design observations

Aggravating Design

This Labor Day weekend (2023), Minnesota is experiencing some record-breaking heat. Yesterday, it got up to 97 degrees F. Today, it’s expected to reach 96. In the interest of avoiding the hottest part of the day, Hubby and I headed out in mid-morning to run errands.

While on the drive to the storage unit we are renting, we were listening to 1A on Minnesota Public Radio. The conversation was with Mark Ellison, a carpenter who has become known for building impossible things. []

He talked about architects who have an artistic vision for buildings and other structures who don’t necessarily know how to create those visions in a structurally sound way. That’s where he comes in, particularly with building designs that are so “out there” that others won’t attempt them.

This was on my mind as we arrived at the storage facility, where we had to enter a security code on a keypad to drive into the facility. Then we had to enter our code to walk into the building. Then we had to enter our code to get onto the elevator, which only stays open for a few seconds before shutting. There is a sign near the elevator that says not to hold the door open or the elevator will become disabled.

When you are trying to roll two fully-loaded carts onto one of the two elevators, trying to beat the door is quite a trick, and we’ve struggled to successfully do it. We’ve also grumbled about it. Why would a storage facility have elevators that close so quickly when people are attempting to move their stuff, some of it large and unwieldy? From an Americans With Disabilities Act standpoint, we aren’t sure it meets standards. How could it?

But, it doesn’t end there. In order to leave the facility, you have to enter your code to open the garage doors if you’ve driven your car in to unload. Why? You’re already in the building, presumably by providing your code to enter.

Even worse, Erik and I entered through a regular door using our code, but we could not open the door to leave. There was no place to enter our code again to leave through this door. We had to use another door on the opposite side of the indoor parking area. How is this not a violation of fire code?

This all feels like security theater to Erik and me, and it’s security theater that is downright unsafe.

What it boils down to is aggravating design that appears not to have been tested using actual people moving their actual stuff. Have you ever tried to use a heavy-duty moving cart with one set of wheels locked in one direction while the other goes all over the place? It takes practice, which I dare say most of us using storage facilities don’t have. Try getting two of those into an elevator in 10 seconds, before the door shuts.

After visiting our storage unit, we went grocery shopping, stopping at a Chipotle for lunch. We were met with more aggravating design.

It was too loud by far in Chipotle. The person putting together Erik’s order didn’t appear to hear him and put stuff he didn’t ask for in his bowl. In the dining area, sound bounced around, from the overly loud music to people’s voices to the toddler who was crying unconsolably.

Erik is particularly sensitive to sound because he is deaf in one ear and the other ear has over-compensated for that hearing loss. We had to lean over the small table in order to hear each other.

We both shoveled in our food because the noise made us irritable. We wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. In looking around the restaurant, it was apparent that all the surfaces were hard (including the corrugated metal wainscotting), with nothing to absorb the sound. Did the designers of Chipotle intend to drive out their guests through aggravation by sound? If so, they succeeded. (McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants used to use color to get people out the door quickly. That seems a lot better than using sound to do it.)

Chipotle: Corrugated metal wainscotting topped with light wood trim with a light blue wall above. Photo by Mary Warner, September 4, 2023.
Chipotle: Corrugated metal wainscotting topped with light wood trim with a light blue wall above. Photo by Mary Warner, September 4, 2023.

The crying toddler was probably as negatively affected by this environment as we were. Poor kid. He wasn’t old enough to tell his parents or write a blog post about it.

As it is, we aren’t likely to dine-in at Chipotle in the future.

Designing for storage facility security and restaurant sound don’t seem to be as impossible as the structures Mark Ellison builds. []

Why aren’t we better at creating non-aggravating design?