How often do you see a clever innovation and think, “Brilliant! Why didn’t someone figure that out sooner?!”? Today, I’m going to talk about some clever innovations that someone has thought of, but that – for reasons unknown to me – haven’t made the rounds. These are simple innovations that wouldn’t be difficult to implement, making their lack of universality especially puzzling.
I came across the first two innovations in my international travels. First, while living in Santiago, Chile, I was impressed by this clever innovation:
Three-pronged subway handle in Santiago, Chile
On the subway trains, the posts branched into three prongs! They still had a single point of attachment at the top and bottom, so required no innovation in installation. Yet, three times as many hands could fit – a huge benefit during peak travel times. Brilliant, no? Why aren’t these standard issue on subways everywhere?
On the opposite side of the world, I was blown away by information design in the Hong Kong subways. For example, above every door of the train was a map of the subway system with lights indicating current and future stops. There was also a lighted display indicating the direction of travel and which side of the train the doors would open on at the next stop. This sleek and informative design wowed me and my fellow travelers, but it’s not easy to implement retroactively, so I’ll talk about the exit signs instead.
Each subway stations has multiple (read: up to 10 or so) exits and leaving via the wrong one can leave you confused and/or far from your desired destination. Hong Kong solved this by naming and labeling the exits. You can arrange to meet your friends at Exit R. A business can tell you to use Exit B and walk two blocks north. Brilliant, no? After a year and a half living in NYC, at an unfamiliar stop, I still often exit the subway and then figure out which way to head by looking at street numbers. NYC could implement this innovation and provide exiting riders with more useful information than “NW corner”.
Exit the subway with confidence in Hong Kong
We’ve talked about subways. Now, let’s talk about bathrooms. I’ve come across some unexpected configurations and some technology that seems like it belongs on an infomercial, but I’m sticking to practical – and desirable – innovations in this post.
After ducking to peek for feet under a row of stalls in the ladies room yesterday, I thought, “Why don’t all stalls have occupied/vacant signs?” This innovation isn’t new or fancy. In fact, it’s used on airplanes that were built decades ago and on every last Porta Potty. (If Porta Potties have a head start on innovation, bathrooms everywhere should be ashamed.) It can be done with the same style of sliding bolt, so no big innovation in installation is needed. Here’s an example:
Same sliding bolt, but no more peeking for feet
A big innovation in toilet design is the automatic flush. Desirable in principle, terrible in practice. I can’t be the only person frequently victim of a surprise flush when the sensor mistakenly thinks I’ve stood up. I can’t be the only one who notices that the automatic flush is often so strong that it splashes water all over the seat. (If we’re trying to keep things clean and prevent squatting, this is not the answer!) If we have a people-don’t-flush problem, maybe there’s another way. Yes, indeed, there is!
Introducing: the foot flush!
I’ve seen this in a few old fashioned bathrooms in NYC. Why did we abandon this innovation? From the following sign, it’s clear that people want to flush with their feet.
Given the choice between a precarious karate kick and touching it with my hand …
Give the people what they want! Nobody wants surprise flushes or tsunami style automatic flushes. I admit that the foot flush is extremely expensive to retrofit, but there’s no excuse not to use pedals in new construction or in total makeovers.
What simple innovations have you seen that haven’t made the rounds?