In which our hero slips and falls

A couple weeks ago I had what I jokingly referred to as “an old guy moment”. I slipped and fell in the shower. I realize that my age has nothing to do with this, it could happen to anyone, at any time, at any age, and it happened to me. If anyone has seen me present before, you’ve probably heard me mention that if you want to find examples of bad UX, look no further than the nearest bathroom. Never before has this been more painfully obvious to me.

Allow me to set the scene. I had just finished showering and, as I have always done, I stepped out of the tub with one foot and reached for my towel hanging within reach on the door. The difference this time is that the foot still in the tub slipped and rotated somewhere between 45 to 90 degrees, made a sickening “thunk thunk” as it popped, and I went down… hard.

I quickly realized that I absolutely, 100%, could not get up. My knee was done, and I had to call my girlfriend to come help me up and out of the tub. This was me at my absolute most vulnerable, remember I had just finished showering, and I totally stopped showering in my bathing suit sometime after 11th grade. I did not want to call for help, but I had no choice. I was stuck.

Fast forward a week and half. I was moving around ok now but since my fall I was really nervous about falling again. So nervous in fact, that I had taken to showering sitting in the tub or bathing. I realized I had to shower, but I couldn’t follow the same process that caused me to fall the first time, it was user tested and was decidedly flawed and needed to be fixed.

A decision tree showing two user paths. One where the towel hanging on the door causes the user to slip. The other showing the towel hanging on the shower curtain reduces injury

I thought about what I could change. Remodeling was out of the question. I rent my place and I can’t spend that kind of money. So I looked at what went wrong: the towel was too far away from where it was needed, so I moved it. Now, the towel didn’t make me fall, reaching for it while half-standing in a slippery tub did. So I bought a bathmat. I’m not the only person who showers at my house, my girlfriend and two daughters are also huge fans of not being disgusting. Thing is, I’m the only that fell, so I bought a mat. Guess what? This thing I put there for my own needs ended up being used by everyone. They didn’t need it, but they sure loved it once it was there.

Does any of this sound familiar?

My towel, a control, was located too far away and it caused a user error. When it was moved closer to where it was needed, the user stopped falling and dislocating their knee.

The bathmat was a feature built for one particular user that made everyone’s experience more enjoyable. By tweaking the foundation that the experience was built on, it made for a safer and quicker experience for everyone. Whether the other users noticed or not, they were most likely aware that the tub was slippery and couldn’t get the job done as quickly as they could once the mat was installed.

Oh, and for those of you who screamed “Why didn’t you have a bathmat?!”, sometimes we don’t use the right elements at the right time when we’re in a rush.

And that’s all it took. In order to make things more accessible, I made a couple of slight design changes. These changes didn’t really affect the look or feel, annoy other users, cost a ton of money, but it did improve the experience and reduced user “drop off” by at least 25%. And that’s all this user “kneeded”.

Categories: Development, User Experience (UX)


Marco Zehe says:

Waaaaaaait a minute! You slipped in your shower just recently? I slipped on the bathroom tiles while, guess what, stepping out of the bathtub where I had just finished showering. The bathtub already had a mat, because I had slipped in there before, but the tiles didn‘t have anything to stop a slippery foot from sliding. I had put a towell in front of the tub, but missed it this time when stepping out. We now have some circular stoppers on the tiles that give the feet a better grip in case they miss stepping on the towel again. The towel itself also has a better grip now.

My back has since recovered from the hard bump onto the bathtub rim and nearby toilet. So all is well again on this end, too. 🙂

The one thing I wonder… Does all of this have anything to do with the fact that we‘re meting for #a11yToConf next week? 😉

Char James-Tanny says:

I can rule out the #a11yTO connection 😉 When I slipped a couple of years ago while getting out of the tub, I managed to pull down the shower rod and the towel rod. We ended up redoing the bathroom.

And buying a bathmat.

(PS Apart from a lot of bruises, there was no other damage to my body. Hope you’re well on the way to recovery!)

Mithaldu says:

Just remain aware that as long as the angle is steep enough even bath mats can slip. Found this out on my own.