Posted in design, random, user experience, Vancouver

When automatic washrooms backfire: a lesson in cost-externalization

The washroom was so small that the auto towel dispenser thought I wanted paper as I walked in. This paper caused the auto dryer to turn on for 5 seconds. This repeated itself as I watched in amusement.

A closer picture of the perpetual automatic dryer
A closer picture of the perpetual automatic dryer

One has to wonder why this was not thought of earlier in the design of the washroom. What makes it worse, was that the door opens half way only as it is blocked by the sink.

A picture of this "automatic" dryer and paper towel dispenser combination
A picture of this "automatic" dryer and paper towel dispenser combination

This happens in software projects all the time. It’s called cost externalizing and happens when companies don’t take into account the fact that their users have a hard time getting certain tasks done, or have a bad experience while doing it. To them, they think:

Who cares that it takes the user five clicks to get this action done, they can do it so we can check off that feature request.

This is a very dangerous way to design software, or anything that involves users, really.



Jon Chui (pronounced "chew") has been building iOS/Android apps for the last 7 years, the last 3 working on Google Maps, Inbox by Gmail and Google's Search App. Though he grew up in a Christian family and to parents who would end up giving up their 25 years of hard-earned comforts/affluence in Canada to go back to China as missionaries when he was 14, being a Christian was always in his head, and he would constantly struggle with trying to unify the sacred and the secular - until last year. However, through a radical transformation[] @ work last year (which he can't take ANY credit for), he & his wife & 2 young boys have decided to leave Google, sell/donate everything they have so to serve the poor & marginalized with Jesus’ love as missionaries with's Family DTS in Kona, hawaii then to the Philippines. Read more about their family journey @, and reach out to him @ If you're a recruiter with freelance jobs or have tech projects for jon feel free to reach out to him -

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