Tag Archives: vending machine

All by Myself: the Lady Business vending system

All By Myself: The Lady Business Vending System

“All by Myself” is the final poster for my graduate thesis presentation.

Women loathe the invasion of privacy, long waits and bureaucracy that come with conventional health care delivery. Lady Business is a public restroom vending machine that allows a woman to take care of her female health care needs without requiring face-to-face interactions.

She’s the Boss

First I address the challenges women face in obtaining health care, uncovered through interviews and research with 17 women and 6 medical professionals.

Challenge: access

Getting your hands on female health care products can require jumping some hurdles. The Lady Business vending machine puts many self-care tools within women’s reach. Women don’t always have a caring doctor on speed dial, and see making appointments as a burden. Gaps in health insurance coverage also keep women away from clinics and pharmacies for fear of high prices. Women are interested in affordable self-tests and self-treatment so that they can avoid the hassle of dealing with the medical world. Women are also interested in self-care on the go, and asked for mundane products such as underwear and deodorant.

Women say, “Don’t make me go to the doctor” 

“I hate having to go somewhere every month to get birth control. Because that’s what prevents me from doing it.”

“I don’t want to go to the doctor to find out or have to ask ten people, do I have a yeast infection?”

“I don’t want to go to the doctor if I just have a “feeling” something is wrong.”

“I chose antibiotics and urine test strips because I get UTIs sometimes and I don’t want to go to the doctor every time.”

Challenge: time

Using a vending machine simply saves time. Public restrooms at school or work are always open and don’t require a long journey or an appointment. Making phone calls, setting appointments, waiting for exams and prescriptions, driving from place to place are all time-consuming parts of the process that offer the woman little value. Women would rather spend their time getting results and information about their health.

Women say, “I need it right away”

“I want a little shot of water to take the pills, so everything’s in the stall.”

“I’d want to buy emergency contraception and take it right now.

“UTI and yeast infection tests will help me figure out rather than speculate.

“More directions and explaining things better. Simple language. Less medical terms.”

Challenge:  shame 

Women want to take care of themselves without the judgement of others. Stigmas and taboos around female sexuality make many health care transactions so embarrassing, women area them or avoid them all together. Health care providers can’t assist women who don’t come in, and women end up with unplanned pregnancies, untreated infections, or just preventable problems. The vending system is designed to be used without forcing women to face anyone else – no asking, no permission, no shame.

Women say, “Help me hide”

“The bathrooms is private. It’s a good place to pull yourself together and contemplate.”

“I’m to embarrassed to pick up condoms, pregnancy tests or Plan B at a pharmacy”

“Maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t like the sales person knowing my sex life.”

“The self-care kit has to be hideable.”

“I need the packaging to stick in the waistband of my clothes. What if I ran into my boss?”

Why should the vending machine include free products?

Women say, “Free means somebody cares”

“It makes you feel supported to have feminine products available for free”

“Maybe free every once in a while? I always feel such goodwill when they are free on campus.”

“Condoms should be free on campus already, like Free Condom Friday!”

Yes She Can

Vending machine:

Women do not want to be seen buying products, so the vending machine is designed to be used quickly and to keep others from knowing what she buys. The machine is triangle-shaped to fit in the corner of a public restroom, instead of hanging on a flat wall. The woman naturally blocks the narrow front of the vending machine with her body while she’s using it, protecting her transaction from curious eyes. She selects products from a dedicated keypad, instead of pushing buttons close to the products, so it’s less easy to identify what she buys from her gestures. The waist-high dispenser means she can easily slip the product into a pocket or purse without having it be exposed. Swiping a credit card or university ID for payment is less fussy than inserting bills and coins, and allows women to buy higher priced items without worrying about correct change.

Product selection:

Women identified several types of products they’d like to buy from vending machines in public restrooms. Top concerns include treating diagnosing and treating common infections, using contraception, caring for periods, keeping clean and pain relief. Women asked for a mix of medical and convenience items. While most items are available at pharmacies or convenience stores, the process of purchasing them involves a special trip to the store and a face-to-face interaction with a cashier. Women were more interested in products that cater to urgent situations (feeling ill, getting a period, preparing for sex) than long-term use products (pack of birth control pills, antibiotics).

