Sunday, April 09, 2006

Going with the flow

The university I attended tried everything to keep people from walking diagonally across its main quad. They put up signs and ropes and fences, and planted hedges, but the shortcutting continued unabated.

The one thing they didn't try was giving in. In place of a muddy swath of trampled turf, they could simply have made it official, paved a footpath, and quit worrying about it. The students weren't out to destroy the lawn, just to take fewer steps between a few of the major buildings.

Design, in my opinion, would often benefit by following the natural flow of traffic more closely. I worked in a building where the wheelchair ramp ran away from most of the parking lot. A couple of stairs would have saved the rest of us a leap through the bushes, spared the janitorial staff a good many muddy footprints, and generally made more sense.

The idea not limited to physical paths of travel, either. If my shoes naturally wind up beside the bed at night, why not put a basket there and declare that the shoes belong there? If the junk mail consistently accumulates on the nearest horizontal surface to the door, perhaps that's where the recycle bin and the sorting trays should go.

By extension, when arranging tools in a workspace, buttons on a screen, or utensils in a kitchen, place objects near where they will be needed, and make frequently-used objects the most accessible. The knife block should go near the cutting board and the pot-holders near the oven. The large, infrequently-used roasting pan can go on a high shelf, out of the way.

In short, go with the flow.


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