… User-Centred Design – Toilet Roll Holders

November 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm 2 comments

We learnt quickly in our research project that any new idea that we had to improve public toilets had already been done, somewhere, by someone, to various degrees of success, whether it was a crowd-sourced toilet app, a new toilet roll holder or a customer feedback system…

… thius is why our Inclusive Design Guide to Publicly Accessible Toilets (pdf) contains lots of real, one-off examples from the Toilets of Britain, with very few of our own design concepts. One of my favourites was at Walsall Art Gallery which solved the age-old ergonomic issue of how to design sinks for both children and adults by providing… A Step-Stool.

Although there’s something wrong with pretty much every public toilet, it’s not that hard to get it right from a product design perspective.

It’s basically the same as for a toilet in a home – a loo, a sink, paper, soap, bin and a lockable door.

Yet for every lovely example of a new design that does something right (Dyson Hand-Dryers are such a huge improvement..) there’s a new design that does something wrong.

The RCA has some AMAZING new toilet roll holders…

This is why it’s AMAZING:

  • The toilet paper is pulled out from the centre, rather than hanging from a roll, or being pulled out the bottom. This stops the toilet paper from rolling or falling out, causing a waste of paper and an untidy cubicle.
  • The toilet paper comes out one sheet at a time, stopping the user from using more than they really need, reducing waste, and increasing sustainability.
This is why it’s not AMAZING:
  • Sometimes the next sheet of paper doesn’t come through the valve, meaning that even though there’s paper inside, there’s absolutely no way to get to it.

That’s quite a big negative.

I’m thinking that if I was to ask someone for what they look for in a toilet roll holder, between ‘tidiness‘, ‘reducing waste‘, and ‘getting toilet paper’ I think the list would be something like this:

1. Get toilet paper

2. Tidy cubicle
3. Reduce waste

So why did we buy them?

I don’t think we did. According to a contract manager that I spoke to who worked for public parks, toilet roll holders are provided for free by the toilet paper supplier who has been awarded the contract.

So maybe toilet roll holders are not designed to meet user priorities at all. Maybe they’re designed to meet the priorities of the toilet roll provider.

Here are the priorities of a toilet roll provider:

1. Reduce use (less product used = cost savings)

2. Reduce waste (less product wasted = cost savings)

Actually,” said the Parks Contract Manager, “the suppliers only provide toilet roll holders for the public toilet blocks. We chose our own toilet roll holders for the ones in the café. They’re a lot better…”

In defence of the RCA’s toilet roll holders, I’ve not yet succeeded in getting the paper trapped inside, and not for want of trying, although a colleague has.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a similar (perhaps older) design installed in several Wetherspoons pubs, with, nine-times-out-of-ten, the toilet-paper trapped inside in toilet-paper-prison. Madness. But then that’s not the only awful toilet-related design-crime I’ve seen in Wetherspoons.

In any case, providing paper one-sheet-at-a-time is all kinds of annoying, and I don’t think it’s for a toilet paper manufacturer to decide how much paper someone needs.

I’m all for reducing waste for environmental reasons, but I’d like it done by education, not by an authoritarian toilet roll holder.


Entry filed under: Product Design. Tags: , .

… Nine Elms … User-Centred Design – Urinal Games

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Janitorial Supplies  |  January 3, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Yeah Lotus has designed a clever toilet roll dispenser and this is great however what you don’t know is Lotus products are almost twice the price of conventional jumbo toilet rolls.

    And how do I know this? Well we sell both Lotus and other brands from our online shop http://www.janitorialsuppliesonline.co.uk
    And I can say that a plastic dispenser will not stand up for the same abuse that a stainless steel one will that’s for sure.

    Now the lotus brand of paper is made from 100% recycled paper which is good news. Its also made in the UK which is even better news however as you suggest it only dispenses one sheet at a time to save waste however it may create more as I for one would make sure I had a number of sheets together before use and would “pull out” a few extra’s just in case!

    So I’m not so sure it works out cost effective if you are paying twice the price in the first place!

  • 2. Gail Knight  |  January 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks for that! Very interesting information..


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