University of Waterloo Stratford Campus bathroom entrance

Understanding Toilet UX

User Experience Product Review + Process

My colleagues and I picked the University of Waterloo — Stratford Campus toilets for a UX product review to present and deliver a report of its application, meaning, and intended use. Our user research methods were gathering open-ended feedback, closed card sorting, and surveys to evaluate the product and its users. To conclude, we analyzed the toilet’s design to make recommendations for improved an user experience.

Why toilets? Toilets are a topic that people don’t usually discuss as it’s considered to be a product that holds “the dirty”. When the occasion arises to use the toilet, we do our business and leave, never to speak of toilets again.

We may be clouded by our internal urgence “to go”, the toilet is a product that people generally use every day, maybe more than once, thus raising the importance of its experience for the user.

Toilets in public spaces are designed for the general public. Therefore, the toilet is a product just for the average user and not the extreme users. We believe there are dissatisfied specs reviewed by “average” users with different needs and expectations in regards to their personal comfort level.

These toilets were designed and installed for students to use. Research was conducted on school campus with students to find out their user experience with the toilet.


Research Process

Graffiti Wall

Initially, we didn’t know how to start our research with toilets. We all had opinions and assumptions of our own experiences with toilets, but didn’t know what the majority of users thought. To gain deeper insight, our first research method we decided to use was the “Graffiti Wall”.

Graffiti Wall is a qualitative research method. We asked an open-ended question, which left a lot of room for how our participants wanted to create and steer the discussion on toilets. We let our users be our guide for this product review.

To gather open-ended feedback, we posted two large pieces of paper in the female and male bathrooms with pens with the heading “Tell Us Your Toilet UX!”. We asked students to consider the following: aesthetics (senses, beauty); usability (bowl dimensions, ease of flush, ergonomics); affect (satisfaction, emotion).

This method allowed us to observe how people use the toilet to meet or not meet their needs. Ultimately, we wanted to know the natural use of the product and gain better understanding of what happens when the user interacts with the toilet.

User Research Participant Recruitment

To promote our research and recruit participants, we made an eye-catching banner to be posted in the bathrooms on the 2nd floor of the building. We chose the 2nd floor because this was where most of our participants were and the bathroom on this floor would be convenient access.

For promotion, we asked the school’s Twitter account owner to tweet our research.

To recruit participants, we asked two first year class’s instructors to ask their students to use the bathroom when needed and provide voluntary and anonymous feedback. This research method lasted from 9am to 7pm.

Open-ended Feedback Results

We received many toilet responses from both male and females, particularly comments about the bathroom stalls and how it contributes to their toilet experience. From this, we were able to understand that users define the stall and bathroom setting as part of their entire toilet experience.

Closed Card Sorting Method

After collecting responses from our initial open-ended feedback, we thought the papers could have been up for a longer duration of time, especially because our first feedback was collected for a duration of only 10 hours.

From our open-ended feedback, we noticed that our participants commented on positive and negative experiences. From this, we decided to conduct a similar research of collecting open-ended feedback. The difference this time was that we incorporated the closed card sorting method. We gave predefined categories of good UX and bad UX and asked respondents categorize their toilet UX according to their own definition.

Card sorting is a UX research method that’s traditionally known for helping to construct an organized and intuitive information architecture for a website. There are two types of card sorting, that is open card sorting and closed card sorting. Open card sorting is when participants create categories and organize information into those categories that were defined by the user. Closed card sorting is when categories are predefined by researchers and information is categorized by users. Card sorting is an authentic way to observe how users categorize and define their information.

To execute this method, we posted two big pieces of paper in the 2nd floor bathroom with pens again and asked the same two first year classes to give feedback on the sheets. This method lasted five days.

I am aware that we are not building a website information hierarchy. We used closed card sorting by taking the similar concept of creating two pre-defined categories for our users to comment, what is “good UX” and “bad UX” on a big piece of paper. From this, we observed how our users define good toilet UX and bad toilet UX in their own interpretation.

From the responses of open-ended feedback and closed card sorting, we became more familiar with the people who used the campus toilets. Responses ranged from the toilets itself, to comments about the stall, and extended to the bathroom as a whole. For our final research method, we devised a series of survey questions to follow up with respondents and asked them specific questions compiled from the open-ended feedback and closed card sorting.


We now had an idea of how to ask our next questions in a survey format to gain more insight.

Surveys are a simple research method to gather information and generally consists of questions that seek specific answers. It is also a quick and easy method to gather answers for user demographic, user’s wants and needs, user’s opinions, and user behaviour sociologically and psychologically.

For surveys to be effective, researchers must have a direction of the questions they would like answered by respondents. For example, before conducting our survey, we conducted open-feedback gathering and closed card sorting for preliminary insight — ultimately giving us a starting point of how to shape our survey questions.

Survey questions need to be contextually defined by the information that needs to be collected. For our survey, we included a description of our project to set the context of why we are conducting this survey. By doing this, it helps the respondent to understand our research in its entirety.

We wanted to mainly target and follow up with our participants of how their toilet experience was by asking specific questions individually. We made sure that the questions flow logically and lead up to the next question. To confirm this, before releasing our survey to general participants, we asked a few students at school to answer our survey to see if they can understand the questions. Participants were expected to answer multiple choice questions, dichotomous questions, and likert scales.

We created a Google form and tweeted it with the hashtag #flushUX. We asked our original sample of participants, the first year students, to look up the hashtag to find our survey link. We found this way to be more convenient rather than us passing iPads around a classroom and asking students to fill out the survey. Data was automatically collected on Google forms.


Below are results from selected questions we asked.


Female toilets

Female toilets have separate seats, but have no reason to raise or lower the lid. This shows that toilets are primarily designed for male users. The bowls and lids should be a single unit in female lavatories.

A closer examination of the data reveals the majority of female users were not satisfied by the timing of the automatic flush valve, while the opposite is true of the male users. Two of the toilets in the female lavatories are lidless. The autoflush valve sensors are optimized for use with a lid. Installing lids on toilets in female lavatories would ensure that the automatic valve flushes every time.

Male toilets

Males, unsurprisingly, use toilets less than females because urinals are available. Respondents reported that the toilet and urinals in the male lavatories are not tall enough for the user base. Height was an issue for male users taller than 5’6”. Raising the height of the toilet seat and urinals would improve the experience of the targeted audience.

Privacy is a chief concern for campus toilet users. There are doors for the first floor lavatories, but not for the upper floors. Toilet users are uncomfortable about the open design. We recommend installing doors for the second and third floor lavatories. There are gaps in the stalls large enough for people to see inside, making users feel exposed. Replacing the stall panels to decrease the size of the gaps would enhance the sense of privacy.

Review by: Piyush Bandyopadhyay, Christina M. Chung, William Patrick, and Faizan Shoaib.