Defining the Key Pain Points
In order to understand people’s struggles with public bathrooms, I interviewed five people, aged between 23 to 61, to share their experiences with and their expectations of public bathrooms.
One of the interviewees has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While she doesn’t feel sick that often, she likes to scope out where bathrooms are just in case a flare-up arises.
All of them believe that free and clean bathrooms are hard to find, and if you go to a coffeeshop, you are often pressured into purchasing something.
Most shopping centers and department stores have multiple bathrooms. Oftentimes, bathrooms on the first few levels are the filthiest. The higher the level you go, the cleaner the bathrooms are.
Through the above interviews and many conversations with friends, the struggle to find clean public bathrooms is universal. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all human, and being human comes with its own set of chores.
Different people have different expectations for public restrooms. When people are in dire need, a public restroom can help relieve stress and embarrassment. A bad experience can lead to avoidance and disappointment. People do have preferences, amenities and other factors could affect people’s tendencies of using public restrooms.
The challenge is to create a simple and quick way to help users to locate nearby bathrooms with the following in mind:
- shows bathrooms within walkable distance (nobody wants to walk a mile for a slightly cleaner bathroom)
- allows users input to review and rate different bathrooms that reflect the actual condition of bathrooms
- user friendly interface that requires minimal learning time
- filter bathrooms by certain characteristics such as wheelchair-accessible, gender-neutral, baby changing station available etc.
It all started with the name, OneFlushAway, which is derived from one of my most used apps “OneBusAway.” As a navigation app that serves a specific purpose, my goal was to make the app’s interface clean, easy to use, and so intuitive that even when you gotta go, you’ll be able to find a bathroom with no frustration.
Like other crowd-sourced information apps such as Yelp, OneFlushAway also has a strong social element. Users can comment, like, share photos and reviews but instead of bonding over a certain type of cuisine, users bond over one of the most basic needs — when you gotta go, you gotta go, and we all need a clean, safe space to do our business.
During the prototyping process, I adopted suggestions from peers to install a “quick navigation” button. If users press the “OneFlushAway” button, the nearest bathroom profile will pop up, with walking instructions on the map.
If that particular bathroom does not appeal to users or suit their needs, they are free to use the filter function, where they can toggle between selecting certain traits, such as baby changing station, gender-neutral bathroom etc.
During the interviews, users found the app easy to navigate and they were able to complete the task as requested. However, one user found the search function to be cumbersome and unnecessary. She stated that if she were in an emergency, she would not bother to search up restaurants, but would instead use the OneFlushAway button.
On the other hand, the user with IBS deeply appreciated the search function as it would allow her to scope out bathrooms in advance before her next trip to a new neighborhood.
After hearing both sides of the coin, I decided to keep the search function with a few tweaks such as putting it as an icon instead of a search bar that is displayed at the bottom of the screen. Making it less intrusive allowed me to kill two birds with one stone as a UX designer as I was able to keep the functionality while keeping the interface clean and simple.
This project, for me, emphasized the importance of empathy and understanding. Everyone has to use the bathroom, yet I found that the importance of access to clean bathrooms is downplayed in mainstream society. Bathrooms are more than just a place to “go”, but are important public places where can care for our bodies, be it changing clothes, breastfeeding, changing a diaper, emptying a colostomy bag, touching up on makeup, and much more. Even though the United States is a developed country, many people with various marginalized identities often feel scared to use a public restroom — no one deserves to feel that way, and I hope one day, we won’t have to identify certain bathrooms as gender-affirming as having gender-affirming bathrooms will be the norm, not the exception.
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