Usability and Silverware

I have an interest in usability. The downside, of course, with an interest in usability is frustration when using products that are not as usable as possible.

For example, at the UT Dallas dining hall, there are three holders for silverware on a table after you exit the food area and enter the dining area. Each holder is circular and has two levels of three “cups” each that hold silverware… they can rotate as well. So, if that doesn’t make sense, it’s like if you took six cups and attached them together in sets of threes and attached the two sets to a rod that rotated.

Anyway, they have it set up where for each level, there is a cup for each type of silverware – forks, spoons, and knives. The cups have a little sticker on them that is supposed to say what they contain, but is often incorrect. So each holder has a total of two cups of each type of silverware, then there are three holders. The individual levels can rotate, so you never know what type of silverware will be at a certain position.

A text representation would be something like this:

F-S-K    S-K-F    K-F-S
  |        |        |
S-K-F    K-F-S    F-S-K
  |        |        |
 / \      / \      / \
-----    -----    -----

So, each time you go to get silverware, you have to hunt through the holders to find all your required silverware. As you can imagine, if more than two people try to get the silverware at the same time, it usually causes a "silverware-jam."

So, I’ve seriously considered submitting a comment card suggesting that the silverware be allocated one type to one holder and large signs be placed in front of them indicating the type of silverware they hold:

F-F-F    S-S-S    K-K-K
  |        |        |
F-F-F    S-S-S    K-K-K
  |        |        |
 / \      / \      / \
-----    -----    -----
Forks    Spoons   Knives

That would eliminate the "hunting" part of the silverware-gathering experience as you could just grab one item from each holder rather than having to look through each one.

There’s a suggestion box in the dining hall. But... should I really submit a comment card about silverware usability? Interesting… But three times each day, I have the privilege of thinking about the usability (or lack thereof) of UTD’s system.

Hope that makes some sense! I’m really a nerd (or usability geek or something), I guess... Perhaps sometime I’ll write a post about the design of the dining hall walkways – not exactly ideal either.