Design mobilised by a pandemic?

a row of public toilet handbasins sit in front of a large mirror. There are sensor taps and soap dispensers. Seems a pandemic is causing designers to consider designs from another perspective. An article on the ABC website discusses a re-think of both public toilet design and workplace design. FastCo website has a similar article on public bathroom design. They are both about infection control. But what might any new designs mean for people with disability, older people and people from diverse backgrounds?

Some suggestions have links to a universal design approach. Automatic doors to the bathroom or no door at all, sensor taps and sensor soap dispensers for a start. Women queuing inside and outside toilets has to be re-thought as well. But some immediate makeshift ideas might not work for everyone. The ABC article includes a picture of a large hook so people to use their forearm to open the door. However, the problem needs to be considered as whole, not just a door and a tap.

The article from FastCo looks deeper into the issues and the potential designs of the future. It goes beyond the details of sensor taps and looks at the design of the bathroom space itself. There are more issues than just touching surfaces and washing hands. A door hook is clearly not sufficient to prevent the spread of infection, and doesn’t solve the problem of social distancing.  

The title of the article on the ABC website is, Experts suggest public toilets and offices should be re-engineered to reduce the spread of infection

The title of the article on the FastCo website is, We may have to rethink the toilet seat altogether: How the coronavirus could change bathrooms for the better. 

The pandemic shows that designers can take a front seat for solving public health issues. But it shouldn’t take an emergency to make design changes for inclusion. However, it does show the importance of design and designers in our everyday life. 

Editor’s note: the noise of electric hand dryers make public toilets unusable for some people with autism. They also stir up any bugs lurking in the bathroom. People shaking off excess water before using the dryer isn’t a good idea either.