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Is this on brand?

September 04, 2018

The San Francisco team has been enthusiastically involved in the design of our new space

We are a small team of highly creative professionals, each with a vision of what our new space could and should be. We have had many heated and in-depth discussions about furniture, paint colors, conference tables and workbenches, but the one question, the one that that forced me to really assess our brand and what it represented was the one surrounding our bathrooms, specifically, the toilet in bathroom two.

Toilet? Yes, toilet. As an innovation firm, we are fascinated with the invention and development of products. In fact, we have appropriately festooned the walls of both bathrooms with prints of assorted toilet patents; ranging from the first having been granted to Alexander Cumming in 1775 to one held by our very own Scott Biba. Patents aside, the basic function and form factor of the toilet has remained relatively unchanged for over 100 years.

So how did our toilet become such an object of reflection?

It seemed like such a simple request: “Can I order this $25 thingy for one of our toilets from Amazon?”

The $25 bidet attachment was easily installed in just a few minutes. The attachment turned our standard issue toilet in to an easy-to-use bidet with a simple lever control. The usage of the device seemed intuitive, but this is an inquisitive team so within the first hour, someone had managed to explore their way into a full-frontal wetting. Perhaps if this curious engineer had not pushed the device to the limits there would have been no debate, but this incident started a dialogue. “What will our clients think? What if one of them has a bad experience? Wow, does this reflect our brand?”

There was no easy answer. The bidet feature was well received by several members of the team and yet the concerns leveled by others were valid. I decided to approach the question as I do my research projects, through analysis fueled with contextual and user research.

The rise of the bidet

The bidet which was invented in France in 1710, is widely accepted in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, but has had limited market penetration in the United States. However, according to Fox News, there is increased acceptance here. With bathroom fixture giant Toto citing double-digit sales growth and Kohler joining the trend in 2011, bidets are becoming a serious, competitive business.

I saw the Kohler NUMI smart toilet at CES this year. It offers a personalized experience complete with a touchscreen remote and includes a posterior washer and dryer, charcoal-filled air deodorizer, heated seat, foot warmer, and motion-activated lid and customized lights. It even has built-in Bluetooth speakers. NYC area start-up Tushy is hoping to sell one million $69 toilet-attachable bidets, available in pink, gray, white or black, this fall. Brondell, located less than a mile from our office and launched with the help of Mark Cuban, now has two bidet lines and has seen continued growth year after year.

Why does the bidet garner so much buzz? It’s been proven to do the job, has multiple health and wellness benefits, and it is eco-friendly (greatly reducing toilet paper usage). But I needed to know what people in other Bay Area companies are thinking about bidets. Personal interviews with employees in other well-established firms revealed that bidets are popping up on local business campuses and, according to Quora, Google’s Mountainview campus’ bidet-equipped bathrooms are such a hit there are often lines to use them.

It seemed like such a simple request: “Can I order this $25 thingy for one of our toilets from Amazon?”

What did our clients think? Emboldened by three years of toilet paper research, asking a client about their perceptions of our bidet was a relatively easy task. Except for one “TMI” comment, my client interviews revealed a nonchalant “It is what it is, doesn’t offend me” response. Also, after three months of use, there were no usage incidents, so our concerns about an accidental soaking were allayed. Apparently, our overly curious engineer was the exception and not the rule. (I want to thank our long-standing clients who were willing to give us their candid feedback.)

This relative acceptance of the bidet by our clients was refreshing and I think reflects acceptance of the mores of other cultures. San Francisco has always been a city that leads the way. It is a dynamic city that has been fueled by an influx of global citizens who by their very nature have created a culture of acceptance and tolerance and embrace diversity across all aspects of humanity. But San Francisco is not alone, across our country we are welcoming debate and have begun to shift our attitudes toward many previously taboo subjects.

If you visit us at 216 11th Street, you will note that our doors have two sets of signs, male/female icons and a triangle. This dual signage is required by law in San Francisco. The triangle is a symbol of gender neutrality, but I choose to view the triangle as a symbol of acceptance – both of our differences but, most importantly, our similarities. I must admit I like gender-neutral bathrooms, not only for what they stand for but because they have significantly cut down on wait times for public restrooms.

With my contextual and user research confirming acceptance of the bidet in the U.S. and in our office, I now found myself examining what values are embodied by the bidet and do they mirror those of our brand promise: “Design Concepts provides the experienced, unbiased counsel, polished deliverables and proven results you need to navigate the risks of product development.”

Experienced, unbiased counsel: The bidet is a clinically proven device that delivers superior hygienic results. It has global penetration and domestic, US, usage is on the rise. Our office is in one of the most diverse cities in the US. Our office and our clientele are multicultural, and our facilities should reflect this.

Proven results: Except for the initial full-frontal assault, the installed unit has operated without failure or accidental deployment since installation.

After this analysis I have concluded that the installation of an edgy, thought-provoking and evocative object in a client-facing space in not only in alignment with our brand promise, but it provides benefits to our employees, our clients and the environment. If you get to San Francisco and drop by our office, feel free to experience our $25 experiment and if you are too shy to ask, it’s the second door on the right.