Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hardware with usability problems: Dyson Airblade hand dryer

Most of my usability posts are about software, but from time to time I will comment about usability issues in other aspects of life, such as machines and buildings.

The picture below shows the Dyson Airblade. This is a new kind of hand dryer popping up more and more in public washrooms. I hate them. Please, if you are installing a washroom, don't choose this technology!

This technology uses high speed jets (blades of air) to rapidly push the water off your hands. You insert your hands from above. The water is 'pushed' rather than evaporated. It works, if you are an able-bodied adult with steady hands.

The big benefit of the device is lower energy consumption.

What are the problems:

  1. They are totally unusable by small children. You have to insert your hands from above. Small children simply cannot reach the slots. In many washrooms with these devices there is no alternative, so kids have to leave their hands wet. My four-year old cannot use these yet; she is short and likely will only be able to use them when she is 6 or 7. This is unacceptable.
  2. Disabled people in wheelchairs cannot use them. This is a critical accessibility problem.
  3. People with Parkinsons, or unsteady hands in general will always find that they end up touching the yellow borders of the device. This is unhygienic. Dryers should not require touching anything because not everybody washes their hands well.
  4. Even people like myself and my wife don't like them because of reason 3. I have steady hands, but it it requires attention to avoid touching the borders; not easy, for example, if you have little kids in tow.
I don't see an easy way to fix this without major redesign. They could somehow arrange for an additional set of hand slots much lower down, to solve problems 1 and 2. However that would increase the cost a lot. To solve problems 3 and 4, they would need to increase the openings a lot, but that would decrease the effectiveness. Perhaps some kind of mechanism could automatically move to avoid having the device touch people's hands, or perhaps it could be redesigned so people insert their hands up to their sleeves, so only their sleeves would touch. A moving element could then push the water with the blade of air. However, this all seems very difficult to achieve inexpensively from an engineering standpoint.

If you agree with the above, please forward to the company, to building supervisors and to your friends. The corporate website has a feedback form  Let's try to get a movement going against this device until it is redesigned to solve the above problems. Such unaccessible devices are totally unacceptable.


  1. the dyson design is genius - it forces all the water to your finger tips, where the surface tension is lowest. blackberry's keyboard is more accessible than the iphone, but guess which one consumers prefer. the 'no child left behind' mentality gets in the way of truly great design.

  2. I have to admit I strongly disagree with you. I find these machines particularly well designed. In my opinion, you could criticize just as well the design of toilet bowls and washbasins. Wherever I found a dyson airblade, I found no toilet bowl and no washbasin usable by small people (children or not). Can we conclude that we should change their design too? I don't think so.

  3. In response to Damien. I have had agreement from parents with kids on my Facebook post on this ( My daughter can easily sit on any toilet bowl, and can reach sinks if they are not the 'high' kind. These, however require one to reach down from above, so you have to be considerably higher. Even if the devices had entry points in front at an angle, it would go a long way. Lots of things have great designs for 'average' people, and cool new features. That is certainly true here. But the fatal flaw here is accessibility.

  4. Incidentally, There is supposed to be a picture in this post. Three times it has vanished after a while, so I have had to repeatedly edit the post.

  5. I completely agree with your post. It is not hygienic if you touch the case or yellow boundary. Also it has an annoying sound.

  6. What a lot of cods wallop replies to your original complaints!
    If you tested this machine for bacteria, it would be off the scale - the most careful adults end up touch the interior of the machine.
    The best invention in recent years is the Air Force which blasts you hands dry with cheap cool air in a matter of seconds.
    I don't think James Dyson deserves his fame and wealth from a string of crap products! If you wasn't the best vacuum cleaner in the world get. a Meile cat and dog

  7. You don't need to be a specialist to in hygiene to realise that these machines cannot possibly remain hygienic even if they were cleaned on a regular basis you don't know how carefully the person before you has washed his hands and you could catch pretty much anything from those extremely difficult to push your hands in that force of without touching the yellow slips and the insides of the machine. I think they're complete rubbish!!

  8. When I was using the machine, I experienced that it would not turn on unless I had both hands in the device. What about people with only one hand? I've searched online to try to find out if this is a known limitation of the device but can't find anything.

  9. I tend to get backwards spray when first inserting my hands, which is disconcerting and gets on my clothes. I also don't understand how people with thicker hands and wrists can avoid touching the edges. The clearance seems to be for skinny folk or women.

    Another problem with paperless dryers is you can't grab a towel to use on the germ-coated door handle as you exit, and it's not fun using TP for that task.

  10. I realize this is an old post, but what the heck. . .

    While I have to agree with your observations, I still really like the airblade, especially in comparison to conventional hot-air blowers. Those conventional blowers are so slow that most people only dry their hands about half way (if that) then wipe them on their pants. As a user, I prefer paper towels, but I do worry about all the waste of paper.