User Experience in the Bathroom. Wait, What?

One of the reasons I started CEED Creative is to solve problems. I use Design as a discipline to solve real-world problems large and small. Design is not just about logos, business cards or billboards. It’s a problem solving tool. One of the most interesting things about being a designer is that the majority of what I see and interact with is typically broken or inefficient in my eyes. I observe things that I deem ‘broken’ everywhere I go. From the confusing layout on a menu while trying to order at a restaurant to the completely overly-complicated and broken healthcare system in the U.S. (more on that in another post).

I wanted to take a minute to talk about a taboo subject; the loo, bog, john, oval office, bathroom, washroom, restroom. Whatever you call it, the vast majority of them are inefficient. *Disclaimer: I”ll mostly be discussing the men’s restroom, because, well…I am a man and that’s where I have the most experience.

PROBLEM 1: THE STALL
The first thing that always bugs me is the toilet stall. I’ve been in a lot of restrooms where the door opens inward and while side stepping in, sucking in my stomach and trying to close the door behind me found myself with calves resting against a filthy toilet facade. The spacial reasoning is clear behind why a door would open inward so the open space of the room isn’t interfered with by swinging doors, but the alternative is unsanitary and frustrating to people.

SOLUTIONS:
An alternative to this frustrating experience would be to use saloon-style doors. If the common hinged door were to be split into two parts with a rubber “privacy” flap on side to conceal the crack where a person could see in while the doors are closed, one could simple walk right in.

To solve the issue of occupation, I would simply install a readily available ‘occupied’ slider found in traditional portable toilets. This would help avoid uncomfortable situations where a patron may not know if the stall is empty due to shut doors.

PROBLEM 2: THE SEAT
It is my belief that the number one reason a toilet, floor, walls or any other surface in the men’s restroom stall get so dirty is A.) the manual seat hinge, I’ll get into this below , B.) the height of the toilet and C.) The manual flushing device

The issue with the toilet seat being up or down dates back to prehistoric man I’m pretty sure. I know this has been an issue in my household ever since I was married. In the men’s restroom, it’s different story because women don’t need to use it. Unlike the women’s room men require the seat to be in 2 different positions depending on the um, job. Statistically speaking, the seat should remain UP for the majority of the time because certainly there is more urinating going on. The problem is, if the seat is left down…even once and it is splashed upon it becomes dirty. How many times have you tried lifting the seat with your foot while standing on one leg and then attempted to flush with the OTHER foot while standing on the opposite leg like you are attempting to perform a swan kick? This is one of THE most ridiculous things about a men’s restroom that drive me crazy.

The manual flushing handle has been replaced in a lot of situations with a hands-free, sensor based flushing device. These are fairly effective, but often if you intend to sit down to use the restroom you have to locate the always hard to find or completely non-existent manual flush button. This percentage of the time, you find yourself doing a torque bending scavenger hunt that is no more effective than the old flush handle.

SOLUTIONS:
A: Regarding the toilet seat, I would go with an economical springed hinge. (Think movie seat) The default position would be up and a patron would pull the lid down to sit. Once you stood up, the seat would return to it’s vertical position keeping it shielded from typical usage. There are actually a lot of patents for this idea if you search Google Patents, but I have yet to encounter one in the wild.

B: The standard height for a toilet is 14″ and 17″ for ADA compliance. I would design a toilet to be higher and more like the standard height of a chair which is, 18-20″. The main reason I would do this is to reduce ‘splashing’ while a man is standing and also eliminate the need for special class of toilet for ADA compliance, because they all would be.

C: I would resolve the flushing faux pas by installing a pedal flushing device. The apparatus would work mechanically the same as the handle, but would be relocated to the floor where a patron could press it down with the foot while either standing or sitting.

PROBLEM 3: HAND WASHING

57% of men and 46% of women do not wash their hands after using the restroom. – Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses

With sensor based equipment like soap dispensers, water faucets and towels this has almost certainly improved but the liquid petri dish of dripped water left behind is unsanitary. The issue with the typical experience here is that the technology is there, but doesn’t provide the appropriate visual response mechanisms to improve user experience. To explain what I mean, let’s talk about a plausible experience washing your hands with the high end equipment.

Johnny, waves his hand under a shiny sensor based soap dispenser only to have a giant dollop of soap land on the counter. *Whoops. Now that he has seen how it works he places his hand under again and receives an equal dollop to his hand. Now he attempts to activate the sensor based faucet. He waves and nothing happens. He waves again and still nothing. Finally, he has to press the backs of his hands agains the sensor on the inside surface of the basin vigorously because the sensor has gotten dirty and did not ‘see’ his hands. Now, we’ve got soap and water and we’re washing….but the water cuts off. Now Johnny presses his hand against the sensor once more making it even more smudged and finally rinses the last of the soap from his hands. Lastly, he drips water all the way across the sink (or maybe he slings his hands up and down tossing water droplets about onto the mirror and surrounding sink) and begins waving “hi” to the towel dispenser where he is the lucky recipient of an 8″ square piece of recycled paper that couldn’t soak up a tear. So, he continues waving and waving still dripping the remainder of excess water onto the floor beneath the towel dispenser until he gets the towels he needs.

Sound familiar?

SOLUTIONS:

I think there is nothing wrong with the sensor based equipment but a simple visual indicator that lit up when your hands were ‘seen’ by the sensor in addition to a secondary light that indicated dispensing would help the patron interact more naturally with the equipment. The patron continually waves their hands embarrassingly in most cases because there is not visual or audible indication that the equipment is seeing the hands. If the units lit up to indicate activation, the patron would know it’s working and remain patient which would avoid spills and wasted money lost soap, water and towels.

Another issue that should be contended with is a drain bed design. A sink that housed a decorative drain bed of a natural stone or even a medical grade aluminum grate that was concave and fed into the main drainage of the sink would allow mess-free transition from the sink to the towel dispenser. This would keep the surfaces water free, the floor slip-free and the front your pants or shirt from getting wet when you lean in to wash your hands.

CLOSING:
And there you have it. That’s how I would alter the typical American bathroom. It may not be highbrow, but it’s a problem that’s way overdue for solving and the market need is 100% as far as I’m concerned.

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