The parable of the third soap dispenser

It never runs out of soap…


The bathroom at my office has four sinks and three soap dispensers. Each soap dispenser has a clear plastic front so the cleaning crew can see how much liquid pink soap is left and refill it if necessary.

Sometimes, the first two soap dispensers are low on soap, but the last one, furthest from the door never seems to be low on soap.

You could draw conclusions from this single data point that no one uses the dispenser. And you would be right. 

But why? Maybe people prefer the sinks closer to the door? Maybe it’s not in the most convenient location? Maybe there are too many soap dispensers?

The soap dispenser is broken. It hasn’t worked in at least 8 months.

But I imagine the cleaning crew has no idea. They are only looking at that one indicator: Is there soap in the dispenser?

Just a reminder that often, our data tells us what’s happening, but not necessarily why.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, grad student, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He recently finished a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on Instagram and Micro.Blog.