Improving the Experience of Disposing Tampons in Public Restrooms
Eggie is a waste bin designed for a better experience of disposing feminine care items in public restrooms. It could be activated by waving gestures without touching, and changes color to inform the users its current state. Eggie prevents women from cross infection of bloodborne pathogens and avoid them from seeing other people’s feminine care waste. To craft Eggie, our team integrated electronic prototypes powered by Arduino into 3D models and laser cut artifacts.
Eggie is a selected entry to the UW 2017 Maker Summit:)
It all started from a random illustration. Eugene sketched a common scenario in public restrooms when people do not want to sit on the ring of the toilet due to sanitary concerns, and instead, bend their knees and do the business without any touching the surface. I had a good laugh at the illustration and shared the same concern with Eugene that public restroom is such a problematic space that could be improved on multiple aspects. After several coffee talks, we readily decided to craft a design solution to tackle one tip of the iceberg.
How to improve the experience of disposing feminine care items in public restrooms?
We started from gathering inspirations on problem space within public restrooms, and has identified issues like privacy, gender classification, unsanitary toilet, etc. Among all these, one thorny issue particularly intrigues us : how can we better the experience of disposing tampons/pads for ladies in public restrooms? To our surprise, daily disposal of feminine care items in public spaces could have detrimental impact on both environment and human health (both genders), the fact of which most of us are oblivious to. Not only do feminine care items clog the toilet and last forever in the landfill, they also constitute the hot bed for the spawning of bloodborne pathogens and germs that are carried away from the public restrooms without noticing.
2 Experts, 5 Participants
1. "We don't want to see other people's waste!"
2. "We don't touch the lid."
3. "We don't want to walk out of the stall to throw the tampon."
4. "We know tampons should not be flushed down the toilet."
We interviewed 5 female participants aging from 18-40, who are either students or workers that regularly use public restrooms every day about their general feelings and concerns around the experience of disposing tampons/pads in public restrooms. Interestingly, they all are educated that tampons could not be flushed down to the toilet directly even though the description on the package claims so. In that, the igorance issue surfaced in our secondary research has already, to some extent, been alleviated through public media and education. Instead, the partipants complained mainly against the waste bin for feminine care items, a tiny tin box usually seen on the wall of each stall.
During our expert interview with Scott Spencer, the Director of Custodial Service at University of Washington, and Sattia Sear, the Associate Director of Building Services Department(BSD), we found out that the lack of waste bins for feminine care items in each individual stall is a legislation loophole that is beyond the scope of our design. In that, combining our reasearch, we sketched out the user journey of disposing tampons/pads in public restrooms, uncovered the pain points of users, and narrowed down our design objective to mainly:
1. Avoid Cross Infection between Users.
2. Avoid Users from Seeing Other People’s Waste.
We then ideated on the ergonomics and features of our product. We applied error analysis methods to the parallel design process, identified the strength and weekness of each concept. Based on the feasibility and usability of each idea, we decided on polishing the egg-shaped waste bin concept. For hours, we got stuck on how to block people’s view from seeing other people’s waste and how to clean the blood (that might stay on the platform) after each disposal.
We then practiced the mind map strategy to brainstorm existing design solutions to similar problems in different areas. With a background in architecture, Shirley came up with the idea of having a “screener-like” cylinder in the middle of the egg to make the waste invisible while Eugene proposed to have a sweeping brush on the platform to push the tampon/pad down to the basin and meanwhile clean the platform, being inspired by the coffee bean machine at Starbucks Reserve Roastery.
Having determined the feature and ergonomics of the product, we named it Eggie, and designed a diagram of how to use it. Eggie automatically opens itself when waving gesture is sensed and lights up blue to notify the users that it is now in use. Then users can throw the tampon on the tilted platform while the cylinder in the middle ensures that users will not see other people’s waste. The brush on the platform rotates and sweeps the tampon down to the basin and cleans the platforms. Then Eggie closes and the blue light goes off. Whenever Eggie is filled up or out of use, it will light up red to inform users and staffs. With the visual instruction, we interviewed 6 people, including men, and gathered their feedback for revision.
3D & Electronic Prototype
For the final deliverable, we combined the eletronic prototype (Arduino) with the physical prototype (3D print & laser cut). We 3D printed the shell of Eggie, laser cut the platform, handcrafted the brush for the 1:2 physical model to evaluate its affordance. Within 2 weeks, we built up the Arduino board with proximity sensors and Tower pro motor, and coded the command for interaction for evaluation of interactive experience. During the process, we reiteratively tested the prototype to ensure the effectiveness of the sensors and the usability of the physical prototype.
We also have made a poster for the studio exhibit and presented Eggie to people in the Design, Use, Build community at UW and experts from industry. Real tampons are provided for people to play with Eggie as well. Unfortunately, we did not include the cylinder part in the presentation due to budget concern, and instead conducted a Wizard of Oz to demonstrate how Eggie automatically opens using magnets. Primarily, we tested Eggie on female users to gain insights on how to improve it. Yet more importantly, men who have tested Eggie all reported that they enjoyed how this test helped them better empathize with women.
[Key Takeaways] Although we are perfectly aware that little things in our daily life are at times wrong, we hardly make efforts to change them. This project, has been a good start for me, to convert empathy into execution and more importantly, vocalize the need of women through design work. On the technical level, I have acquired more knowledge about Arduino during the self-learning process. For instance, painstakingly : } I learned that Arduino did not work well with linear motion unless additional motors and actuators are employed.
[Future Directions] Based on the feedback from experts and participants, we would like to polish and redesign Eggie in the following ways:
1. Add a sensor-activated, aromatic sanitizer to strengthen the self-cleaning function and cleanse the smell.
2. Add more light bulbs to increase the visibility of colored lights.
3. Build circuit chip to remove the wires.