First the back story. In our kitchen we have french doors leading to the back yard (garden for my non-American followers). They have double paned glass and mini-blinds between the panes. So we get insulation and privacy. The whole assembly (doors, threshold, etc.) is in a single unit.
If you think about it there are essentially 4 configurations possible.
- Doors open outwards, left door is the main door
- Doors open outwards, right door is the main door
- Doors open inwards, left door is the main door
- Doors open inwards, right door is the main door
Of course, the beginning of the issue can be seen in the above definitions. Left/Right – from which perspective? In/Out – from which perspective.
The first mistake that I made was that I didn’t know that most of the time the building codes here specify that french doors open inwards. So I described what I needed to the salesman (let’s call him Scott – that is after all his real name). I explained that I wanted the left door facing outwards to open. So, he did the mental gyrations and pointed me to the one he thought I wanted. It wasn’t – it did have the left door facing out as the opening door. But the whole assembly opened inwards – and is not reversible.
So I had to return it and order the proper one. Now I am not an expert in the internal naming of sides of doors, conventions in the industry etc. I have a requirement. Open outwards, left door facing outwards must open. So the developer – oops, Scott again translates my requirements to the specification (the order) and asks me to sign off. I naively assumed that the requirements would have been correctly translated to design – silly me. What did I get? Outward opening, right door. And since it was a “special order”, I would have to pay again to get the correct one.
There is presumably some assumption about how doors are specified. Is the specification left/right as determined by the direction of opening? Is there some other way? I don’t know. That is part of the technical world of doors, not part of my desire for use.
With all that rigmarole, I came to a few conclusions for us as practitioners:
- Our users don’t know our vocabulary
- Making users sign off on specifications when they don’t know the vocabulary is costly
- When we then make the users pay twice because of miscommunication we are failing the people that we should be delighting.
All in all a bit humbling for me – when I assume that the user actually understands my jargon/terminology I am usually wrong. Note to self, when providing a service, don’t jump to conclusions in your translation from the world that the user inhabits to the world you inhabit.