This article originally appears in Design for All Institute of India July 2016 (Istanbul Technical University, Turkey) Vol-11 No-7.
by Nisan Tunçak | Industrial Designer, Vitra
Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
“Are companies really interested in people and in culture? Do manufacturers discuss personal rituals, the depth of private relationships, the warmth of family, the codes of love, the signs of human emotions, the regard for happiness, freedom, personal expression, and the wellbeing of our human existence? And do they address these questions through the product they sell? Business can only be holistic and comprehensive if they are able to address these issues”
Every year VitrA delivers thousands of products to customers all around the world. From WC pans to sinks, bathroom furniture to bathtubs and tiles, VitrA portfolio offers users and professionals (architects, interior designers, designers) the products they need. As the VitrA design team, we strive to diversify and update our portfolio by developing new products and collections, and collaborating with other designers.
It has been two years since we embarked on the mission of making the “Design for All” concept an integral part of the design principles of the VitrA brand. Reading Roberta Null’s paragraph above, early on in my research, affected my approach to my profession significantly. I still have this paragraph hanging on my office wall. It is a strong reminder of my function as a designer. Designing products by identfying them as a part of the users’ everyday life instead of the main component of a process that ends with sales, renders the production-sales cycle sustainable while creating value.
Design for all and Bathroom Environment
World Health Organisation indicates that between 2015 and 2050 the number of people aged 60 years or older will rise from 900 million to 2 billion (up from 12% to 22% of the total global population). As the senior population continues to grow rapidly, universal design keeps on gaining currency. There are many developments on a global scale such as state endorsed projects emphasising the concept of aging at home and certain governments setting targets of creating accessible cities within the next decade. For instance, the vision of the Norwegian Government is that Norway shall be universally designed by 2025. These developments closely concern the future of the bathroom industry.
There are numerous projects and programmes aimed at making homes safe and comfortable for seniors and disabled individuals. And in this context, one of the issues at the top of the agenda is the bathroom layout. Besides risks associated with wet surfaces, health problems and other special needs might require modifications to or complete refitting of bathrooms. For example the “Disabled Facilities Grant”in the UK offers support to disabled and senior citizens who need to make modifications in their homes. In countries such as Belgium, France and Germany the cost of home modifications are paid in the form of tax deductions or direct support.
When we suggested to work on the concept of “design for all” to other departments in the company, we knew that this was more than just an approach to design. The concept should also transform into a product development and marketing strategy. The growing number of studies particularly on ageing populations providing statistics like in the example above, the concept’s coherence with the VitrA brand values as well as the feedback from sales teams in Ger- many and UK encouraged us to make such a move.
“VitrA for All” Concept
We work closely with colleagues from the marketing, communication and product development teams on all our projects. As the design department we are in the position that guides the process and ensures inter-departmental communication. Since we first brought the Design for All concept on the agenda other departments have openly embraced this issue and this is very encouraging for us.
To have a portfolio backed up by the principles of universal design means a better bathroom experience for very diverse user types and makes it possible to have bathrooms that can adapt to our changing needs throughout a lifetime. Based on this approach, we decided to emphasise the idea that VitrA is a brand that always stands by its users and this ultimately gave birth to the “VitrA for All” Concept.
Think about it – even users without any physical disabilities go through childhood, age, suffer temporary or lifelong diseases, gain weight, get pregnant, or help their siblings and elders in the bathroom. Also, people from different generations using the same bathroom at home. In this context we have developed messages that support this motto. These are:
- VitrA cares about every user and their specific needs.
- VitrA cares about the future of users.
- VitrA manufactures products suitable for all age groups and health conditions.
- VitrA has a product range that suits users from different age groups and needs.
- VitrA aims to design products that provide the same performance and comfort to all user types.
- VitrA regards all users equally.
Having these in mind, we set our main objective to be: VitrA aims to design usable and safe products to satisfy different user groups without making them feel “different”. Our first step was to evaluate existing products and determine our shortcomings. For this task we employed product assessment tables that were developed according to the principles of universal design.
We created two main groups for our products that fit the definition of the “VitrA for All” Concept:
- The Performance group features products designed according to specific standards in order to meet the needs of the physical- ly impaired (like the wheelchair compatible special needs WC pan).
