Doors, they’re simple enough or so I thought. Typically, a door, operates by grabbing the door handle and either pushing or pulling, while still holding the handle to the door so that it swings open to allow entry or passage through the doorway. They are typically installed on the entrances and exits to buildings, homes, restaurants, cars, trains, boats, etc and exists in almost all cultures and built environments. They come in a few different forms (sliding, swinging, drop ) but in general, doors are operated the same way around the world, or so I assume. And while doors provide us with great access they also provide a place of great stress and pain that offer, at least, a little insight into how people make decisions. Doors are a place that force individuals to interact with each other. Doors require us, as a community, to acknowledge other people and even possibly having to interact with them. Doors can be closed and opened. They can be locked and have small windows installed on them.

When first approaching a door there are a number of decisions to be made before garbing and interacting with it. Are there any additional humans around you that will be using it at nearly the same time as you? What type of door is it? If it is a glass door, can you see if someone is using it on the other side. Do you need to wait for someone else to open the door? Is there a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign posted? All of these decisions aid to create sometimes odd and uncomfortable situations that provide me with a great deal of entertainment.

And so, I pose a question, what causes individuals so much panic and failure of basic human code when they interact with doors? It’s like society comes crumbling down at the transit between door, access, and striving for less human interaction. Let me explain and give you a scenario that I experience almost daily. I approach a closed glass door to a large corporate office building that I need to gain access through. In normal circumstances, I approach the door, grab the handle, open and proceed through. What typically happens, a fellow human, using the door from the inside, approaches the door the same time I approach. At this point, some confusion can set in, however these particular doors consist of two actual door ways with two doors each, so there should be no confusion as to which door way to utilize. There is an additional assumption that is also taking place, which is much more cultural then simply choosing a door. In the United States, we walk/stay to the right. This is a generally accepted social norm of the US. So the two of us approach the doors, I grab the handle on the right most door, the other person stops, and waits for me to open the door and then proceeds through. Mind you, all of these particular doors open out, that is, you pull the door towards you, so there shouldn’t be any interference in terms of multiple individuals passing through at once. After I’ve proceeded through, the individual who was waiting will then proceed through the door I just opened that is now slowly closing. Usually people queue behind the initial person and follow through the same door as well.

This isn’t a problem when less people are around. However this same behavior is exhibited regardless of the number of doors or the number of people and so when there are large numbers of people around this behavior can actually be anti-social and harmful to everyone. Not to mention, following people so sheepishly is just not healthy. My thoughts, although anecdotal, are this:

In general, people will use the door that is already opened in lieu of selecting and opening a new door to the detriment of their own path forward. That is, they will ignore unused doors in order to use a door that is already being used by other people.

This effect cascades quickly. Ive seen this most evident on college campuses, related to their dinning halls. Students will enter and exit through the same single door when multiple other doors are available, basically causing a jam of people for no other reason than people blindly following one another. This seems unacceptable. Is this a failure of the design, human incompetence or human ignorance?

Really, the ‘why’ doesn’t matter because this is a door we are talking about. It isn’t complicated in its usage. And to be fair, there are a number of doors that just have poor design, using a grab handle when you should push or installing a twist knob when you should pull. But since, we use them daily, I would think we would improve in our use of them. When you approach your next shopping destination or library or wherever, take note of how individuals are using the doors. Do they all congregate through one door or are they using the full set?