Reimagining touch in public spaces
How do we prevent the spread of viruses through objects in public spaces?
Neo Hygiene is a concept developed by Govert Flint from the design firm Enrichers during the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hands and fingers are involved in numerous activities: typing on computers, using smartphones, pressing buttons, and handling door handles. However, in light of the pandemic, we now prefer not to touch door handles with our hands, as we often touch our faces with those very hands. So, what are the possible alternatives?
With Neo Hygiene, Enrichers shows (in conceptual form) how things can be done differently. Operating an ATM by dancing your PIN code out with your feet, for example. Or activate a stoplight by leaning against a button instead of pressing it with your fingers. Enrichers tested the latter in practice in Eindhoven. It worked: 93% of the passers-by pressed the button using their elbows or shoulders. The rest used their hands.
Enrichers was founded by Govert Flint, who completed a master's degree at Design Academy Eindhoven after studying at TU Delft. Enrichers' specializes in environment enrichment: the systems that provide our bodies with information (e.g. touch through the skin, visual stimuli through the eyes, and motor and cognitive stimuli). For his thesis project at the Design Academy, Govert designed a bionic chair that you can use in place of a mouse to operate your computer. Enrichers also designed three office suites at Schiphol Airport. Enrichers works with the neurobiology department at University of Cambridge, among others. In addition, Govert is a lecturer TU Delft.
For more information, visit enrichers.nl.
About the impetus for the project
The cities we live in have changed a lot over the years. Increased knowledge about public health has led to some of those changes. There is a reason, for example, why sewers are now neatly tucked away underground, far away from our clean drinking water. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, designer Govert Flint asked himself: what does this mean for the way we live together in public space? And, more specifically, what does it mean for the way we design public space? He wrote an essay about this.
People were suddenly no longer allowed to touch each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, this was the way the virus spread. Even touching objects and buttons in public places could no longer be taken for granted. Design agency Enrichers - which focuses on sensorimotor development, among other things - came up with a concept to deal with touch in public space in a new way. They came up with ways to replace things you normally do with your hands with body movements. Such as entering your PIN code using dance movements, UV light that automatically "cleans" your purchase, and a stoplight button that you operate by leaning against it. Govert tested a prototype of the lean-on-me stoplight button in the center of Eindhoven after getting in touch with the municipality through Dutch Design Foundation.
About the process
Cyclists or pedestrians waiting at a stoplight often lean against the pole. An interesting fact, according to design agency Enrichers. Because by leaning, you apply pressure. Enough pressure to operate a button. It is then no longer necessary to use your hands. And a lot more hygienic than the current design of stoplight buttons. Commissioned by the Dutch Design Foundation and the Municipality of Eindhoven, Enrichers developed the concept of the lean-on-me stoplight button into a prototype in order to test the effect of such a lean-on button in Eindhoven's city center.
‘‘‘‘In the public space, we operate almost everything with our hands. New insights into hygiene offer opportunities to make other movements functional in public spaces.”’’Govert Flint | Enrichers
Public stoplight buttons must meet a variety of requirements. The button must be safe. For example, it must be sturdy and it must not invite people to climb on it. The stoplight button may not protrude too much. This poses a danger, especially at busy intersections like the one where Enrichers tested the button (between Stationsplein and 18 Septemberplein in Eindhoven). In addition, the button must be suitable for everyone: for tall people and for children or people in wheelchairs.
Because it is a prototype, Enrichers had a metal shell developed. The scale was placed over the original pedestrian stoplight controls. So you push the button by applying pressure to the shell. Once the lean-on-me stoplight button is finalized, the wiring can then be attached to the stoplight. At this earlier stage in which Enrichers was making a prototype, however, that was not yet an issue.
Enrichers placed a sticker on the lean-on-me stoplight button explaining how to operate it. The sticker included both text and an icon, so that operation was clear to both Dutch and non-Dutch speakers. After all, there are many expats and international students living and working in Eindhoven.
Enrichers' lean-on-me stoplight button was hung for one day at the intersection of Eindhoven's Stationsplein and 18 Septemberplein as a test. Enrichers monitored the use of the lean-on-me button versus the use of the regular stoplight button for two days.
It was striking that less than half of the passers-by, namely 43%, operated the normal traffic light button with their hands. Others used their elbow, outside of their hand or wrist, or even their shoulders to press the button.
According to Enrichers, the lean-on-me traffic light button was used hygienically by most people, namely 93%. So the agency concluded that the button's design is intuitive: people understand how it works, and using it does not require (extra) effort. The lean-on-me button therefore provides a more hygienic solution than the normal stoplight button. Viruses thus spread less quickly from person to person.
The Municipality of Eindhoven was excited about Enrichers' initial results and connected the design firm with its stoplight button supplier for further development of the concept. The collaboration came to an end, however, because they had no room for innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrichers is open to collaborations with parties focused on traffic safety and/or hygiene in public spaces in order to further develop products such as the lean-on-me stoplight button.
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