Ready, Aim . . .

September 13, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

I should really have passed this one off to Dan Myers, who is developing urinal blogging into something of an art form or at least he was until he ascended into the lofty area of peace studies. Or maybe I should have passed it to Chris Uggen, who has blogged about the American tendency to deal with problems by criminalizing them. But I’ll do the reporting myself, even though the story is old news. I discovered it only recently on, of all places, a food blog.

Ten years ago, the powers that be at JFK airport signed a Dutch company, Schiphol, to run the International Arrivals Building, probably because the Amsterdam airport, run by Schiphol, is one of the world’s finest. JFK was one of the worst.

In Amsterdam, they had a clever solution to a men’s room problem. No, not the Larry Craig kind of problem; the Dutch are very open-minded about sex. The Dutch are also very clean. And the problem was that jet lagged travelers, men at least, tended to be, how shall we put it, careless? aimless?

I imagined what the American solution might be. Signs posted on the walls: “No Spillage or Spraying. Penalty $500 fine.” But where Americans tend to frame problems in moral terms, the Dutch have a more practical approach, focused on solving a problem rather than on punishing evil. At the Amsterdam airport that meant improving aim by providing a target.

If you go to the men’s room in the Amsterdam airport, you’ll see a fly in the urinal.

If you’d look closely, which you probably wouldn’t, you’d see that it wasn’t a real fly but a trompe l’oeil black outline. The idea was that men would aim for the fly - the stream would go from one fly to another (I’m sure this pun doesn’t work in Dutch) – and the men’s room would stay cleaner.

It worked. A study by Schilpol’s social science team found that fly urinals had an 80% reduction in spillage.


Anonymous said...

Oh, that is clever! I wonder why a fly, and not, say, a bullseye? Or something akin to a dartboard, with points for each level. But, hey. Whatever works. And it goes to show that tricking people into doing what you want works a lot better than punishing them when they don't.

Anonymous said...

I feel the need to add how happy I am not to have been a part of that particular social science team.

SARA said...

I think the idea was brilliant!
I'm sure the psychology behind this was that man is a HUNTER and his need for a TARGET!

Anonymous said...

I can raise my, um, hand and report that, yes, I've noticeed the fly, and probably aimed for it, at least a half-dozen times on my way through Amsterdam.