Package design:

Women don’t want to be seen using the products they buy. Lady Business purchases are designed to be used in the restroom stall. Women even admitted they’d rather swallow pills without water while in a stall than go stand at the sink with the package. They don’t want anyone to see the package on the floor, so packages are small enough to be unfolded and used in the lap. Products are adhered to the package with glue so nothing falls out when you open it. Packages designed to be mailed away for lab tests turn inside out to become an overnight envelope.

Self-care kits:

Many health situations women face involve a lot of time wasted spent waiting on others to provide a service. Ironically, the technology used to diagnose and treat many infections is simple enough for a woman to do it herself. In research sessions, women expressed interest in kits to help them deal with urinary tract infections, yeast infections, sex, pregnancy and periods. Believe it or not, women can take urine, saliva, and even blood samples, swallow pills, and apply creams with the best of them.

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Lady Business self-care kits + vending machine

Titles like "Yeast Beast" and "Piss Off" makes ladies smile when they're dealing with annoying health problems.

Just Testing: HPV, HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia test kits for me and you

Piss Off: urinary tract infection test and urinary pain relief

Don't Panic: Emergency Contraception and Pregnancy Test

Yeast Beast: yeast infection test and antifungal cream and pill

Aunt Flow: tampon, pad, pain relief and chocolate

Date Night: condom, personal lubricant, wipes, panties

Self-care kits are designed to be small enough to use in the bathroom stall. The flat interior is perfect for brief instructions like, "eat yogurt. wear skirts. lay around."

The Lady Business vending machine is designed to help women cope with urgent situations - sudden symptoms, unexpected periods, and safe sex.

The box is designed to be flat and easy to hide.

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Lady Business in your restroom

Tucked into a discreet corner of the restrooom, Lady Business is there when you need it.

Buy your products quickly with a credit card or student ID

Boxes are tiny and easy to hide in pocket or waistband.

Hit the stall and take care of your lady business in private.

What's she doing in there? No one will ever know.

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Lady Business

Self-service healthcare in the women's restroom

On December 16, I presented my thesis poster, “Lady Business.” The poster reviews my research, design ideas, prototypes and approach. Responses varied from horrified to enthusiastic about the idea of putting women’s health care products into a vending machine.

Lady Business

Self-service healthcare in the women’s restroom

This could be easier

This project began after it took 3 weeks for me to obtain a pack of birth control pills this summer. My prescription had run out, my insurance changed, I was living in a new city, and I didn’t have a doctor to see. While hiding in the phone booth at work to call a nurse I thought, why is this so hard?

Dream machine

I started daydreaming that I could buy my birth control pills from a vending machine in the restroom. Soon, I became interested in using my thesis project as a piece of design rhetoric. By showing an easier way, I want to argue that the current system is too burdensome.



Do I have to?

Getting care for your female needs is time consuming, can sometimes be embarrassing, and may require access to health insurance, a clinician or a pharmacy. No matter her situation, one of these issues will affect a woman’s care experience.

Weird looks

Women fear being judged when they walk up to a counter to buy virtually any female product.


Information, please

Interviews reveal women often deal with their care in isolation from their peers, and rely on scraps of information from doctor’s visits, commercials and hearsay.

Low visibility

Because many contraceptions and treatments for common infections are available only by prescription, women don’t often see their full range of choices.


On the loose

Doctors speak about women’s health in tones of fear, saying common contraceptions and treatments are “dangerous” and subject to “abuse” if made widely available. In reality, serious side effects are rare and the consequences of not having access to care are much more severe.

Too much faith

Some providers believe women aren’t educated enough to handle self-care. But women say, “Nobody knows my body better than me.”



In the ladies’ room

So how can women get the care they need without the hassles of the current system? Well, the answer is hanging on the wall of a women’s restroom near you. Yes, the humble and archaic feminine product vending machine.

