Posts tagged “toilet”

Alicia’s War Story: Don’t hate on a tinkler

Alicia Dornadic is a design researcher in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Going to someone’s home for the first time to interview them, especially in an unfamiliar culture and language, can be awkward. Showing up with two researchers, a cameraman and a couple clients in tow – all of whom are over-caffeinated and in need of a bathroom break – can make for a circus act. These were three-hour long interviews, too. So, despite our best efforts to arrange feeding and peeing times before getting to the person’s home, we usually all had to pee at some point during the interview. But our translator was the absolute queen of tinkling. The first day I was understanding. “Maybe she’s sick or nervous,” I thought. She would take two to four breaks during each interview, which left the rest of us smiling and pointing at things dumbly, trying to make conversation in her absence. By the end of the week, my patience was shot. I was ready to strap some adult diapers on her. I would glower at her every time she asked for water, tea, or a soda. “Really?” I thought, my eyes on fire, “Should you really be having that?” I’m not proud of this. But I couldn’t help being annoyed.

Finally, karma came to bite me on the ass. It was at the end of a long interview at the end of a long day, and I broke down and asked if I could use the restroom. Our host pointed to it, and I stumbled inside, missing the 2-inch step down into it. There wasn’t a lot of light in the bathroom, and it was cluttered. I couldn’t find a switch. But no matter. I go. I reach for the toilet paper, and BOOM! CRASH! I take down the entire metal toilet paper rack off the wall, and it crashes onto the tiled floor. It was too dark to see how to fix it, so I had to come out and explain what I had done and apologize. Not only that, but my explanation and apology had to be translated! Translated and explained to two researchers, a cameraman, a couple of clients and our participant. It ended up not being a big deal, but I was embarrassed. And I felt guilty for all my negative thoughts towards our translator. As much as I was annoyed at our tinkler friend, at least she didn’t break anything.

Curating Consumption #2

We’re back with another round of some curious, provocative, amusing, and frightening observations that come from our daily experiences as researchers and as consumers.

Our second guest post of Curating Consumption came out last week over at Johnny Holland. In case you missed it over there, you can sit back and relax and enjoy it right here on our blog! In our first digest (Curating Consumtpion #1) we featured images from our travels to Austin, New York City and Dublin. This month we are looking much closer to home and finding ponderous interactions and objects within a few miles (and sometimes feet) of our front doors.

My local cafe offers a small selection of lovely creams and lotions on the back of the toilet tank. I react thusly: “Ewwwww.” It’s one thing to put this in your home bathroom, or maybe in your office, where there’s a known and finite set of users. But this is a cafe along the highway. You don’t know who else has been using it, touching it, or not-washing-their-hands-and-touching-it! Or worse, I’ve seen some of the people that come in there and I do know who’s been touching it. Suffice to say that I do not want to be sharing cosmeceuticals with them! It’s the tragedy of the commons in the coffeeshop toilet. /SP


The fitting rooms in Old Navy have labelled hooks to assist you in categorizing your prospective purchases. It’s what we do when trying on clothes anyway, and while it’s not a complete solution (e.g., where’s the place to put the clothes you are already wearing?), there’s something charming about how it acknowledges your process. Also, those arrows bring a real dynamic energy to a static aspect of the task. Small details, but fun. /SP

There is not a lot of graffiti in the tiny town of Pacifica, CA where Portigal Consulting calls home. I passed this while walking from the office to the ocean one day and felt annoyed, but not because of the graffiti itself. I like to think I am an enlightened urbanite who appreciates the aesthetic enhancement, self-expression, and community color that street art affords. In this case, however, I was pissed off by the placement. See that ugly grey brick wall RIGHT BEHIND the fence? Yes, that’s the one; the unadorned, badly-in-need-of-anything-to-bring-it-to-life one. I can’t for the life of me figure out why the artist tagged the pretty white picket fence instead of the menacingly misfortunate wall. /TC

I spotted this sad scene on the sidewalk in front of our office. First I thought of the little girl who lost her shoe and would be upset, perhaps even scolded by her mom. And then I thought about the mother, recalling my own mothering moments of frustration realizing that my son or I had lost something of his along the way. And then I thought of the 6 word story penned by Hemingway, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” And then I waxed anthropomorphically about the shoe and her point of view. Yes, that little shoe looks like a lonely lady; one who has lost her sole mate. /TC

Welcome to the product marketing battleground

Yes, it turns out that All This Chittah Chattah is the place to wrestle for the hearts and minds of today’s consumers. With our frequent discussions of the consumer’s perspective as well as innovative technologies that respond to cultural shifts, we’ve developed a reputation as the place to be seen and read by the alpha-influencers who make any product a success.

Three years ago I blogged about a dual-flush toilet (and it’s explanatory memo).

What followed were a number of “comments” from people championing this product or its competitor, sometimes with a less-than-transparent reveal of their identity as someone who works for the company itself.

