Useless napkins, but widely used

By | 2007-05-14

Today I was having lunch with a coworker in a Japanese restaurant and he was becoming impatient because the waiter forgot to bring us some napkins. He really needed having a napkin near his hands. The funny detail is that the cutlery (and also the chopsticks) were invented to keep the hands clean, avoiding the direct contact between fingers and meal… but surprisingly the majority of people need and use napkins during the whole process of eating, for cleaning their hands. But you should only need them to clean your mouth at the end of the meal…

Is the cutlery so bad designed? Or is it a problem from the people?

Some years ago a friend invited me several times to her house to have dinner. It was a surprise to me to see that she didn’t use napkins (for ecological reasons) and only cleaned her hands and mouth at the end. I was in a bit of an uncomfortable situation, because (as my coworker feels) I needed a napkin near my hands. But sometime later I thought about it, and I started to avoid using napkins in my own house. And it works!

Who is the cleanest: the man who constantly use a napkin to clean his hands while dirtying the paper, or the man who doesn’t use napkins at all but at the end of the meal? This could be an interesting question, but we must go further and ask “how can we introduce new technologies to the people, and at the same time let them use the older ones?“. I’m reading “Designing Interactions”, and I’ve found an example of this question, regarding handheld devices: one of the engineers at Palm comments that surprisingly most of the people prefer using mini-keyboards instead the stylus (and their Grafitti language), even the second one is a more “natural” way to introduce information.