Technology so smart you now need instructions

I would say I’m usually pretty confident in knowing how to flush a toilet.

But recent changes in toilet flush designs have got me flummoxed. So much so that places that have these toilets have started to include instructions.

How do I use this?

The interaction design of these new style toilets offers no affordance or at least no obvious affordance. Users are used to pushing a button, pressing a lever or pulling a chain.

Will we get used to swiping a toilet to flush it? Probably. Is this a learning curve as we transition to these new funky toilets? Probably. How would I feel being unable to flush a toilet? Particularly if I can hear someone outside waiting to come in after I’ve left? Anxious and probably a little embarrassed.

Do the instructions help? yes. But not if you have sight impairments.

I’m no toilet expert. But I do know that affordance is a good thing. It gives users an indication of how to use things. Reducing the number of mistakes they make and the frustrations they can otherwise encounter. As more of the things we use in the real world become digital or sensor-based, it becomes harder for users to predict how they should interact with them, confidently.

Other sensor-based toilets auto-flush when a user stands up. I haven’t a clue how well that works for men. But at first glance, it does feel like it would take some of the anxiety out of standing up and being completely flummoxed about how to flush a toilet – something that most people have been doing independently without instructions for the majority of their lives.