#419 Correctly guessing if the door is push or pull

Doors can be trouble.

Strutting to the mall, strolling to the store, you spy those glassy doubles in the distance just waiting for you to size them up and give them a big push or pull.

Sure, it looks easy, but we all know it’s nothing but.

Nope, thanks to years of tense negotiations, backroom deals, and political infighting, the International Alliance for Door Design Consistency has reached a suffocating stalemate in its goal of coming up with one door we can all understand. So while those corporate bigwigs give each other evil eyes in smoky boardrooms We The People are left figuring it out on the front lines, door by door, day by day.

It sucks when you make the wrong move, too. Pull a push or push a pull and you’re suddenly five years old again. Forget the chemistry exam, gym class, or company meeting you’re about to attend — now you’re suddenly a toddler staring back at the waiting crowd with wide eyes, untied laces, and thick boogers snaking down your upper lip.

Yes, that’s why swinging open a confusing door on the first try is such a great high. You just saved yourself a horrible second of humiliation and are now coasting smoothly through life in the fast lane.


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Photos from: here, here, and here

61 thoughts on “#419 Correctly guessing if the door is push or pull

  1. For real! WHY would door makers make push handles for a pull door and vice-versa? Nothing like slamming into a door / ripping off a limb to make you feel super-gifted. Also on the list of things that make you feel dumb: when one door in a set of double doors is locked. *slam*

    BTW, that’s one of my very favorite Far Side comics! :D

    1. So true! I once fell down the stairs in a lecture hall and the door I tried to exit gracefully out of was locked. *Slam*, indeed.

      Oh well! At least the stairs were carpeted.

    2. The doors to my doctor’s office is like that, double doors but one is always locked. I think they switch it up and lock the left one and then the right one when they know I’m coming. I never pick the correct one on the first try.

  2. I’m usually pretty good about whether doors open in or out, but what stumps me is when I come across a door with one long push bar. I know that it needs to be pushed to opened, but you never know which side of the door you need to push on, and occasionally you push on the hinge side of the door :(

    1. “…when I come across a door with one long push bar. I know that it needs to be pushed to opened, but you never know which side of the door you need to push on, and occasionally you push on the hinge side of the door :( ”

      Ahahah, that gave me a good laugh. I thought I was the only one!

  3. I would like to also add “Correctly guessing which set of doors open automatically”.

    Nothing like standing with your arms out trying to figure out why the doors aren’t opening when there’s a big “PULL” sign on it.

  4. This reminds me of a store near my house which has two automatic doors,
    One can only be used for entering and the other for exiting since the sensors are only placed one side of the door
    Well I always forget this and last time I saw a customer leaving and I tried to enter the same way, but because it was the Exit door it never recognized me… so as I was entering it suddenly snapped shut knocking me from the side and sending me falling backwards down the stairs

  5. A good guess is that exterior doors open out due to fire codes (but you always run into those old buildings that preceded the codes…) :)

    1. As an architect I was thinking of the same thing, but there is a major exception: a small commercial space (with a occupancy load of less than 60 people for what it’s worth) doesn’t require the doors to swing out. So bottom line if it’s a large building, for sure the doors swing out. Small commercial space: well it depends…

  6. ……….Saturday I went to a family reunion for hubby’s family. It was getting hot in the small room we were packed in so I wanted to go outside to cool off. I swear the door looked like it was a push door. So I pushed and pushed……..and pushed. I thought the door was stuck. Hubby’s 6 year old nephew came over and pulled the door open for me. Talk about embarrassment!!

  7. Absolutely true. Feeling helpless by pulling a push or pushing a pull is a crushing feeling. Especially when they’re heavy doors and you pull a pull door but can’t do it. There’s a large shopping centre near me (the Trafford Centre) and you can tell everyone thinks on the same wavelength when even though there are 5 or 6 manual ambiguous doors, everyone heads straight for the one automatic at the side.

  8. Push doors. Pull doors. One-side-locked doors. Yes it is an awesome feeling to just open those doors correctly. :)

  9. If I may add: The sheer awesomeness of finding doors that swing either way. You cant lose! Awesome!

    *Ignoring glaring metaphors*

  10. This, I would never have thought of, but it is way close to the top! It kinda falls into that same resulting feeling as when you trip or fall or bump into something in public … you might be in total pain, but the FIRST thing you do is look around to see if anybody saw you! I go to the door and never look … and invariably, I’m always wrong. I think I get more irritated at the building and the door than the fact that I failed to see the sign!

  11. LOL, the Far Side comic!

    At the University college that I attended, the door handles were colour-coded. Yellow handles = pull, green handles = push. I think it was some kind of a subtle test to see if we could figure it out. I like to imagine a grad student watching a close-circuit camera feed checking off our names on a clipboard, while muttering to herself… okay, so Durley figured it out after 2 attempts. Johnson still hasn’t gotten it after 10. Someone make sure Johnson’s not here on a scholarship!…

    1. Oh great … there goes my scholarship! I can graduate with a 4.0, but can’t crack the code of the door handles. ;)

      That’s cool though … they should adopt that system world-wide!

