was hard to link a switch with the specific lamp.

Another problem was that the status of the light switch was not physically visible. A click returned the switch in the same physical position. If there is one light it is not a problem, obviously you see its status. But I recognised that as soon as you have two switches next to each other it gets confusing. Even if daily used my memory is just too lazy to remember the link of switch and light, unless the position of the switch indicates clearly the associated lamp.

The third misguiding thing in the design that I found are the icons on the switch. They seem to be adopted from the on/of switch used in technical devices. However, there they are on one button most likely combined with a light indicating the status of the technical device (two cues to make the status recognisable). I found them arbitrary on the switch and even now I do not remember which of them was  “on”. A better way would have been to use clear identifiable icons (also for non-technicans). Figure 3 shows an example.

Additional to the above mentioned unclear physical status of the switch and missing association of switch and lamp, it was a big confusion. I was very happy if someone in the office already turned on the light.

Concerning the position of the switches I would have found it better to use a wireless light regulation with a pad. The room could have different holders on the walls that are flexible to the rooms design and the pad could be mounted on either ones depended on the current room design. This is a big advantage that we now have with cheap tablets.

light switch

light switch

Ground plan of the office

Ground plan of the office

icons light switch

icons light switch

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Categories: Everyday usability
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