I was having a hard time choosing a specific area that I wanted to explore within the sink/basin theme. I realized that many of the areas were stationary and didn't contain a lot of movement. I've come to the conclusion that products have to have some sort of movement for me to get really interested in them (I guess it makes sense that I went in mechanical engineering). Through this I realized that the flow of water coming out of the faucet is pretty interesting and could have a lot of different areas of exploration, so I chose to look into the faucets of bathroom sinks and, in particular, washing your hands.
Using Bathroom Faucets
Being annoyed with bathroom faucets also happens to be an area that I understand. My current faucet releases the water too close to the wall. This forces the user to have to smash their hands up against the wall of the sink in order to wash your hands. It also prevents you from ever using the large deep basin because your hands are always smashed up against one corner. It's also one of the older models that has a hot spigot and a cold spigot. I have no control over the temperature that I wash my hands at, it is either hot or it is cold. Nothing in between.
Leaves a clearance of 1.03" between the sink wall and water flow. I measured this with calipers because that's how I roll.
I was trying to think of the various residential bathroom faucets that I had used, and nothing really stood out in my mind as being novel. It seemed like they, for the most part, had a very similar design. The standard ones would have one rotating knob or two knobs to control the temperature and were kind of boxy in shape or the designer models were usually made from stainless steel or brass and would have a smooth shape. I decided to head down to the local hardware store and check out the faucets they had.
The selection of bathroom faucets that I found at Ace Hardware seemed to be the same designs of faucets that have been used for as long as I can remember. And exactly how I expected, the inexpensive models had a boxier shape compared to the smooth shapes of the more expensive models.
I'll admit that the selection of faucets here weren't that plentiful. I should probably try to find a designer plumbing store to feel awkward at.
I came across a couple of employees at the hardware store and used their "May I help you" as an excuse to interview them. I realized afterwards that it's not the best to subtly interview two people at once because one of the salesman didn't really say anything.
I asked them if they had seen or had any interesting faucets. They said that everything they had was pretty much two valves and a spigot. I started throwing out a couple of ideas that might spark their imaginations such as automated temperature control or interesting valves on the faucet. They said they hadn't seen anything like temperature control that directly connected to the faucet but hot water heaters usually had a temperature control. I asked if they thought that something like automatic temperature control on the faucet would be something that might be interesting to the public. They said it would be an interesting idea and that it would be nice if it had instant hot water.
This was about as far as I got with the interview. I'm going to have to practice on my interview questions to get people into a natural conversations but I did this one spur of the moment which isn't always the best way.
My final ethnographic research tool was to create a storyboard. I wanted to follow the steps that someone would use to wash their hands in the bathroom. Since there are many different ways someone might wash their hands, I did a little mind map to come up with variations to the hand washing story. It was with this that I created a choose your own hand washing adventure storyboard:
Journey to the Bathroom
... having destroyed the magician's calliope, you run through the wrought iron lion's mouth and find yourself transported back into your living room. You immediately have an urge to go to the bathroom.
Wash your hands (go to 1)
Use the toilet (go to 2)
Shave your ZZ Top beard (go to 3)
Brush your teeth (go to 4)
You position yourself in front of the sink and have to turn on the water.
Have a sink with one knob that acts as hot and cold (go to 5)
Have a sink with two knobs, one for hot, one for cold (go to 6)
After you have finished using the toilet, you flush and make your next move.
Wash your hands (go to 1)
Leave without washing (go to 10)
You hold your razor up to your ZZ Top beard, however, the bluesy power within the beard causes the razorblade to begin to quiver before shattering all over your hands. Tiny cuts cover your hands, forcing you to wash your hands. (Go to 1)
You brush your teeth and spit out the toothpaste. Somehow, you manage to spit toothpaste all over your hands. Your only option is to wash your hands. (Go to 1)
You turn on the water and adjust the knob to bring the water to your desired temperature.
Adjust the knob all the way to hot (go to 7)
Adjust the knob all the way to cold (go to 8)
Adjust the knob to a midpoint in the temperature range (go to 7)
Turning on the water, do you:
Turn on just the hot water (go to 7)
Turn on just the cold water (go to 8)
Turn on both knobs and adjust to a midpoint range (go to 7)
The water from the sink is now flowing. You test the water but it is still too cold.
Wait for the water temperature to change (go to 9)
Tough it out and start washing your hands (go to 8)
You lather and rinse your hands and shut off the water. You look down and realize that your hands are still dripping wet.
Shake them off in the sink (go to 11)
Immediately dry them with a hand towel (go to 12)
Dry them off on your pants (go to 13)
You wait and occasionally check the temperature with your finger. Eventually the water feels right. (Go to 8)
You walk out of the bathroom without having washed your hands and your disgusting behavior has caused the walls to emit a horrid stench. Written on the wall of the hallways is a message that says, "WASH YOUR HANDS".
Get panicked and return back to the bathroom (go to 1)
Pay no mind to the message on the wall (go to 15)
You begin shaking them off in the sink. As you shake, a single drop lands just below your eye and begins rolling down your face.
Finish drying them with a hand towel (go to 12)
Finish drying them on your pants (go to 13)
Call it good enough and leave the bathroom (go to 14)
You finish drying your hands and stop to look at them. Perfect... absolutely spotless. Feeling accomplished you leave the bathroom. (Go to 14)
You wipe you hands on your pants, leaving wet hand prints all over your butt. You might be embarrassed to go out like this in public but you're in your home. Who cares? (Go to 14)
As you leave the bathroom, you are strangely overcome with a need to check your email. Through a series of clicks you can't quite remember, you find yourself looking at pictures of cats. Your day is over.
Walking through the hallway, the stench begins to get worse. You notice that the walls are growing in size. Looking down, you realize that the stench is of you melting in your own filth. You try to make it back to the bathroom, but you can not reach it in time. You are stinking pile of filth.
Outside of occasional design issues, faucets are pretty good at what they do. There are still a few areas for improvement.
I agree with the Ace Hardware guys that an instant hot water option would be a nice thing to have. Especially in the winter and in apartments in which the landlord might not have properly insulated the hot water pipes.
The design of the faucets are kind of boring. There is energy in the running water that could be harnessed and turned into something that would create play value in washing your hands or enhance aesthetic value of the sink. Also, since the basics of the design have changed very little, it is ripe for innovation. Why should the water always falls down from a spigot? Why couldn't it jet upwards like a fountain or sideways or be arched? How come we can't control the spray from the spigot like we can with modern shower heads?