… Broken Locks

March 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm 5 comments

About a month ago, a lock on a cubicle door in the Ladies’ at the Royal College of Art (where I work) broke.

The glamorous loos at the RCA (Mens toilets are presumed blue)

The lock didn’t look broken, but when you turned the lever it wasn’t attached to anything. So you either used another cubicle or took your chances, depending on urgency/busyness/whim.

I briefly thought about reporting it.

Or rather, I thought “I expect they know, so I won’t report it…”

A week later it was still broken.

“But the cleaners will have noticed…” I reasoned, “and reported it…”

Then the light went out in the next toilet along, making that unusable (unless you’re even more of a daredevil). Out of 4 cubicles we were now down to 2.

“They’ll have to do something now!” I thought, without reporting either…

A couple of days later the light was fixed. The lock was not.

“Hmm… actually why would the cleaners know that the lock was broken? They don’t lock themselves in…

Still, every woman in college knows by now that the lock doesn’t work. Someone must have reported it…”

Then I had my worst thought…

“I’m sure Building Services have an administrator?  She’ll have told them…”

Well the lock still wasn’t fixed, so perhaps the administrator’s a man too.

One day when the loo roll had run out in Cubicle 1 I wondered about the effects of post-its. The loo-roll holders are really starting to annoy me because they’re big cream plastic things so you don’t know that there isn’t any, until you reach for it.

So, wouldn’t it be helpful if I stuck a post-it on the toilet roll holder to say there wasn’t any? Or on the door with the broken lock? It could benefit both those using the toilets and those responsible for maintaining them.

(For the users it could almost be a bad thing. At least in ignorance you can choose the slovenly option and use it anyway..)

Sadly I never got to try my psychological experiment (or figure out a way to measure it). My more proactive Supervisor had stepped up to the plate.

“I reported that Lock!” she announced. “(and got laughed at…)”

“Why didn’t they do it sooner? It’s been a Month!”

“They didn’t know. No one had told them…

So what’s the moral of my absurd / dull story?

Putting in ways to allow the public to communicate with providers would really help with both the cleaning and maintenance of public toilet facilities. (I don’t actually know who I should have reported it to…)

…something more immediate than Fix-My-Street… but that allows more flexibility (and is less expensive) than a full-time attendant…

I’ll have to do a follow-on post, working title: Idea #9: A piece of paper on the wall (and a pen) though I think I can come up with a range of low-tech to hi-tech solutions that are a little more imaginative (if not much..)

In the meantime I’ll end on another story which comes via a Toilet Expert (and blog subscriber, so I hope she doesn’t mind).

If you liked that last one you’ll Love this :)

The lady in question was temp-ing at a company.

The Ladies toilet at the company was undergoing maintenance – there was a sign on the door instructing women to use alternative facilities until the toilets were fixed.

However the alternative facilities were in an ancient portacabin and quite a walk. This was bearable in the short-term, but it had been several months! Winter had hit and the portacabin was freeeezing.

The whole thing was ridiculous. It was a waste of company time to be trekking several times a day to the portacabin, yet still no news came through about the toilets. It was a male-dominated environment and the few women that worked there didn’t want to cause a fuss.

So on her last day our plucky temp offered to complain on their behalf.

I’m leaving anyway, so what can they do?”

She went to speak to the boss and told him how important it was to get the Ladies toilets fixed.

“What are you talking about?” he said.

“They were only out-of-action for a day.. ..it’s just that no one’s taken down the sign.”


Entry filed under: Information Design, Service Design. Tags: .

Idea #9: Crowdsource your Community Toilet Scheme … Ordnance Survey

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. portable toilet guy  |  March 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Both fantastic observations of human nature. Here’s another quick one; when we put a line of portable toilets on an event there will be a single file queue. People will readily go to a toilet they see being vacated, however they are VERY reluctant to open the door of one that is showing the vacant sign if they haven’t seen anyone emerge from it. They’d rather carry on queuing. We are a strange lot!

  • 2. Gail Knight  |  March 22, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for the comment – you’ve got me thinking about this too now!

    For portable toilets it makes sense, if the frequency of people exiting is greater than the time to walk to a vacant toilet.

    Plus there’s the added benefit that if someone’s exiting, the toilet is 1) in use and 2) vacant.

    Whereas an already vacant toilet may be 1) occupied with a wrongly displaying lock 2) occupied with a broken lock or 3) disgustingly out-of-order, all of which are not only a wasted journey (and you’ve lost your place in the queue) but embarrassing / uncomfortable for either party.

    So I too would wait for someone to emerge instead of walking to a free one unless 1) there weren’t many people emerging or 2) there was a REALLY huge queue. I’d probably deliberate for up to 30seconds too.

    No idea what you can do about it…. have a third indicator for ‘out-of-order’ toilet that the public can select to display, for the truly disgusting loos? Then there’s less fear that you’ll pick one of those (and f you do you can stop the next person making the same mistake until it gets cleaned!)

  • 3. portable toilet guy  |  March 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

    @Gail You’re absolutely correct with your reasoning. What we do if we have spare labour is to have staff on hand to point out available toilets which works well. Here’s another one for you to ponder upon. :) We put the toilets out in say a block of 12. When we empty them each hour we notice that each time there is always be one that is used way more than the rest (the same one each time). There’s obviously something in our psyche that tells us “that toilet is better/more acceptable than the rest” – And before you suggest it, it is rarely the closest.

  • 4. Gail Knight  |  March 22, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Ha. I spoke to a toilet provider at http://www.danfo.co.uk/ who said the first toilet always takes the most money – I was surprised as I’d skip the first “obviously the busiest’ and maybe the second for good measure – but not go to furthest in case it’s horrid and you’ve run out of options..

    So it’s going to be one in the first half of the row, towards the middle perhaps – and consequently it always has people exiting so never falls into the ‘always vacant’ category, thus usage goes exponential.

    Who knew there was so much maths to portaloos!

    The spare labour helper is a great service to provide :)

  • 5. Jo-Anne Bichard  |  March 22, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    the lock is still not fixed so I reported it again…


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