A smart soap dispenser was developed as part of an internal project led by ESPA intern, Simon Prévost. The project purpose was to explore how we could most effectively utilise recent technologies to address a clinical need. The design objective was to create a device to help those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) gain awareness of, and therefore more easily manage their habits. The device would also help limit over-washing of the hands and the painful symptoms this brings. The idea was for a soap dispenser capable of subtly registering how often the user washed their hands. The device would collect this data which could be sent directly to the user’s clinician. The wider intention was to make it simpler for patients to share information to enable clinicians to create more tailored, accurate treatment plans.
The priority was to ensure that the design solution was directly informed by insights from those who had experienced the condition, OCD. Before even exploring the product form and concept, we consulted the target audience, gathering qualitative data to better understand the challenges they experienced and what the most helpful solution might look like from their perspectives. This led us to focus our device design on how habits could be monitored to provide greater awareness and visibility. The challenge then became, designing a product that incorporated the required intelligence to accurately collect data and communicate this to clinicians, but that importantly didn’t feel obtrusive or clinical to the user.
“I did my end-of-study internship at ITERATE where this experience proved to be very enriching. Gethin, Chris and the whole team were very attentive and did their utmost to put me in the best possible conditions to work. In this way, I was able to learn a lot from a very qualified team that is passionate about its field of study” – Simon Prévost
By collecting first-hand responses from the intended user group, we unearthed a breadth of valuable insights. These findings included a recurring observation that medical devices induced feelings of anxiety thereby less effectively solving the problems they set out to address. This depth of knowledge enabled us to shape and optimise our design to mitigate against an anxious response to the product. Our soap dispenser design included softer, well-rounded edges which was reported by the user-group to give a more reassuring impression. While the electronic design offered less opportunity, by taking a more empathetic approach to the mechanical design, we delivered a better product for the specific target user. The soap dispenser was designed to communicate with the user’s smart watch to seamlessly recognise the specific patient. An e-ink display was also integrated to provide a non-stimulating user interface.
We designed an intelligent soap dispenser that could help those with OCD manage their habits and easily share and discuss their behaviour patterns with doctors in a way that was unobtrusive in their day-to-day lives. By conducting user research, we were able to create a design that, through its considered form and aesthetic, would encourage regular use by the patient rather than focussing solely on technical performance which risked ignoring a vital element of the user journey. The result was a product that was designed by more compassionately considering the environment and perspective of the user, beyond simply physical interactions with the product.