team with chuck
Chuck (center) the custodian at SoIC with (l-r) Tosh, Me, Hayden and Leslie

Appreciating Custodians

Custodians who clean during the night are invisible and under-appreciated. We designed for the 'ghosts of the night'.

I was fortunate to learn from and work with Paritosh Anand, Hayden Mills and Leslie Huang in this project. I was responsible for being the team facilitator, scheduling meetings, deciding agenda, user research, ideating, sketching, prototyping and planning the presentation.


"When someone above us thanks us for the work we do,
it makes us feel we’re on the same level and haven’t been forgotten"
- Fred, Custodian for 30 years

The CHI student design competition, aimed to level the playing field for a demographic was the prompt for this project. Moving swiftly off the blocks, we decided to focus on an interesting demographic, custodians (also known as janitorial staff) specially those who work during the night. This decision was made after doing a semantic differential analysis where we considered accessibility to the demographic, income and voice in the community.

What does an even playing field mean? How could we level it? We went and asked around 8 custodians and 3 supervisors working at the dorms and classrooms.

Dipt walking to a custodian
At the custodial staff room
Dipt talking to a custodian
Understanding a custodial worker who works during the night.
Hayden and Tosh talking to a custodian
Hayden and Tosh talking to a custodian.


  • The work of a custodian affects everyone’s daily lives. The activities of an organization can be greatly affected if custodians don’t do their job well.
  • When they receive acknowledgement for their good work it makes them feel better about themselves and their position
  • High morale in custodians leads to better work ethic and job attendance and better workspaces
  • Changing the attitude and behaviour of the people to appreciate the work of a custodian is a slow process

After a short discussion, we decided on a direction to move in and the core of our project became

Make custodian awareness actionable
Core explanation


We looked at artefacts which people interact during the day and the custodians interact during the night like trashcans, water fountains, desks, soap dispensers, bathroom mirrors and bulletin boards.

Tosh Sketches
We explore bells
While Hayden ponders over a high-tech trashcan

We decide to go with the bathroom mirror. Some exploration on the internet led us to the idea of having a smart mirror in the public restroom frequented by people during the day and cleaned by the custodians during the night. We went and sketched out ideas of how could we use the mirror to raise awareness.

Leslie Sketches
Leslie comes up with the idea to sketch on a mirror
Bathroom mirror
Seeing what it would look like
Fleshing out the idea on a whiteboard


Testing the idea was tricky as the bathroom is a public-private space. However, we managed to get a few participants to agree to test our prototype. We did multiple rounds of testing, tryong out variations in the placement, content and interactions.

Participant interacting with the prototype
Using paper for action labels

We left the skecthes on the mirror overnight and asked the custodians the next day how they felt and thought about it. Although it was a prototype made out of paper and sketches, it did generate a positive emotion. This was a highlight of my semester.

"It brought a smile to my face"
- A Custodian, when asked about how he felt about the messages on the mirror.


We sketched out the design on paper, before creating high-fidelity mockups. We decided on a interaction where the user holds his hand close to the mirror, not touching it as her/his hands would be wet.

final sketch1
The restroom mirror
final sketch2
User holds his hand near an option
final sketch3
Labels fills up. It takes 1.5 seconds to complete

Final Design

We use our personas to tell a story showing how the smart mirror would work and increase awareness about the custodians working during the night.

Swipe right to navigate the story.


How many times does one think about the person who cleaned a room when we enter a class/office every morning? The job of a custodian is greatly under-appreciated. I loved working on this project as I was able to smash my own biases and misconceptions, fail multiple times but most importantly bring a smile to the face of a custodian by being a good listener.

This project was the fifth and last project of our Interaction Design Practice course. It was the first time we had to tackle a problem which required a slow change approach. It was a big learning experience. It was also surprising to see how many of us take the cleaniness of our environment for granted and are oblivious to the fact that an individual is responsible for keeping it clean.

Our Journey. Full image here