      1. I like the idea of the color coding. Though let’s be honest – did Durley really figure it out after just 2 tries?? ;)

        However, I’ve been interested in the work of the IADDC for a long time, but have been unimpressed with their lack of progress.

        I think the psychology is actually relatively straight forward, but have been upset that it hasn’t been universally adopted by the IADDC and its constituent members…

        If a door should be PULLED open, it should have a vertical handle on it. If a door should be PUSHED open, it should have a long horizontal bar (or a flat metal plate). This would relieve about 95% of door errors.

        Please lobby with your local IADDC representitives to have this system universally adopted. Thanks!

        1. Would I lie to you? I really am that logical!

          Last evening I was sitting around with a bunch of eggheads, when someone posed a little puzzle. Which I was the first to solve!

          Here is the puzzle:
          You have one set of balancing scales, and 8 weights of identical size. One of the weights is heavier than the other equally-weighted 7. You have only 2 uses of the scales to identify the heavier weight. GO!

          1. Uh.. how’s this?

            Weigh-in 1: 3 and 3..

            If balanced, you know it’s one of the other two, and that can be solved on your second weigh in.

            If unbalanced, discard lighter 3 weights, and take two of the weights from the “heavier” group, and weigh them.. if they are unbalanced, you found your winner.. if they are balanced, it was the 3rd, unweighed weight..

            Do I win a prize? Is it wet socks?

            1. Here’s one for you jdurley..

              You are forced play Russian roulette with a revolver that can hold 6 bullets, and has two loaded in adjacent chambers. You must fire twice. You spin the chambers, fire, and are still alive. You are given the option of whether or not to spin the chambers again before the second shot. What do you do?


              1. Shoot whoever’s making you play this stupid game?? LOL.

                I’d spin it backwards exactly one chamber.

                And yes, you win a pair of wet socks. Congratulations!

  12. Here’s a hint that has saved me many times before:
    Sneak a peek at the hinge side. If you can see the hinges, it’s (usually) a pull door, and if you can’t see them, it’s (usually) a push door.

  13. Ha.. ha. its awesome, i have confused many times and still now also… whether i would push or pull it, i always done maximum anti direction after that i realize oh this wrong…

  14. The best way to avoid embarrassment over this kind of situation is to train yourself to laugh out loud when it happens. Yes, laugh out loud in public!

    But it has to be true laughter. None of that fake laughter that just amplifies how embarrassed you are. That’ll defeat the purpose, to say the least! :-)


    1. Agreed, Christopher-J! I recently went into a dark restaurant with my daughter and grandson. My eyes didn’t adjust to the light as quickly as theirs did. I saw the steps, but not all of them. And landed sprawled out on the floor. And started laughing. The gentlemen at the nearest table helped me up, noting that it was a relief to hear me laugh.

  15. The most traumatic set of doors I’ve ever encountered were two main entrance doors to a small inn. The doors resembled the ones in the last picture above except that they had no discernible push/pull handles, bars, etc. and no signage.

    I must have struggled with them for 20-30 minutes before realizing that the vertical part of each metal frame (along the height of the door) was raised very slightly and was meant to be used as a pull lever.

    As if doors with clearly visible handles and bars weren’t challenging enough…

  16. The book “The Design of Everyday Things” discusses how much needs to go into something like designing a door to be easy and intuitive to use as well as other objects.

    It’s a very good read.

  17. English is my second language. First is Portuguese. The Portuguese word for PULL is PUXAR (which reads as PUSH’ar) which makes even harder to do it correctly. Every time I read “push”, “puxar” comes right to my mind and instinctively I feel like doing exactly the opposite I’m supposed to. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone even if for different reasons =)

  18. Or when someone accidentally (or on purpose) shuts the door to the walk-in fridge in the middle of the night while you’re still inside, not realizing that your noodle-arms aren’t nearly sufficient to open the door with the emergency exit latch. You try pushing that glaring red latch a few times, knowing it’s not going to budge. Then you try knocking, hoping someone on the outside will hear, but everyone else has gone. Then the panic sets in and you start to body slam the latch repeatedly. Your life flashes before your eyes and you start to lose hope as you realize you’re not going to die some awesome way like riding a whale shark into the Bermuda Triangle. Nope. They’re gonna find your remarkably fresh but lifeless body in the morning surrounded by week-old provolone and a half empty industrial sized vat of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Just as you’re about to come to terms with your fate, someone else gets the midnight munchies and you get FREEDOM! No? This doesn’t happen to other people?

  19. I once walked to the bank and left because I pulled instead of pushed and thought the bank was closed.
    The next day I went with a friend and they pushed the door open. I feel really embarrassed about it every time I go to that bank now :)

  20. lol. Yeah that is pretty amazing. I would never have thought of that but my university life was highjacked for that very same thing. You can just hear everyone evrywhere laughing hysterically when u mess that one up. Even if its just in your head. Lol.

  21. The best way not to embarrass yourself is by walking casually to the door (those confusing one handle ones especially) and gently slamming on it he slightly while holding the handle and if it doesn’t push open, then pull it and enter. Note: this should be done fast so that it looks normal.^^ lol it works trust me! ,

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