Design Thinking – Water Taps at Home

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Design Thinking – Water Taps at Home [7 minute read]

I’ve had the habit of applying aspects of Design Thinking to my work and personal life for some time now. In fact, off late it is literally a ‘permanently on’ app running in my head. I use it to review products or services, or to wonder why some startup is loved and others aren’t so much.

Now Design Thinking has been getting thrown around a lot in recent times. So I thought I’d share some of my experiences in applying different aspects of this simple, yet seemingly elusive concept.

So I’ll occasionally share a few (hopefully short) posts about applying Design Thinking to random, everyday life.

Here’s the first one.

Now this scenario is probably limited to countries like India, where we have the luxury of house help. They range from your full-time servants living in adjoining quarters, to pay per task (washing dishes, cooking, sweeping, etc.). People, mostly women in the profession, have really innovated and kept pace with increasing needs and disposable incomes of nuclear families. That and people’s seemingly decreasing free time to finish household chores themselves.

For quite some time now, one thing about many of them has really bothered me. The part-time maid at home leaves the tap on full while washing utensils (no dishwasher here). And that tap remains on full blast even when she keeps washed utensils in the drip basket. Or when she is arranging dishes in the basket to make place for more. The huge wastage of water didn’t seem to bother her. And if we brought it to her notice, she would only be careful for a day. What’s most puzzling, the area the maid lives in, is known to face slight water shortages from time to time.

So, over the last few months, I randomly asked relatives and friends if this was an isolated case, or a common problem they faced too. There was a resounding ‘yes’ from all quarters about the excessive water wastage. And when asked what they felt the reason might be, the answers were almost identical too. That the maids just didn’t care or that as long as water was sufficiently available at the house they worked at, wastage didn’t matter.

In the past, when the maid was casually questioned why, you didn’t really get any answer. So without wanting to risk pissing off this temperamental lot, I wondered if it was possible to just think of broad areas of possible reasons for this (just an example of moving beyond the seemingly obvious reasons for any problem).

One reason, as mentioned by some of the informal group I questioned, could be the abundance of water in the homes they work at. The sufficient supply allows them to mentally relax the otherwise alert behaviour in them to conserve water (and many other resources in their lives). And this trait isn’t just found in them. Believe me, most of us, if not all, all guilty of such indulgences at others’ expense. From those who charge mobile phones and laptops only at work, to those of us who have (over the years, I’ve consciously managed to get rid of the habit) left the air-conditioning at hotels on (sometimes by sticking paper or cards into the key-slots), so as to return to a wonderfully cool room from a scorching outdoors. Even if we were out for a large part of the day.

One more probable cause could be the speed of the water. Having to do dull work across multiple homes from early in the morning, a jet of water helps clean utensils much faster than having to manually scrub them off under a slower flow.

Another probable cause for the water wastage came from a random memory from probably my high school days. I was at granny’s place, and had just finished a glass of juice, and was at the kitchen sink to rinse the glass. For some reason, I held the glass in one hand, and tried turning on the tap with the same hand. In the process, the glass caught the stem of the tap, and broke. That, and I somehow tend to accidentally break things (including, but not limited to breaking toothbrushes while brushing, or plastic spoons while eating ice-cream). 😐

Indian families can be cruel when it comes to dealing with breakages at the hands of their house helps. Now, most taps aren’t designed to allow sufficient free area to manipulate dishes while washing. ‘Manipulate’, I used to use that term a lot when working in the industrial robotics space). So it is possible that taps are left on fast to allow for washing a safe distance from the tap stem?

So let’s assume another constraint here. Let’s say you can’t interact with them towards understanding why they waste water. After all, they are a highly temperamental. So if they get angry and quit, a lot of households tend to come to a standstill.

Unlike in normal problem-solving, design thinking works wonders with many constraints too. So don’t get too disappointed with this crazy constraint.

So, instead of assuming they just like wasting water, is it possible that an ergonomically designed tap could help prevent breakages? And therefore, fix this precautionary ‘bad habit’ of theirs? Or that a better designed valve could help use less water without reducing the speed of the jet? Or both?

Any solution would involve nozzles that save water, like the one popularized by Altered: Nozzle, which fits onto existing taps, and claims to save up to 98% water! A tap stem design change would be the other aspect of it.

The possible causes of the problem, and possible solutions thereof, are many. And I didn’t even use much of the design thinking process to get to this stage. Imagine the possibilities on the home or business front with just some effort.

Would love your thoughts on it. Any other possible causes or reasons?

And if you’d like my to look at some complex business problem you’ve been grappling with, drop me a mail at shrutin[at]ateamstrategy[dot]in and I’ll hopefully be able to give you a fresh perspective in an effort to help you solve it.

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