The trash can that couldn’t

What’s wrong with the trash can below?

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This was on a street in the historical center of Hannover, which is popular among tourists who come to see the sights and have a coffee in the leafy squares bounded by old buildings dating back hundreds of years. Isn’t it good to have a place to get rid of your banana peel or sandwich wrapper?

That is, until you see the other side of this “trash can”.

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The metal frame, which from the back looks strikingly like the trash cans at German train stations, was actually built to hold a piece of the old stone wall from the church just behind it. The text on the left is from Psalm 75:7, “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (NIV), while that on the right is from a hymn, which has been set to music by JS Bach.

I’ve recently been reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, where he popularizes the concept of an “affordance”. Simply put, it refers to how the design of an object suggests to the user how it can be used. A well-designed object should have an affordance that is obvious and ambiguity-free.

In this case, the design of this metal frame presents a false affordance, both because it is physically possible to shove your trash into the opening, and because it resembles the kind of trash can that is often found in public spaces, which have a roof to keep the rain out.

Mülleimer Bahnhof Stadthaus

A real trash can (Source: Joehawkins via Wikimedia Commons)


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