… User-Centred Design – Urinal Games

November 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm 2 comments

An article was published yesterday about a company who are installing games for men to play whilst at the urinal. The game is controlled by peeing.

I’m recoiling already.

Not at the concept. I just hate talking about urinals. I don’t know anything about them. There is no more mysterious public space to a woman than the men’s toilets, and vice-versa (although I have been in the men’s at the RCA once for research purposes and was aghast at how much cleaner they were. What on earth are you all complaining about?)

The BBC’s article about the pee-game is very thorough.

Entitled ‘Toilet gaming technology targets urinal boredom’..

 (‘boredom’? Are people really bored by peeing? I’m very understanding of different views, but if you pee enough to be bored by it, you should probably see a doctor)

..the game “sits above the normal oval ceramic urinal bowl, opening up a whole new world of entertainment…The user is presented with three generous targets to aim for in the urinal: stickers in the unit that read “Start”, “Left” and “Right”.”

And why not.

An example given by Tim Brown, CEO of world-leading design consultancy IDEO in a recent free ‘STIR‘ lecture (organised by Design London, a co-venture between Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art) was about the problem of ‘splashback’.

To summarise: one route to tackling splashback could be by redesigning the urinal or toilet. However the bigger success came from drawing a fly in the pan of the urinal. This gave men something to aim at.

Lesson: Design can change behaviour.

So I don’t mind the urinal game (it’s not *really* for me to judge..), although its aims are not in behavioural change or user-centred design. Still, it’s probably kinda fun. It may have unintended consequences, both good and bad, and it’s interesting to see the results of such creative design interventions, though I also don’t think it’s got anything to do with alleviating ‘boredom’.

As the company behind it, ‘Captive Media’, say themselves, “It’s notoriously difficult for brands to engage a young male audience whilst they’re out socialising,” argues MacSween, and “Captive Media offers a long ‘dwell time’.”

Make no mistake, this is advertising.

Whilst the article provided some laughs – “The sensor unit is contactless and does not use a camera, another important design consideration” – it still managed to drive me nuts. Quote:

“We are also installing units in ladies’ toilets, to address the issue of long waiting times” Gordon MacSweenDirector, Captive Media


I’m so sick of complacency over queueing for the ladies. I don’t want the queue to be amusing, I want it to be non-existence, or, at busy times, of the same length as the queue for the men’s.

From a modern, feminist, equalities perspective, designing facilities that favour one gender over the other is unacceptable. We need designers, architects and the people employing them to provide a higher proportion of female toilets, in the hope that I never see this sign again:

or even… unbelievable… a ‘designated queueing area‘ – poisitioned on the ladies’ side, and 10-women deep on weekends:

If you wish to advertise to women and girls, the back of the door is all yours, and I’m sure can be game-ified as effectively as the mens’, but trying to amuse me whilst queueing for the loo is nothing short of taking the piss.

The urinal games by Captive Media are “already up and running at The Exhibit bar in Balham, south London”. As The Exhibit bar is part of Wandsworth Council’s Community Toilet Scheme, you don’t even have to buy a drink to try them, although it might help your score. 


Entry filed under: Product Design. Tags: , , , .

… User-Centred Design – Toilet Roll Holders … Local Directgov

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle  |  November 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Like you Gail I get very angry when it is assumed that women should queue when men do not. We really need someone to take a provider to a sex discrimination trial to ram this point home.

    It is not fair to say that architects should automatically allow more toilets for women – our (male) clients often require us to provide no more than the statutory minimum, as they cost money to build and do not generate income! This was why it was so important to change the BS, and hopefully new toilet areas that follow the BS 6465 recomendations will have adequate provision for women.

    As regards the games for men, I have heard of targets on urinals to help encourage accurate aiming, but this seems to encourage ‘ a long dwell time’ – if men spend more time at the urinal, they may also end up with queues!

    • 2. Gail Knight  |  November 29, 2011 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I can see that the pressure on toilet numbers and space would most likely come from the client whose motivations do not lie in providing toilets for everyone.

      I had the same thought about dwell time – though at least at a urinal I imagine you can’t really dwell once you’ve finished – distracting people in a cubicle would certainly increase queue length!


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