And in a similar vein, just the other day, I blogged about a device that would let you open a bathroom door with your toe. Immediately a competitor jumped in to defend his product as the “original” (and while you can’t tell from here, he posted from the domain name he’s championing).

A few days later, a devastating riposte from someone who is clearly not a fan.

Now, we don’t know if Elise (who goes by fuzzygirl89) is authentic or not, but I’m definitely suspicious (extraneous specific detail rings false to me). The gloves are definitely off here in the Chittah Chattah Product Death Match. Seriously, is this what it means to be an entrepreneur (or worse, a sales guy)? Sitting at home with your alerts, fingers in the ready position, inches above the keyboard, ready to pounce on any mention of your product in any corner of the web?

New symbols for new times

Medical marijuana dispensary, Sausalito, CA, November 2010

I was unable to find out about this symbol’s history or affiliation. Green Cross is a common term/symbol for medical pot, but seems tied to various local organizations (including a delivery service in San Francisco), while this specific graphic didn’t show up anywhere in my searches. Meanwhile, as new symbols and meanings emerge they can sometimes conflict: Green Cross is also an international organization, based in Switzerland whose mission “is to respond to the combined challenges of security, poverty and environmental degradation to ensure a sustainable and secure future.” When multiple groups appropriate and recontextualize an existing symbol (in this case the Red Cross) that collision is ever more likely.

Unisex bathroom sign, San Francisco, CA, August 2010

While this sign, seen in the Commonwealth restaurant, may actually be a branding icon for the restaurant (since it appears on their menu) and not a new symbol for men-plus-women, given its visual insinuation, and application (appearing on two adjacent doors, just where you’d expect to find the bathrooms), it begins to suggest a broader meaning. Unisex bathroom signs are typically denoted by the icons for men and women, together but the idea (intentional or not) that this usage has a gestalt not fully addressed by combining existing symbols is a powerful one.

What new symbols and new meanings are you seeing?

From Pain Points to Opportunity Areas

The subtle difference between a knob and a lever.

An unexpected interaction with a familiar object.

At a restaurant in San Mateo, the knob from a stove replaces the toilet flush lever. Each of us who use the toilet that evening come back to the table struck by what an unexpectedly pleasant experience it is to turn the knob.

As a researcher or designer, you are not going get to this surprisingly delightful interaction if you constrain your thinking around the idea of pain points – i.e. what is not working for people. Of course no one is going to buy your company’s toilet if it leaks or doesn’t flush – products need to perform their primary functions reasonably well – and as part of an exploration of user experience it’s necessary to find out whether this is indeed the case. But if you are laser-focused on the question “What’s not working for you?” you’ll miss all sorts of opportunities.

In our research engagements we like to include discussion with people about the things in their lives that are working really well for them – inside and outside the focus areas of the project. By figuring out what’s at the heart of these interactions, we might learn, for example, something about the way a service works that we can apply to the development of a product. Or a person might say “I just love the way the big chunky knobs on my Viking stove feel.” And it might be the transposition of this small finding in an ideation session that helps our client go on and create innovative toilets.

We encourage our clients to move from focusing on pain points to thinking about Opportunity Areas. We use what we learn out in the field to point them in promising directions, with a focus on asking “How can we __________ ?”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Streisand effect – The Streisand effect is an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.. Origin is in reference to a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for US$50 million in an attempt to have the aerial photograph of her house removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs, citing privacy concerns
  • NYC replaces automated toilets with staffed restrooms, a signifier of trust – But where the floors of the old restrooms had a tank-tread-like surface that automatically rotated across a scrubbing system after each use, and the toilets themselves were cleaned by a rim-mounted U-shaped traveling brush, the new ones are inspected, mopped and scrubbed — 15 to 25 times a day — by eagle-eyed, uniformed men and women.

    “It’s an attendant who knows what’s going on and has functions that go from sanitation to exchanging a few words with you to generally having a sense of what should be done,” said Jerome Barth, the partnership’s vice president for operations. “People see them, and they know the bathrooms are clean.”

  • Florida judges shouldn’t friend Florida lawyers on Facebook – A new advisory warns it may create the appearance of a conflict. Being a "fan" is still okay.

Grassroots product development

In our blog’s grand tradition of posts about bathrooms and toilets, here’s a bit of local small-scale innovation, spied at a neighborhood coffee shop.

p knot 3 (Custom)
The explanatory sign in the bathroom

p knot 2 (Custom)
The product in use

p knot 1 (Custom)
Get yours here!

