This is a story about the thinking behind the Katrin Inclusive Dispenser range, which my colleagues and I at EGGS designed together with Metsä Tissue.
Using inclusive design principles on Katrin’s hygienic dispenser range makes a lot of sense since these products will be installed in public washrooms, industrial workplaces, hotels, schools, restaurants and healthcare environments. If you live in Europe, you’ve probably seen this logo somewhere before:
So how do you go about creating something that has to work in such an enormous amount of different settings? The simple answer is; you invite these people to develop the product with you:
Two kids, one arthritic person, one blind person, one visually impaired person and one wheelchair user. They all challenge the product in different ways. Therefore, they inspire new solutions that not only make a product work better for them, but also for everyone else using the product. We didn’t only invite those though, we also invited these three people. They’re the ones who use these products everyday. The facility manager and the cleaning personnel need these products to perform well in order to get their jobs done.
Below is how one of the dispensers in the range used to look. It’s not too bad, is it? Well, if you were to look at it through the eyes of a visually impaired person, what you’d actually see is the blurry version.
A white dispenser on a white wall with white paper. The dispenser is difficult to locate, and finding the paper is even worse. So we designed a new dispenser with a bold contrasting area where the paper comes out. Now for a visually impaired person, it is easier to see where the paper comes out:
We were also very inspired by what a blind person said. What he said became the guiding principle for the whole range.
I always expect the paper to come out from the bottom. If I can’t find it there, I just don't bother to look any further.”
We designed the dispenser so that the paper comes out of the front, instead of from underneath. Pulling the paper towards yourself instead of downwards is much easier.
The feeding wheel is normally only used when paper becomes jammed inside the mechanism, something that doesn’t happen too often. But still, that’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a delight to use. Therefore, we moved it to the front and completely re-vamped it in the process. Now it’s a large push-bar that can easily be pressed with a whole hand if need be.
When we talked to a wheelchair user, she said: “Try it yourself!” So we did.
As you can see, even with my long arms, I couldn't reach the paper. So now the installation manuals follow the European guidelines for how washrooms must cater for the disabled.
When cleaning public restrooms, personnel need to instantly spot if a dispenser needs refilling. Which one of these do you think needs refilling?
Ok, I admit it… It’s a trick question, both are the same image. The point is, we thought it could be done in a much better way.
We made the side walls transparent, so now you can see immediately if a dispenser needs to be refilled. When talking to the cleaning personnel, we also learned that the walls of public restrooms are sometimes hosed down.
Subsequently, we made the dispensers narrower towards the back to more effectively drain away any water around them, keeping the paper inside dry. All these things not only make life much easier for the cleaning personnel, but also for users. They get more hygienic restrooms, and avoid having to deal with any potentially awkward situations because the paper has run out.
So, that was a brief look at some of the things we learned from the people we invited, and the paper towel dispenser is just one of the products in the Katrin Inclusive Dispenser range. This is what some of the other dispensers we designed looks like:
You might say: “I don’t make products for wheelchair users.” I would argue that no matter what new product or service you’re creating; it can be of huge benefit to get direct inspiration from people who really challenge that product or service. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to be used by everyone, or just a small and very specific group of people. I look at the intended group of users like this.
The core users are in the middle, but if you look at the whole group, there are some people who challenge the product in different ways. The bottom line is that when you make it better for people who challenge the product, you will most certainly make it better for everyone.