Play Lab / Exercise 5: Reflection

I found inspiration for my possible future in the trend of health and fitness tracking. There are an abundance of existing apps and devices that help us keep track of how much we exercise, what we eat, and how well we sleep. Not only do these systems and devices tell us this information, but we are able to earn points based on our performance and share our results with a network of users. The portion of our health and wellness that still seems to be largely ignore however, are our bathroom health and hygiene habits. So, for my exercise, I decided to push this same trend and technology into a place we normal deem very private.

My fake line of bathroom devices allow users to monitor and track their shower, teeth brushing, and toilet habits. The devices not only monitor and track them, but are also able to provide feedback that can help improve a person’s health and hygiene. AND they can be awarded points and compete with their peers!

This project’s purpose was not to propose an actual, working system, but to extrapolate on an existing trend and create a product that MAY result from current technology. Lastly, where this is (in a way) a side effect of current health and fitness trackers, I also wrote headlines as to what might be side effects caused BY my products and technology. Here I will review what the role of the designer is in my created world, how design has led to this point, and how desirable this future may or may not be.

The role of the Designer in my ‘Future’

Fitness and health habits are a highly targeted area in design. How do we keep people active and healthy? How do we help them avoid illness and stay in shape? How do we help people receive proper healthcare? How do we design these things so that they fit into existing lifestyle? These are all questions that health experts, doctors, and designers are looking to solve. And much like how the Fitbit was deliberately created to help people accomplish goals that had long existed — my service, Hygienie, would be a deliberate endeavor. Unlike fitness tracking, however, health and hygiene is a much more private manner, one that many people may not think to publicly track and display. Many of us have some semblance of a routine and keep track of how often we brush our teeth, or shower, or whether what comes out of us looks normal or not… It isn’t a particularly stunning area to develop for, and perhaps we’re okay keeping track of it in a private manner. In this sense, what I created would very much be a (perhaps exaggerated) side effect of existing technology. I asked myself: “How else could health tracking be used, and what benefit could it bring?” An external factor that led to this future as well, however, is that people already bring their technology into bathroom (see previous articles), so why not design it to have a more specific purpose?

The role of Designers in the future as a whole

Well ‘why not?’ is exactly the question we should be asking, especially as designers. When working on projects, whether in school or at work, we’re trained to find opportunities in which design could make people’s lives easier and more enjoyable. OXO was founded in an opportunity to develop products to help those with arthritis have a more comfortable time in the kitchen. The result, or side effect, was that it was more comfortable for everyone and became a staple brand in most households. There are cases, however, in which products and technology are used in unintended, negative ways. This is what I was hoping to portray with my News/Media page on Hygienie’s website.

The Google search demonstrates various types of side effects, whether positive, neutral, and negative, that may occur because of my product. Some are related to the intended use of the product, where as many (mostly the negative ones) are not. So, the big question is: “Is it the designer’s role to consider the side effects, both positive and negative, when developing a product?” I think the answer is an obvious, “Yes!”

Although I chose to neglect certain aspects when designing my fake product line (simply because it is meant to serve as a conversation starter rather than propose a real product), I think it is very important for designers to spend a lot of time considering how they want their products to be used vs how they don’t want it to be used. For example, one of my headlines hints at the government using Hygienie to spy on people in the bathroom. Another poses the idea that gathering health and hygiene data in the bathroom and creating a centralized database where this data is stored could present and opportunity for hackers. If designers consider all these possibilities during the design process, there is a better chance that they can be designed to be prevented. If we anticipate misuse of a product during the design process, we can design them to avoid this misuse. If we knew the government could use Hygienie to spy on citizens, perhaps a feature could be added to disable the camera in the bathroom. If we knew hackers would find its data valuable, we could focus on designing a more secure, perhaps less centralized database.

Misuse has a highly negative connotation. But misuse of a product can also result in positive side effects. In either regard, it is important for designers to consider both in order to best design a product. When thought about early enough, both the form and function of a product can be designed such that they inform how it should be used and to prevent negative misuse.

The desirability of my ‘Future’

It is easy to say that the futures designers create should be desirable. Desirability, however, is incredibly subjective. In regards to Hygienie, the privacy issues are specifically pertinent in concluding whether or not this is a desirable future. Some, who may be interested in keeping better track of their health and hygiene and consider it to be a normal part of being human, might see Hygienie as a desirable product. Others, who are perhaps more private or don’t think this is a part of their lives that need to be tracked or shared, might see it as undesirable.

As someone who personally tends to be relatively un-shy and extroverted, I see Hygienie as being a desirable product — especially concerning our relationship to one another. I think many of the negative side effects of my product could be avoided, and I believe the sharing aspect of Hygienie could be beneficial in opening up conversation about a topic that tends to be relatively taboo in our society. The personal health benefit alone, in my opinion, could be favorable, but I think the changes in social attitude toward health problems, health treatment, and privacy of things that are so very human could be beneficial as well. Whether you agree or not is up to you!