Consider the following question:

Why do most public toilet doors open inwards?

The general intention is to allow people to clear their hands after the use of the toilette, but even if they wash hands in the middle of the procedure they will get them dirty again before they leave. What is even worse in this scenario, they will leave with someone's else fecal bacteria on their hands.

Is there a name for this kind of design flaw? Focused on one side of the process instead of the overall outcome? Also it reminds me of cargo cult but it's not exactly the same.

EDIT: if you have comment or questions about design of toilets please comment to the original post. In this post I would like to find out more about anti-patterns and design flaws. Thanks

  • 2
    Have you read the answers to that post? It's because of building codes and fire safety. I'd take some fecal bacteria on my hands (which I can avoid by washing them after I open the door or by using a napkin to touch the handle) rather than being burned alive any day of the week. Jan 17, 2014 at 13:22
  • 1
    A) I am the author of that post. B) I don't subscribe to blindly following codes without thinking about them. C) If you don't see having someone else's fecal bacteria on your hands after you have washed them as a design flaw then I have nothing to discuss with you. Jan 17, 2014 at 13:39
  • @AndroidHustle couldn't you just have 2 open walkways that are placed such that you can't see in? Now there's no doors to get poop on. This is how they did it in the last airport I was in, it was great. Jan 17, 2014 at 16:29
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    @daniel.sedlacek oops, didn't mean to touch a nerve, I'm sorry. a) Ok. b) well, good luck getting a public building approved without following fire safety regulations. c) again, and I quote, burnt alive or fecal bacteria on my hands I'd take the latter. Jan 17, 2014 at 18:02
  • 2
    @daniel.sedlacek there's likely more fecal matter on your keyboard than the toilet you came from.
    – DA01
    Jan 17, 2014 at 18:34

6 Answers 6


This kind of design flaw

Focused on one side of the process instead of the overall outcome?

comes down to what is known as

Systems Thinking (or the lack of it)

Basically someone is following 'the rules' (in this case, building codes) rather than thinking about how people will behave within this context.


I don't consider it a design flaw. The main reason I say that is that fecal bacteria is not just in the toilet area or on the door handle. It's all over the bathroom. Not only that, it's all over your house or building!

The Mythbusters did an episode about this concerning toothbrushes:


Explanation: Every time you flush a toilet, it releases an aerosol spray of tiny tainted water droplets. So if, like many people, you leave your toothbrush in the vicinity of a toilet, does that mean it's regularly bathed in bits of fecal matter? MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage uncovered the dirty truth to this myth by covering a bathroom with 24 toothbrushes, two of which they brushed with each morning — the others they simply rinsed every day for a month.

As experimental controls, the MythBusters kept two untainted toothbrushes in an office far away from the lavatory. At the end of the month-long trial, they sent their toothbrush collection to a microbiologist for bacterial testing.

Astonishingly, all the toothbrushes were speckled with microscopic fecal matter, including the ones that had never seen the inside of a bathroom. The confirmed myth unfortunately proved that there's indeed fecal matter on toothbrushes — and also everywhere else.

Therefore, I would say that the fire codes and safety regulations are validated for being what they are.

  • This is answer to the original post, not to my question. Jan 18, 2014 at 1:48
  • I think that it is an answer to this post's question. I think so because the question is a logical fallacy of presumption. You are presuming that it is a design flaw. That has not been adequately proven. In fact, it seems to have been more than adequately proven to be the opposite, that it was for safety reasons. My answer gives further factual tested proof that validates why it should not be considered a design flaw, in that fecal matter is everywhere. Jan 18, 2014 at 4:12

Perhaps it's less an anti-pattern and more a compromise between two choices.

In the referenced question, the two obvious possibilities are:

  • Doors open out - poses a hazard to other people in the corridor, may contribute to injury or death during an evacuation
  • Doors open in - encourages spread of faecal matter

If there's no room for an alternative (such as offset walls to obscure vision without needing doors) - or just a lack of time to innovate - then one choice has to be chosen, and legal obligations may dominate.

In terms of giving the anti-pattern a name, I'd suggest this one:

Familiar is best - doesn't matter how good a fit (or not) to the situation, do things the way people are used to seeing.

Common with the document model for applications (e.g. Word/Excel), and brought up a lot when people object to change (e.g. Windows 8).

  • Familiar is best only up to a point. Design where you have to touch an object that everyone who didn't was his hands had to touch too is simply negated by your familiarity rule. Jan 18, 2014 at 18:52
  • @daniel.sedlacek I agree entirely - that's why it's the name of an antipattern. I battle this one regularly at work - users who contest that the current way of doing things is better than any alternative just because it's familiar.
    – Bevan
    Jan 18, 2014 at 18:56

Is there a name for this kind of design flaw? Focused on one side of the process instead of the overall outcome?

You are worried about the wrong outcome. All doors must open to the inside. It's a fire safety, and it's the law in most countries. The only way to open to the inside is to pull on a handle.

If the door opens to the outside, then an object can obstruct it from opening. You'll be stuck inside the bathroom. That's not where you want to be in a fire.

I find this question interesting, because it's a conflict between two trains of thought. Personally, I'd rather get out in the event of a fire then worry about clean hands.

  • No it is not. Prove me otherwise. Not all doors open inside the smaller room, there is plenty of toilette doors that open outwards. Jan 18, 2014 at 18:49
  • @daniel.sedlacek toilette stalls the open outwards do so for handy cap reasons.
    – Reactgular
    Jan 18, 2014 at 21:38

Common door handles.

The idea that everyone has to touch a door at a similar place with their hands is just bad for if you want to reduce the spread of bacteria.

Hospitals that really care about bacteria use electronic door openers that you can activate with your elbow or that open through motion detection.

You also have to ask yourself with bacteria you really worry about. I mean what's the issue with normal fecal bacteria? We live in symbiosis with them. Having highly diverse fecal bacteria might even be good for health outcomes.

They aren't the enemy we want to protect when thinking about hygiene.

We want to protect against other people passing on their flu to us. We really want to protect other people passing on antibiotica resistent bacteria that cause serious illnesses.

If that's your goal it doesn't make sense to focus on whether you are leaving or entering the toilet. You should focus on designing doors that are used by a lot of people from being touched with hands.

While we are at the topic, it makes no sense that I have to tell the toilet door that I'm inside the toilet and don't want the door getting opened from the outside by turning a dial. If I'm inside the toilet, it ought not to open to someone else without my specifically telling it that I don't want to be disturbed.

  • This is answer to the original post, not to my question. Jan 18, 2014 at 1:47

Strange topic, even I don't see it as a design flaw in common buildings.

Only in hospitals, there this is an issue about life or death. BUT (a big but) here are several solutions aiming this problem: most of them by open the door by foot or elbow. Just take a short google trip.

So, it is not a design flaw, but design by intend. May be your personal belief is it to see this a superior issue, that does'nt mean it is bad practise for the majority.

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