Glasses in the Kitchen Cabinet: A good analogy?

Jared Spool

June 16th, 2006

Lately, I’ve been using the act of storing drinking glasses in a kitchen cabinet as an analogy for large information spaces. I use lots of analogies to explain design concepts, but this one has generated more comments than usual.

In the letter for yesterday’s UIEtips, I wrote the following analogy:

“There are few things more frustrating in life than trying to get a drinking glass in someone else’s kitchen. You have to open every cabinet door to figure out where they put the empty glasses. For a few moments, we feel like we’re invading a very private space, searching for something innocuous by opening every nook and cranny.

“It’s an interesting phenomena, since, in our own house, we have a cabinet with glasses. Chances are the glasses are in a cabinet near the kitchen sink. Yet, when we’re in unfamiliar territory, we’re on a search and rescue mission of immense proportions.

“In the 21st century, innovation has finally arrived. Cabinet manufacturers have come up with an amazing invention: windows. Yes, they now put windows in the cabinets so you see the glasses without opening every door. Simply brilliant. I wish I’d thought of it.”

to which I got a response from Steve (male):

“What a great analogy! :)

“I’d take it one step further — when you start redesigning a site, it’s like moving in with someone. ‘What do you mean the glasses go in THAT cabinet. They should go in THIS one!’”

and this response from Robin (female):

Very bad analogy.

  • At least 3/4 of women would not search all over. We would look around the kitchen and say “I would put the glasses near the fridge” (if there is a water dispenser on the fridge) or “I would put the glasses between the sink and the dishwasher”. and lo and behold, most of the time we are right. So I don’t think of myself doing this. I gather this doesn’t come naturally for the male of the species.
  • Windows aren’t a new invention, you just discovered them :-) I can show you pictures of 50s kitchens that have them. They are rare because they have a lot of downsides. Ignoring what happens in the earthquake (oh, you didn’t think of that….), they expose one’s internal messiness and they are a bitch to keep clean. I’d trade off getting rid of those problems against my guests doing a bit more hunting any day (and I don’t need the glass door to find the glasses, though I’ll bet my husband would still benefit from them :-)

Next time, feel free to run your domestic metaphors by me.

Feels like gender perspectives to me. (Having two data points gives me 100% correlation on this inference.)

My old friend, Barbara, added her two cents:

Hmmm, my glasses are never in the cabinet near the sink–well maybe a few. Then, there’s a couple in my office, a couple in my bedroom, one on the living room table, a few in the dishwasher and some more in the sink. Oh, you meant clean glasses. I wouldn’t know where to find them….

I don’t know if all this attention to the analogy means the message is getting through or it’s getting lost.

3 Responses to “Glasses in the Kitchen Cabinet: A good analogy?”

  1. Tom Davis Says:

    I don’t think it’s a gender issue, per se, unless of course you consider washing dishes to be woman’s work. It’s one of those things that the more a person ‘gets their hands dirty’, the more they understand the problem domain and consequently the more they understand the solution space.

    In this case the people who decide where to put glasses are often the glass washers and not merely glass consumers. So this is an excellent analogy, because in a field where the designers are more familiar with the solution space, we are not necessarily going to understand the casual user’s frustrations. Providing windows may not be practical in a home kitchen where 99% of the users are going to be prior users, but on a Web site where 50% of the users are going to be first-timers, the implementers may need to put in a little more work to make the site more transparent to the user.

  2. Daniel Szuc Says:

    ‘Searching for something on a web site isn’t too far distant from the glass-in-the-kitchen hunt.’ – Looks like tools like http://www.browster.com are providing ways to get a sneak preview of a link (allowing users to see through the glass) without having to click on the link.

    Although, the user is still required to check the links (so perhaps just another form of pogo sticking?)

  3. Jared Spool Says:

    Daniel, I’d be willing to guess that browster users would still follow the pattern of choosing what they are going to click on before they move their mouse. It would lose its effectiveness, if that’s true.

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