Interpreting automatic door motions

Improbable recently drew attention to the latest research into the (possibly negative) implications of holding a door open for others. But what if the door which is open for you is automatic? As a 2009 article in the International Journal of Design put it:

“Automatic doors exemplify the challenges of designing emotionally welcoming interactive systems…“

Doors_to_automaticA joint research team from California College of the Arts and Willow Garage Inc. set up two experiments to investigate. In the absence of a multi-programmed selection of fully automated double doors, they constructed instead what they called a ‘Wizard of Oz setup’ – in the sense that, in reality, the door had a hidden human operator pushing it open and closed with a stick. (see photo)

How would different ‘door gestures‘ be regarded by door-users ? To find out, three different styles of door-opening were appraised via a questionnaire (Slow – Slow with Pause – Slow Open then Quick Shut) :

• How did you feel about the door?
(1) very negative – (10) very positive
• The door seemed to intend to communicate something to me.
(1) strongly disagree – (10) strongly agree
• The door seemed to think when it communicated with me.
(1) strongly disagree – (10) strongly agree
• The door was reluctant to let me enter.
(1) strongly disagree – (10) strongly agree
• The door was welcoming me.
(1) strongly disagree – (10) strongly agree
• The door was urging me to enter.
strongly disagree – (10) strongly agree

Of 102 door users, around 37% didn’t notice anything unusual, and of those who did notice the door’s unusual movements, around 25% were not keen to fill out the form – citing lack of time, language difficulties etc. Even amongst those who did notice and did fill out the form – results were not always 100% positive :

“…participants who were unhappy with the door were also quite unhappy with the experimenter who requested their time to fill out the questionnaires. In particular, those participants who were walking toward the door and had the door shut in their faces seemed personally offended…“

Nonetheless, conclusions were reached.

“These two experiments indicate that door trajectory is a key variable in the doors’ expression of welcome; door speed and the context in which the door is opening acting as amplifying factors influencing people’s emotional interpretation of the door’s gestures.”

The paper can be read in full here: Ju, W., Takayama, L. “Approachability: How People Interpret Automatic Door Movement as Gesture,” in International Journal of Design Special Issue on Design & Emotion, Vol. 3(2) August 2009.