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.
One mistake which we made initially was talking to custodians during work hours or in a setting they were not comfortable in. After realizing this, we scheduled our interviews in a place of their choice and often past midnight when they felt comfortable talking about their lives.
We understood that custodians have a thankless and stigmatized job and are only remembered when there is a mess. They never get recognized for the good work they do. The few who work in the night don’t feel appreciated by the users of the building and feel invisible and forgotten because they work at night in an empty building.
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
How can we design so that people become aware that someone is doing a good job of cleaning during the night? How can we design so that the custodians working during the night know that people appreciate their work? How can we design so that all of this fits into the daily routine of the people and the custodians?
Based on our insights, our design constraints were -
The design idea would be used by the custodians at night and the people who use the premises during the day
The design idea should not require change in daily habits, it should provoke thought instead
The interaction should not take a lot of time
The idea should offer flexibility and should consider change in attitude over time
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.
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.
We decided to design a smart mirror inside the common bathroom as a way to increase awareness about the custodians working at night as it is a daily used artefact for people and custodians, technically feasible and the least obstrusive of the ideas we had.
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.
We sketched out a lot of iterations for the icon which would make the user hover over the mirror and not touch it (as their hand would be wet after washing hands). Something we could have done better was to test more ideas simultaneously.
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 found that changing the stigma and increasing awareness is a slow change process. So we made the decision of only providing positive feedback on this design as it is the initial phase.
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.
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.
Hope you enjoyed reading this. Please check out these projects as well