How to Design a Proper Poo

Wednesday was quite interesting, having visited an Independent Living Equipment Centre in Dundee, one of only 3 in Scotland. The woman guiding us through the centre (I forgot her name, sorry!!!) was so informative and made what could be a bit of a beige experience into something very insightful.

The centre basically sells equipment for the elderly and those living with disabilities in order to help them live a more independent life. It’s not like a shop, however; the centre has contextualised the equipment quite well, with a properly set up kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and fake living room to give potential buyers (as well as a group of Master’s students) a proper understanding of how these things would be used in their own homes.

There were quite a lot of takeaways, which I’ll bullet-point below because I could write a couple of thousand words about what I learned this morning.

  • The equipment for the most part, quite frankly, looked totally shite. Our guide was fully aware that everything looked a bit sad too – it’s not as if the people supplying these products think that they’re cutting edge. Why does everything literally have to be beige? During my time here, a big theme I thought about was self-identity and how nobody on planet earth could possibly have any form of sentimentality with the stairlift that looks like a NES that has gathered dust in your attic for 20 years.
  • Maybe it was just me, but everything looked a bit unusable. What I mean by that, is that I felt very wary of taking a seat, or playing with a lot of the stuff as I was genuinely worried I would just break it.
  • This leads nicely onto another point. Our guide told us that people are in fact getting bigger (both horizontally and vertically). A lot of the products on sale don’t make the necessary affordances for a society of larger proportions.
  • This relates to the toiletries, but a lot of the products here really need to be used independently, and can’t really get in the way of partners who don’t need to use these products. For instance, special fittings on a toilet shouldn’t disrupt your partner’s toilet experience, which can cause friction (and even ill health) in a relationship. On top of that, you don’t want to have your partner helping you every time you need to use the loo.
  • How do our products work when other people come over to our homes? Why do a lot of the products give off the idea that they are only for those with impairments? Why can’t we just design better products? (Case in point, light switch with a stick attached to it, it just looks naff)
  • The inner design nerd is talking here, but there was the most beautiful tin opener, that looked more like an abstract structure. How can I create something that’s simply just a beautiful thing, or maybe even converts the idea of how we complete simple interactions? (Thinking of Studio PSK’s tea machine that I learned more about on Monday past).
  • Our guide showed us these foam tubings that could be taken around in your pocket. You’d basically shove cutlery into the hole on top, but how could a modular “handle” be used for multiple needs and products? A simple foam tube could solve so many problems.
  • At the same time, you don’t want to be known as the guy with pockets lined with foam tubes. Design for the emotional needs as well as the usability.
  • Did you know you should actually raise your feet, almost like a foetus, when you poo? Yep, and because we tend to sit on the toilet like an armchair, we’re actually more inclined to get bowel cancer. We’ve been pooing wrong all this time, and it’s giving our elderly major problems. What opportunities are there in existing products? How could I design a proper poo?

I think I’ve scraped my mind for now, but after today I realised I need to start getting agile and just go after something and begin researching. The idea of handles was still frustrating me, and it was in part due to my own prerogatives, but at the same time I realise I just need a half decent starting point and the madness can follow suit. 
There are 4 areas that I want to properly investigate. The first is identity, and how products can say something about you as an individual. With the products on display being so drab, why don’t we have products and services that capture the identity of elderly and impaired people both through visuals and interactions? If I had to be surrounded by that junk for the rest of my life, the emotional burden would just weigh down on any presiding physical problems.

I’m also interested in moving away from handles in the sense of door handles, bike handles, etc, etc, and moving nearer towards the core principle of interaction, more specifically along the lines of digital products. I have a real passion for making the digital become physical, and I love products that do this – even when it’s not necessary. Despite it being against the core ideology of the user centred designer, I love stuff that takes a very subjective viewpoint on design, and exists simply to delight and entertain. So, say for instance, how can social media become more accessible through physical products, or “handles”? We see products that do this already – The Goodnight Lamp, or, as I like to call it “Every 4th Year Honours Project Ever”, lets people turn a light on in their house, which consequently turns a light on in the house of a friend or relative. This is dead simple – but it’s the emotional meaning behind it that is so powerful. Yet the general concept of “I do action X which lights up an LED in location Y” is soooooo rehashed and almost as uninspired as some of the furniture I saw today. So what more is there in that area?
Area numero 3 is the one I’ve thought least about – monitoring. I was thinking about the last project – how voice could potentially indicate that somebody is suffering from depression based on their emotional tone. So, how could touch or feel do a similar job? And how could it be done in a way that is both ingrained in social routine, but one that assists users and helps maintain a healthy lifestyle. This idea is maybe a bit too focused already, and I could probably just take a step back and think about general health and well-being as a realistic starting point.
The final one draws upon my own fears – something that I covered in yesterday’s post – which is the idea of loneliness, and maybe the mental health attributes of being an older adult. I’m not going to delve into much detail, but how could one get a metaphorical handle and greater control over their headspace in their later years.
It’s time for a big CSI wall, and apart from that, there’s nothing I can really offer now. The goal is to come in on Thursday with a greater idea of what I want to follow and who I want to talk to. Again, it’s just a slow process…
But wait! I’ve got a report to do! Fantastic!
It’s actually not going too bad. We have split up into individual research around the idea of online grocery shopping – I’m looking at how elderly people interact with digital technology and what barriers there are in this area, Tytus is looking at the on and offline shopping experience as a whole between supermarkets and what could be improved for elderly people, Beth is looking at inclusive design in order to get us a greater collective knowledge around the themes there, as well as what the elderly cooking experience is like (like, do older people cook a lot? Is that a thing?). Finally, Rebecca is looking at the target market a bit more – what are the needs of the elderly, what are their ambitions, what do they need from products and services? Couple that with how they in particular shop and I think by tomorrow we will cover a lot of basic ground to set us up for the rest of the report.
We are going to meet tomorrow at 9:30AM, and I think it is important there to really build an idea of what it is we are writing about in particular. Fair enough, online shopping for the elderly is a good start, but what is the catch? Are we comparing it with meals on wheels, are we looking at how Tesco and ASDA facilitate elderly people and help them to cook? God knows, only time will tell. 
On a finishing note, I realise this is my second project THIS SEMESTER about Tesco. What is my obsession there? I need some more original ideas. 


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