If you could have a vending machine…

…what would you put inside?

I asked several women to design their own vending machines for public bathrooms during user research sessions last week. Women were asked to imagine there was a female health vending machine in the bathroom at their job or school. I gave the women an empty vending machine template and several products to choose from.

Small group sessions invited women to suggest products for a female vending machine

vending machine template

Blank vending machine template. Women chose eight products for their ideal machine.

The vending machine template is based off the traditional sanitary napkin/tampon design found in most restrooms. I added space for about nine products, a checkout screen, and payment options for cash or credit cards. Many women requested a place to swipe a student ID so they would be able to charge their student health fee and not have a line item appear on their credit card.

A woman selects a pregnancy test and painkillers for her vending machine template.

What are my choices?

The choices of  products ranged from things one can buy at the drug store (testing kits, menstrual supplies) to prescription-only medicines (antibiotics and birth control pills). The range of services (phone support, smartphone app, website) were provided for the second part of the session, designing a self-care kit.

Samples of the products were available to examine. Many women had never heard of UTI test strips, menstrual cups, or the birth control patch.

Their choices surprised me. I had supposed that women would want to get more contraceptive products, like birth control pills, from machines, but interest there was very low. More appealing to women were self-diagnostic tools and treatments.

Products available to stock the "vending machine"

Example of a completed vending machine collage with explanations

What women want

Ten women created vending machine collages. The most popular products were for immediate use — I’m in pain and I want an Advil; I think I have a UTI and I want to know if I’m right; I’ve had unprotected sex and I want to act fast to prevent pregnancy.

Here is the total number of times products were selected:

  • Painkillers: 8
  • Urine test strips: 8
  • Emergency contraception: 8
  • Condom: 7
  • Pregnancy test: 5
  • Personal lubricant: 5
  • Maxi pad: 5
  • Tampon: 5
  • Yeast infection test: 4
  • Yeast infection cream: 4
  • Antibiotics: 4
  • Birth control pills: 3
  • Menstrual cup: 1
  • Wipes: 1

Women added their own products to the vending machine, like underwear, chocolate, female condoms and urinary pain relief tablets.

Anything else?

A blank card called “Anything else?” was popular for adding in other ideas…some of those suggestions (as written):

  • Different sizes of sanitary napkins
  • Tweezers or razor
  • Urinary pain relief tablets
  • Underwear and baggy for dirty underwear
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume samples
  • Advil is what I use
  • Hotline to a doc? (for EC or pregnancy test)
  • Female condom (during sex)
  • Something to induce vomiting (for a club or bar)
  • Gatorade, squirtpack (dehydrated) (for a club or bar)
  • Info about contacting/where/how to contact a medical provider
  • Underwear sounds like a good idea
  • Add a piece of chocolate in the package
  • HIV test
  • Panties

Seems like fresh underwear and information on contacting medical providers were common requests. Perfume and chocolate showed up as mood-lifters to help a woman get through a tough situation. Other random beauty items sprinkled into the mix would be great for convenience but might also have an unexpected benefit: camouflage for customers who may be buying an embarrassing product. If the machine has chocolate, deodorant and emergency contraception, other bathroom users are less likely to assume a purchaser is buying something “embarrassing.”

Women explained why they chose some products and didn't choose others.

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One thought on “If you could have a vending machine…

  1. Has anything come of this since 2012? I’d love to know more

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