- The Comfort group includes products that will improve the bath- room experiences of different user types (like the walk-in shower area with a shower channel).
In this way, it is easier to understand which user groups we can include and what should be the next steps.
After having provided the necessary analyses and classifications, our achievements have been summarised below:
- A bathroom collection consists of a product range that is determined according to different styles and income groups. Different products from the same collection share a common essence in terms of design. Products for disabled use are usually classified under a custom group rather than being featured in a particular collection. In order to change this, we have added faucets for disabled use in our most recent collections. Our aim was to meet the standards without compromising the common design language and aesthetics that transpire in the collection. We intend to maintain this logic for future project briefings and in doing so adopt an approach that embraces different income groups.
- Another initiative is to kick-start an extension project for a bathroom collection that came on the market two years ago. The collection that was marketed with a family theme was quite fit to include products aimed family members with different needs. We are working with Finnish design office Pentagon for this series that will be released in 2017.
We are well aware that it is difficult for users to go beyond physical abilities and age related psychological barriers. Experiences suggest that such people refrain from installing additional modules such as grab rails due to these barriers, which would otherwise improve safety in the bathroom. There are certain reasons for this. First of all these accessories mostly look as if they have been removed from a hospital environment. Second, they look out of place next to other bathroom installations. In our opinion another hurdle is that the primary users of these products do not have an access to variety in design. We aim to go beyond that. The collection we are developing with Pentagon feature grab rails, washbasins and bathroom furniture which look appealing and still meet the necessary standards. In order to overcome the barrier of feeling “different”we plan to use the products developed in scope of this project alongside existing bathroom collections.
- In scope of the Design for All perspective we are also working on comfortable (with seating function) and easily accessible shower spaces. It is clear for all of us that shower areas can be risky, even for young and healthy individuals. That is why we are working on a number of ideas to reduce these risks. In designing these products we always try to keep in mind scenarios where individuals require assistance in the shower (families with children, physically impaired individuals).
Design for All is not a practice that is constrained by standards or rules, it is an innovative process. I personally think that we will succeed in creating an improved bathroom experience and reach more users as we keep on studying and following developments in this area.
Events & Activities
“VitrA is creating the bathroom of the future with your stories”,
2014 Istanbul Design Biennial
Our first event linked with this topic happened at the 2014 Istanbul Design Biennial under the main theme “The Future Is Not What It Used To Be”. The theme of our display area developed with the support of Assistant Associate Berrak Karaca Şalgamcıoğlu was “VitrA is creating the bathroom of the future with your stories”. We wanted to let users know that we value their ideas and experiences in this area. This is why we encouraged them to share their bathroom experiences with us. We tried to give visitors inspiration by displaying some of the feedback and exhibiting products that were designed accordingly. The notepaper in the form of toilet rolls was soon flood- ed with funny, surprising and, most importantly, inspiring input. I read each and every one of these notes and prepared a report to share with my colleagues in other departments. It was a mind opening experience to read user notes on their personal relations with the bathroom and the problems they faced. It was really exciting to read poetry on the toilet seat and see remarks like “home is where you go to the toilet comfortably”.
“Bathrooms We Share”Workshop, 2014, Istanbul Design Biennial
The “Bathrooms We Share” Workshop that took place as part of the same biennial gave us the opportunity to collaborate with participants to analyse our experiences on public toilets. Participants clas- sified public toilets and shared their personal observations and prob- lems. The main objective of the workshop was to analyse public toi- lets in detail rather than seek solutions to problems. I can confident- ly say that the information obtained was very eye opening.
VitrA For All Area, ISH Bathroom Fair, Frankfurt 2015
ISH is undoubtedly the most important international fair in the sector and in 2015 we created two bathroom settings for the “VitrA for All”Concept. Participants’interest was greater than ever thanks to a warm, stylish and lively concept presentation. We are already making preparations for ISH 2017 using our new products.
VitrA For All Area, Unicera Bathroom Fair, 2016
Back in March 2016 we developed a “VitrA for All”area at the Unicera Bathroom Fair in Istanbul with the slogan “VitrA – home to products designed for changing needs”. By using icons representing different user types next to each product, we aimed to emphasise that a single product could actually be used by a variety of users with the same degree of comfort.
