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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
A blank card called “Anything else?” was popular for adding in other ideas…some of those suggestions (as written):
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
Women fear being judged when they walk up to a counter to buy virtually any female product.
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.
Because many contraceptions and treatments for common infections are available only by prescription, women don’t often see their full range of choices.
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
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.
PRODUCTS AND PACKAGING
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.
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.
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.
MDes candidate 2012
Communication Planning & Information Design
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: