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Consider the Paper Towel Dispenser

One of my first jobs was working at a coffee shop (photo), and part of this involved filling the paper towel dispenser behind the counter. Wanting to be as efficient as possible and not have to refill it frequently I’d do my best to stuff it full. This would result in the first few towels being very difficult to pull out, sometimes tearing off and being a frustration for the person washing their hands. But hey, that’s the price of being sure it’s nice and full and efficient, right?

I’ve been encountering similar overstuffed paper towel dispensers at work, and now that I’ve got a bit more experience I’m seeing how this is a very clear illustration of the administrator/engineer vs. user struggle. On one hand you have the maintenance person (administrator/engineer) filling the paper towel dispenser, doing what they feel is best: making the system low maintenance even if there’s a couple irritations for the end user. On the other hand you have the end user who just wants to quickly dry their hands on a paper towel, frustrated that the dispenser is doesn’t work well.

It’s very easy for those of us who run IT systems to be in a bubble, focusing solely on what we feel is important, not seeing things the way they are actually used. We should all remember to stop, wash our hands, and decide if a torn sheet of paper towel is really what the user was going for.

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