Tag Archives: women’s health

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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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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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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