Notes about the process
VitrA is the first company to manufacture special needs bathroom products in Turkey. In this regard VitrA is familiar with ergonomic criteria and has a certain degree of background knowledge, however, Design for All is a concept that is relatively new to most of us and that is why it can take longer than expected to develop and test ideas and ultimately create new products. I think two points are quite important for a company which intends to adopt design for all approach:
- To understand & explain how the “Design for all” concept is different from the concepts of Accessibility or Barrier Free: It is very important to understand that having custom products for disabled people is not an adequate criterion to lay claims on this concept.
- It is crucial to effectively brief sales teams who are in direct contact. For example, although the risk of slipping or the need to sit in the shower area can be valid for all users, the way these products are presented may prevent better sales figures. In my opinion an effective marketing strategy and purchasing experience can make the product appealing for a wider audience.
- There were two main sources of motivation for us during the development of the “VitrA for All” Concept: Being one of the first brands to talk about this concept in Turkey and stepping forward as the pioneers of the Turkish bathroom industry. While most of our domestic and foreign competitors chose to communicate with an emphasis on senior and disabled use products, we preferred to adopt a broader approach. We want to spread this approach and encourage other brands to follow suit. This is why it is important to lead the way and remain in- formative. So it is not surprising that our design and communications departments work thoroughly on our corporate communication methods.
- We aim to design practical and accessible products that are compatible with the bathroom during the phase the individual is going through. Making changes in the bathroom is not usually straightforward. Our aim is to design products that can adapt to different stages in our lives with just simple modifications rather than having to break down walls for example.
- One of the first steps to take from hereon is to achieve a better understanding of “VitrA for All” concept throughout the company. We intend to inform all our colleagues with the help of presentations and communication materials.
- Reaching out to professionals (including architects, interior designers and designers) is rather important so that living spaces are designed with this perspective in mind. The guideline we are currently preparing in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University Lab4livingaims to provide information and inspiration to professionals about the concept of “ageing in the same house”.
- Our long term objective is to liaise with state institutions in Turkey to raise awareness on this matter and, in the long-term, lay the foundations for state-funded bathroom renovation projects. We continue to work on this topic.
To be working for the development and application of the “VitrA for All” Concept is undoubtedly the most exciting of my responsibilities. In an age where the future is shaped on experiences, it is no longer adequate for brands and designers to develop ideas based on standard user profiles. I believe that listening and being equal to everyone will take us a step closer to a more liveable and sustainable existence.
EczacıbaşıBuilding Products Division-VitrA
The EczacıbaşıBuilding Products Division operates globally and owns a total of 15 manufacturing facilities: 9 spread out over Germany, Russia and France and 6 in Turkey. Combined, these factories produce an average of 5 million ceramics sanitaryware, 36 million square meters of ceramic and wall tiles, 370 thousand modules of bathroom furniture, 3 million faucets, 350 thousand bathtubs, 2,5 million bathroom accessories, 150 thousand concealed cisterns and 550 thousand WC pan seats and covers every year.
With a wide range of products and an extensive distribution net- work, EczacıbaşıBuilding Products Division currently exports its products to more than 75 countries. It has become a globally recognised supplier of bathroom products and tiles through acquiring the Engers Keramik, Villeroy & Boch Fliesen and Burgbad, alongside VitrA.
The VitrA design department comprises a versatile team of professionals from a wide variety of disciplines who carry out research on design and consumer value trends and develop functional, ergonomic and aesthetic products that anticipate future needs. In addition to bathroom products and complete bathroom solutions, the team designs tiles, visual aids and exhibition spaces.
Roberta Null, Universal Design: Principles and Models, 2014
World Health Organisation, Fact Sheet No: 404, 2015, September
Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, The
Delta Centre, “Trends in Universal Design” report, 2013
About the Author
Nisan Tunçak graduated from Istanbul Technical University, Industrial Products Design Department in 2011. During her degree, she studied at Politecnico di Torino as an exchange student. Since graduating she has been working at the bathroom design department for EczacıbaşıBuilding Products focusing on bathroom product design, trend studies and design strategies. Tunçak also continues to work on adapting the Design for All principles to bathroom settings in scope of the “VitrA for All”concept, which she played a leading role in its establishment.