Which way is up? The USB Dance.

USB plugs with "right-side up" markedI’m forever doing the USB dance. Each time I start to insert a USB device I flip it back and forth wondering which way is up. I was complaining out loud during a meeting the other day. "Why don’t USB manufacturers use two different colors of plastic or a large symbol that we can feel?" I asked everyone. Someone pointed out that there is the USB symbol, but it is so small and I shouldn’t have to put my glasses on to figure out which side of a plug goes up.

I got an idea later that day and went and got a bottle of my wife’s fingernail polish. Here’s a shot showing how I marked the "up side" of each of my USB plugs. And, now a week later I’m pleased to report that this has made my life just a little smoother.

Now, if we could only get architects to design doors so you could tell by looking if you should be pushing or pulling… Instead of fingernail polish everyone has to put up signs telling us to push or pull. That’s great until you are in a country where you don’t know the language. Why not just design things properly so their use is obvious? Push or Pull ?

We shouldn’t have to resort to fingernail polish and push/pull signs.

8 thoughts on “Which way is up? The USB Dance.”

  1. The power connector on my MacBook Pro is a great example of good design. First of all it is a magnet so if someone trips on the power cord it will pull away from the computer instead of pulling the whole works down on the floor. Even better: You can attach it with either side up. And there’s little LEDs on either side of the plug itself that tells you if you are charged (green) or charging (orange/red). Here’s a link showing the power connector on the MacBook. MacBookPro Design.

  2. I honestly thought the power cord on my Macbook was one of the most annoying features. I’ve never had an issue with people “tripping over” my power cord on any of the 10 laptops I’ve had.. What I did do all the time was make a sudden move, and have to plug it back in. Seemed far more gimmicky than userful. But it’s nice to see innovation in regards to the things that we typically don’t think to innovate (power cords).

    USB key/cords/whatevers that don’t label their upsides with the little dots or dimples drive me crazy. Good tip.

  3. My USB-plugs all have a sticker on one side saying what they’re for (scanner, printer, external DVD player, keyboard, mouse,…). No problem with which way is up, and I know which one to pull out when I need to.

  4. This solved the problem of USB plugs, but what to do to mark the USB socket itself, I have a LED on the upper side of my flash memory so I always know its upperside but I get confused each time when I try to insert it especially the usb socket is vertical so I have to try to put the upperside of my flash memory to the right and to the left directions everytime.

  5. I for one don’t think this is very useful. First, it assumes that all USB ports lie horizontally, and secondly, it assumes all horizontally positioned ports have the same orientation. I have three PCs at home, two of which allow the USB thumb drive to plug in with one side up and the other allows the thumb drive to be plugged “upside down”. At school, all the computers have frontside USB ports that have the “upside down” configuration. Then there are computers you haven’t used yet and don’t know what configuartion they have

  6. Mike,
    Although this was written as a quick tip for USB plugs, my main idea was to discuss how things such as USB plugs and push/pull doors can be designed to be more functional.

  7. @Mike: Just follow the tip to its logical conclusion: mark the side of the port, too! If you can’t physically mark it, use a mental mnemonic.


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