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Norman bins

In The Design of Everyday Things [1], Donald Norman talks about what he calls Norman doors, doors whose user interface, as it were, is not intuitive. A typical example is a door with a handle which looks like you should pull, but you have to push it instead [2]. Other examples include a door that you are supposed to push, but there’s no indication of which side, or a set of alternating doors and panels in which it’s not clear which is a door and which is a panel [3]. It’s not that he designs such doors, or that he’s proud of them, it’s just that he’s talked and written about bad door design so many times that people use his name to indicate that the design is bad.

I call the recycling bins on campus Norman bins. We used to have special recycling bins on campus, one for each kind of recycling. They had appropriate shape holes on the top. You knew what went where. Then the College moved to mixed recycling and we switched to things that look just like garbage cans, except that they are blue. You know what? When you see a big bin that is shaped exactly like a garbage can, your subconscious says garbage can. And so people throw garbage in them. But if you throw garbage in a recycling can, it makes the recycling unusable.

I see garbage thrown in the recycling bin by the third-floor elevator [4]. At campus picnics, people seem to be unable to distinguish the recycling bins from the garbage cans. Color doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m not sure if we also compost, or only compost, or what. But blue garbage cans don’t succeed as recycling bins, even when they have big recycling signs on the side.

We’ve had this issue for a number of years now. I keep wondering why no one does anything about it. It’s not like the solution is hard. You could use a different shape of bin. Or you could just put a lid on it with holes cut for bottles, cans, and papers. I think that would be enough to stop most people from putting garbage in the things that look just like garbage cans.

But for now, it seems that they will just be Norman bins.

Postscript: There is a new recycling bin outside in front of the JRC. It is paired with a garbage can. And it is clearly marked. But it looks costly enough that I can’t envision the College replacing all of the blue bins with the new bins.

[1] Formerly The Psychology of Everyday Things, which has the acronym poet, but which didn’t sell as well.

[2] Yes, we have lots of those on campus.

[3] Every time I think of these issues, I see the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers story in which they try to rob a bank and Fat Freddie walks into a glass wall.

[4] I even have to stop myself from doing it.

Version 1.0 of 2018-01-20.