comments 5

Inconvenience: deliberate or accidental?

Badly positioned socket

Seth Godin mentions providing a ‘convenience’ feature for customers and then intentionally making it inconvenient to use:

“Here at the White Plains airport, I’m noticing all these people doing things to me. Enforcing irrational rules. Intentionally putting the seats far from the electrical outlets so people like me won’t steal electricity. Yelling over the PA system. Scolding people for not standing in the right place.”

Whether, in the case he’s discussing, the electrical outlets really were positioned far from the seats to stop people plugging in laptops and so on, or whether the positioning of the seats and the outlets were entirely unconnected decisions (badly-positioned sockets aren’t exactly uncommon) my intuition tells me that there will be plenty of other examples where a ‘convenience’ feature is deliberately crippled or implemented in a way that restricts customers’ ability to use it. When it’s done for strategic reasons (appear better to customers, or just save money on electricity), it’s certainly an architecture of control.

Off the top of my head, free air pumps (tyre inflators) at petrol stations are often positioned in such a way that pays lip-service to the actual practice of using them: it looks good to have ‘free air’ but in many cases the placing of the pump makes it awkward to pull a car in satisfactorily to use it without significant manoeuvring*. That’s maybe a weak example: there must be better ones – any comments welcome!

*Of course, where the air pump requires payment, it never seems to run quite long enough to top up all four wheels, thus meaning you have to insert another coin. Whether that’s a deliberate trick, or simply a poorly planned timer, or my own sloth, I don’t know.


  1. My local pub (George & Dragon, Headcorn) serves a variety of beers and ciders. The cider is 7.2% alcohol.

    All these beverages are available in pint glasses apart from a Belgian Kriek beer (6%).

    I suspect they only serve this in half pint glasses because they don’t have pint glasses with the Liefman’s Kriek branding on them.

    I have tried no-end of canny mechanisms to get it served to me in a pint.

    I tried two halves and an empty pint glass, but the manager eventually put a stop to that. Two halves and a pint glass with ice cubes worked once. I then tried two halves and a pint of water, but then the barman got upset that I was taking the piss. So after my two halves were served I said “Will you serve me a pint of anything at all?”
    So, now I can get a pint of Kriek only if I buy a pint of something else beforehand (and pour the halves of Kriek into my pint glass once empty).

    Does this improve my relationship with the pub, the staff, and Liefman’s?

    And yet I can drink pints (0.5l) and even double pints (1l) of the stuff in France! (Which I have done recently)

  2. As to the airport outlets positioning, I think the original intended end users for the outlet was the cleaning staff plugging in a long-corded vaccuum cleaner, not 50-100 travellers with laptops. In most case, I’d guess, those outlets were placed prior to the advent of significant laptop use in airports.

  3. Pingback: WebWord » Blog Archive » Usability Tidbits for Monday 20-October-2006

  4. tim

    the local supermarket does the same thing. They have free coffee if you can manage to shop and drink at the same time. As soon as you go there with your friends and relax and drink a coffee in no time they will stop having coffee for customers.. I mean of course its meant for customers but we shouldnt use it…

  5. Pingback: WebWord » Blog Archive » Terrible Electric Plug Positions Revisted

Leave a Reply