We have the technology

The women’s restroom offers several advantages. It is public and accessible to women as they go about their day. The space is inherently women-only and anonymous. Vending machines are ubiquitous but under-used.

On the spot

Buy what you need and use it right away, even if you’re away from home.


Self Diagnose and treat

A sample testing and treatment kit for urinary tract infections (UTIs).

What a pill

Refilling birth control pills is a pain. Refill‑at‑will packaging could be topped up when you’re running low.


What’s next

In a second round of user research, I plan to ask women to assemble their ideal self-care kits for treatments and contraceptions. After they assemble the kits, they’ll stock the vending machine prototype and place it in a bathroom mock up.


“Proposals” not solutions

Roberto Verganti said, “We do not look at the market, we make proposals to people.” I am proposing a future scenario for women’s health. This design isn’t about designing a solution around every medical regulation that exists today.

False Evidence

This project aims to suspend disbelief and ask viewers to imagine women’s health care as a selfservice. My prototype is presented as a possible future, meant to convince the world that this is a problem that needs solving. Women and care providers don’t question the system, even though it isn’t ideal for many. Rhetoric is needed to push women out of their “This is just the way it is” mindset and towards new models of care.

Jessamyn Miller
MDes candidate 2012
Communication Planning & Information Design

Graduate Thesis
December 2011
Advisor: Suguru Ishizaki
Carnegie Mellon University


I presented the poster formally to a group of three design faculty members, Nick Durrant, Bruce Hanington and Terry Irwin. Here are my talking points:

Lady Business: the self-service female health care vending machine

  • My motivations for starting this project.
  • This is design rhetoric, not simply a solution. I am seeking to push change in attitudes about women’s health.

Research findings

  • The biggest problems women face in getting care are time, access and shame.
  • The “fear of the cashier” is ubiquitous in any health care purchase.
  • Women have 30 years of fertility and are given contraception in 1-day to 28-day doses. This means dozens to hundreds of trips to doctors and pharmacies.
  • Making decisions alone. Women feel like they are “flying blind” in how they select and use female health care products.
  • The choices aren’t in front of me. How can I know my options unless a health care worker recommends something?
  • Doctors treat ladies like “damsels in distress” who need to be protected and monitored.
  • This attitude creates a hindrance for women who want to decide for themselves.
  • Pharmacists think women can’t handle the drugs without their help and control.
  • Irrational fears such as people “gobbling down pills” are used to keep medications under lock and key.


  • The women’s restroom is a good spot to buy women’s health care products.
  • It’s a place women can enter and leave at their convenience, it’s not a separate trip, it’s women-only and anonymous.
  • Packaging could make it easy to test, treat, and refill on women’s health care supplies.
  • Packaging could be an educational tool to help guide women’s choices.


  • Next round of user research will be to have women participants assemble self-care kits and vending machines.


  • This is a proposal, not a solution.
  • This represents a possible future.
  • The goal is to question the current state of women’s health care.
  • The project is not meant to create a perfect system for today.
  • Isn’t meant to conform to the restrictions and bureaucracy of the current model.
  • This is a proposal to change the model of care.


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Self-service female health

Vending machine

A page from my sketchbook with my idea of one-stop lady health shop! March yourself over to the nearest vending machine in the public restroom and buy anything from birth control to testing kits and prescriptions. Get clear instructions on how to test yourself for common infections and take the treatment on the spot. We’ve put a man on the moon, can’t we help a girl treat her UTI?

Buy what you need in an anonymous, women-only environment

Self diagnosis and treatment kit

Inspired by the simple packaging of Help medicine, I sketched what an ideal test kit could be: diagnosis and treatment in one. No running around from doctor to pharmacy to find out you had a UTI (duh) and getting your antibiotics. Let’s package them together with the test so you can have a kit on hand when an infection strikes.

I'd rather diagnose and treat myself in privacy than run from clinic to pharmacy with a burning bladder.

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First vending machine prototype



This is the first idea for my vending machine for self-service women’s heath care. The first side shows the typical vending machine of today. The second side shows the vending machine of the future.

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