About the hidden complexity behind useful interfaces, as explained by the plumber. Or: It’s been a busy year and, among other things, I’ve not been keeping abreast of advances in water tap technology.

On a recent visit, the plumber patiently explained that our water tap (also known as a faucet in North America and beyond) does not use rubber washers that cost pennies. He told me that only compression faucets use washers. With compression faucets, when the user turns the tap handle, a washer is compressed and the water flow is controlled. Simple, and terribly old fashioned.

Our tap required a new cartridge if we wanted it to stop dripping, he said. He recommended a Replacement Brass Ceramic Disc Cartridge Faucet Valve that costs 100 times more than a washer.

The extra expense is due to the precision engineering within the cartridge. It contains two highly polished ceramic discs that align to control the water supply. And they’re not even new technology, they’ve been popular since the 1960s.

Still reeling from attempting to update my plumbing knowledge, I asked “But why? Why have ceramic disc cartridges replaced washers?”

The plumber replied, “because people like the quarter-turn”.

The quarter-turn? You’re familiar with the quarter-turn.

Millions of us now expect to be able to control the water pouring into our baths and sinks with the minimum of effort.

No longer do we screw the tap handle through the 360 degrees required from compression faucets.

Instead we move the handle across 90 degrees with one finger, or the back of the hand or an elbow, to release the ceramic discs and let the water flow.

The complexity is hidden and we happily pay more for a better user-experience.

Not to labour the point, but it’s the same with websites and apps.

Ease-of-use doesn’t just happen. It’s the product of a lot of thought, research and hard work behind-the-scenes.

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Published On: December 31st, 2017 / Categories: Product management, Research and analysis, Strategy, Usability / Tags: , , /