Bad user interface design: hotel showers

Every time I get into a hotel shower I think “Oh great. How does this one work?” No two are the same, and yet I’ve never seen a shower that had the simplicity and convenience of the typical residential shower with two knobs, one for hot water and one for cold. (At least that’s what’s most common in the US.)

Here’s how the shower was labeled in my hotel in Denver this week:

misleading shower label

I assumed that the off position was at 4 o’clock, the hottest water at 3 o’clock, and the coldest at 9 o’clock. So I turned the handle to the 2 o’clock position and waited for the water to warm up. Eventually I realized the shower should have been labeled something like this:

better shower label

The original label was misleading in two ways. First, it implied that you get warmer water by turning the handle clockwise. Second, it implied that the range of motion of the handle was between 9 o’clock and 4 o’clock. But to get a warm shower you have to turn the knob counterclockwise to between 5 and 6 o’clock.

Why do hotel shower designers go to great lengths to frustrate users? What’s wrong with simply having hot and a cold water knobs? Would this add a few dollars to the construction cost of a room? If so, I could think of a long list of ways I’d rather they cut costs. Are they concerned about guests who don’t know English? If so, then why assume that guests know what the letters “C” and “H” stand for? How about pictures of penguins and ice cubes drawn in blue above the cold water knob, and pictures of boiling water and fire drawn in red above the hot water knob?