Where was the bathroom? Well: I was wrong. The crowd was right.

Rewind to last September. I dropped my parents off at a Schönbrunn tour, and I went to find a bathroom. I walked down a corridor and saw this sign in front of me:



Navigation squarely falls under information architecture/usability/technical communication, and while this is not web navigation, I wanted to perform a little test to see if this navigational sign worked for users.

Hence, the usability test that 91 people took. So read on for a copy and paste of the exact test wording, the raw results, and the analysis/takeaways.

The test wording


  • It takes less than a minute.
  • You can do it on a smart phone, tablet, or desktop computer.
  • Anyone can participate.
  • Participate right here on this web page. Read on.


  1. Read a short scenario.
  2. Answer one simple question.
  3. Do not take much time to answer. Your initial reaction/answer is best.
  4. Share it with friends, family, colleagues.


  • You are on vacation.
  • You are inside a 1-story (no stairs), crowded tourist attraction.
  • You need to find the bathroom.
  • You start looking around for a sign.
  • You walk around a little bit.
  • You look up.
  • And you see this sign:


(Scroll down, gap intentional.)


(Please read the entire scenario before proceeding.)


(Scroll down, gap intentional.)


(Are you prepared to look at a picture as if you’re looking up?)


(Remember, you’re looking for the bathroom and there are no stairs.)


This sign:




Again, 91 people participated between September 2016 and February 2017.

(Yea, this whole experiment dropped off my radar/I was trying to get 100 responses/then I didn’t feel like waiting anymore.)


What did people say when they answered Other?

Immediate Vicinity Answers (8):

  • I would look at the wall the sign is on
  • Would look in the immediate vicinity of the sign
  • I’d assume the bathroom entrance was directly below the sign.
  • The bathroom is below the arrow
  • I would think I had reached the location
  • I would look to where the arrow points, which is down. I would imagine that the door to the bathroom would below the sign.
  • Look under the sign for the bathroom.
  • L would look for a door on my immediate right

They skimmed the setup and missed the whole “1-story building” thing (5):

  • I would look for a stair/escalator to take me downstairs
  • Look for stairs to go one floor below
  • I would go down.
  • Downstairs
  • I would look for an elevator or stairs

Aw, the exit sign tripped them up(2):

  • …then left
  • Go to left

Covering their bases/non-committal answers (2):  

  • Look for stairs to a basement, then either right under the sign or straight ahead.
  • Go down stairs? Or maybe straight. I don’t usu ally see this unless the bathroom is right under the sign

Nonsensical answers (1):

  • Un



First, let me tell you what happened to me on that September 2016 day:

I must have missed it, I thought. I turned around, searched for it from whence I came, no luck, came back to the sign, and kept looking around. It was actually straight-ish and to the left-ish. I was kind of pissed. Down arrows mean Turn Around!

Well, I was totally wrong. On 2 counts:

  • I turned around (when my destination was straight ahead).
  • I thought everyone else would have said Turn around, too.
    • Nope. A hearty 75+% of respondents would have walked straight and found the bathroom faster than I did.
    • Only 2 other people said they would have turned around! I am in the vast, vast minority.


  • User test. Even if it’s quick and dirty.
  • Be a humble UX “expert.”
  • Remember: One person does not represent all users.


Any other comments on this test? Feel free to type a comment or send me an email. Thanks to all respondents, too. Y’all rock as always.


And…any requests for a quick and dirty usability test I can facilitate for you?


Preview to next week

Next week…omg, I’m so excited…

I’m going to UX Copenhagen 2017!!!

I searched high and low, and I’m pretty sure this is Europe’s premiere conference for and by UX pros in user-centered design, (invisible) UI, and human behavior.

In addition to a quality-bursting program, I’m signed up for the How To Do Ultra Lightweight User Testing With An Impact workshop on Day 2, and can’t wait to pick up more tricks for “bastard user testing” (her words, not mine) in this world of “do more with less.”


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