Related posts:
Steve investigates the bathroom for Core77
Fair warning
The toilet flusher that comes with a memo
Semiotics of toilet signs
Explaining your product puts you ahead of the pack

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Toilet seat covers, upgraded – Dora Cardenas, Toletta's cofounder and VP of communications, explains: “The product concept came to me and my husband while we were trying to find small travel packs of disposable paper toilet seat covers to use ourselves. Not only was I shocked to learn that travel packs are hard to find, but the products we did find didn’t have any ounce of style or quality tissues. All the products we found looked and felt like something you would find in a camping supply store—not exactly something retail stores and supermarkets would be proud to carry on their shelves.”
  • TOLETTA – Because you never know – TOLETTA is the world's first premium brand of paper toilet seat covers. From the funky music to the edgy and stylish packaging, it's easy to see that we're not your ordinary toilet seat covers. Not only do our products look great, the premium tissue helps women feel better about using public washrooms. So for all you señoras, señoritas, and diva fashionistas, you'll never have to settle for those cheap and flimsy paper toilet seat covers again.
  • John Maeda's mini-manifesto in Esquire – I don't convulse with joy every time Maeda utters something, but I did enjoy this brief piece (despite his use of "the consumer"):

    "Technology is outpacing our ability to use it. And it's the job of designers to restore balance to this equation. Technological advances have always been driven more by a mind-set of "I can" than "I should," and never more so than today. Technologists love to cram maximum functionality into their products. That's "I can" thinking, which is driven by peer competition and market forces. (It's easier to sell a device with ten features than one.) But this approach ignores the far more important question of how the consumer will actually use the device."

  • Nussbaum says "Innovation" is dead but "Transformation" is the new black – The conflation between talking about ideas and discussing their labels is kinda frightening. Glad to see someone cited my latest interactions articles about the power of words to clarify our interactions.
  • Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable, on KQED Forum – What I heard was very exciting; Pallotta considers the unquestioned framework (and its history) around how charities operate and challenges these principles. He's extremely knowledgeable, thoughtful, and passionate. This was one of the best discussions of innovation – and its barriers – that I've heard in a long time.
  • Katherine Bennett explores design research methods and find the journey is at least part of the reward – "I'm two-thirds through with my MSID in design research at Art Center, and I feel the need to take stock of where I am. I've been teaching design research to product design students at Art Center since 1991, but since my journey down the path of getting this additional degree I have been traveling over some interesting ground."
  • I only started a blog because steve portigal told me to – "My name is Bria and I am a designer." Nice to see my writing having impact

Core77 Show+Tell video: Steve investigates the bathroom

Yes, more bathroom blogging! Core77 has just posted a quick video I made

In this video for Core77, Steve Portigal takes us into his company bathroom, uncovering examples of bad design and its consequences.

From signage to artifact and back, people are forever mistaking their cues for how to behave, how to use products and systems, and how different, often-conflicting indicators cause our expectations and realities to collide. This 2-minute video is a priceless example. What’s in your bathroom?

Brand Equity?

I had to replace one of the toilets in my house recently. On the advice of a friend who’s a builder, I went to Home Depot seeking an American Standard brand toilet.

Replacing a toilet is surprisingly easy. It’s really quite something that the toilet is such a simple device, considering its significance in enabling modern life to be as pleasant as it is.

I had bought all the pieces I needed separately, and by the time I finished my installation, had forgotten that I’d bought a seat that was also made by American Standard.

I experienced a little warm flash of joy when I raised the seat of my new toilet for the first time and saw that the logo on the bottom of the seat matched the logo on the toilet itself.


That I would feel spontaneous pleasure at having the brands of components on my toilet match–is it not testament to the primacy of place that branding and labeling have in our culture?

That this positive feeling was caused by something I never could have told you I cared the least bit about–something that seems so silly to me that I’m chuckling inside as I write this–really shows the power of the larger culture to influence emotional responses.

It also illustrates the necessity of being in real places with real people doing real things, if one wants to witness these types of dynamics.

The coda on this little story is an ironic one:


Does it matter to me that my American Standard toilet was made in Mexico? Not really. I’m just happy that the logos all match.

Japan pictures – part 2 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 1 and part 3.


The toilet flusher that comes with an explanatory memo

A few years ago I blogged about my first encounter with a dual-flush toilet.

They are becoming more common, now.
Uppercut, by Sloan, is an interesting, if incomplete design solution. It retrofits into existing toilets. The green handle suggests to the flusher that something is different here. The iconics on the barrel indicate, somewhat, what will happen in different flushing directions. But they’ve also seen fit to provide “attractive instructional placards to educate the user [there’s that phrase again] on proper operation” – UPfor #1 (Liquid Waste), DOWN for #2 (Solid Waste). The Sloan website also provides a customizable memo (.DOC) to help get the word out.

Any change of behavior, especially in such a habitual task, is going to be a challenge. Yet office memos about flushing the toilets belong with training meetings on using the new photocopier in the thundering hell of office life. It’d be interesting to investigate how all these cues (the memo, the green handle, the icon, the placard, the memo) work together (or not) to help people shift behavior (or not).

Any anecdotes to share about new office equipment, toilet memos, or so on? Leave a comment!

Pi-club, Japanese activity calendars


We found these interesting calendars (Google translate link) in Japan. They contain different daily activities tied to the room that you’d use them in, including kitchen, bedroom, bathroom (i.e., the room you bathe in), and toilet. I liked that the toilet calendar features a happy individual, presumably using the calendar, sitting on the throne. The calendars offer a small peek into Japanese home life.



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