Entering and leaving the house involves a series of coordinated tasks, one of which is tying and taking off shoes. I sought to design a structure that might simplify this activity.
Concept Development | Prototyping | Tester
In the Experience Design graduate program at Northeastern University, the Prototyping for Experience Design course investigated how to de-clutter the front door experience using materials in the woodshop.
Auto-ethnography | Sketching | In-situ Testing
Circular Saw | Jigsaw | Nail Gun
Entering and leaving the house can be a difficult orchestration of objects and tasks. One set of tasks that typically complicates my efforts to leave efficiently or return to the home comfortably is tying and untying my shoes, respectively. The practice typically involves bringing my shoes into the kitchen, sitting on a chair, and putting on or taking off my shoes. At times when I feel my shoes are dirty and I want to keep the kitchen floor clean, I bend over to tie or untie my shoes which tends to take me longer and is uncomfortable.
One simple intervention would be to put a bench next to the front door, but this would take up space that is currently unavailable and reduces the space needed to carry groceries and other objects through the door with ease. What I wanted was a surface to sit on that was convenient and not obtrusive. My first thought was a seat that would fold out from the back of the door.
As I began to measure at what height I would sit against the door, I felt myself forced into sitting when that wasn't the action I wanted to do at all. What felt the most natural to me in the case of tying my shoe was to bend over to put my foot into the shoe and then lift my foot up to a surface to tie it. As I recalled my experiences tying and untying my shoes in my home, this was consistent with my memories of lifting my foot onto a stool in the kitchen.
I realized that a seat wasn't as useful to me as would be a smaller surface upon which to place my foot when I tie and untie my shoe. This surface would sit on the back of my door so I can access it easily and it won't interfere with use of the space. With the concept in mind, I modeled tying my shoe at different heights to determine in which range it felt comfortable and natural. I found upon viewing pictures of myself tying my shoe that my head tends to hang over my toe, meaning if the device being designed were to sit on the back of the door, the distance that it protrudes out from the door would have to consider not just the length of my shoe, but the additional distance my head requires.
There were some physical constraints that I had to research to determine if this concept would be feasible. The first consideration was the distance that exists between the open door and the wall, setting the constraint for the maximum length of the device. This was found to be 3 inches. I measured my shoe to be 12.5 inches long, but noticed that I do not sit my whole foot on the surface when I tie and untie my shoes, instead making contact 5 inches from the front of my foot.
In order to make this work, I knew I could make the device something that could fold out from the door so that it could be longer or that I could have the device sit on the adjacent wall and protrude 5 inches into the hallway. I rejected both of these ideas by considering how the angle of the surface affects my shoe tying practice.
Design and Testing
The concept in mind was a surface upon which to place my foot while I tie my shoe that would attach to my back door. I needed to develop a prototype to first determine whether this concept would be feasible, and next determine if it would work with my lifestyle. I decided to use plywood, cut into a 5" by 3" rectangle (related to the width of my foot and how far into the room the device could protrude) and connect to it two support pieces that would attach to the door to give stability. In addition, I took a cereal box, folded it up, and taped it to the top of the surface to have an angled surface upon which to put my foot.
In order to test the device, I measured 2 feet from the floor and taped the device to the wall at that height. I then tested both out, bring my untied boot to the surface and tying my shoe, evaluating how I felt during the experience. I found that with the flat surface, I had to put more weight on my foot and push down towards the floor. I also had to bend more at my hip joint and this was uncomfortable. With the angled surface, I was able to distribute more weight into the door which felt more natural. I also did not have to bend as much at the hip joint which was more comfortable.
Conclusions and Future Considerations
I found through testing that this prototype successfully recreated the experience of tying my shoe in a way that allowed me to judge how a device like this might work in actual use. Putting on my shoe and walking toward the door to tie it before leaving felt natural, and having my body facing the direction I would be heading somewhat prepared me to then walk through the door which I hadn't anticipated.
One thing I had anticipated was that someone might try to open the door while I am tying my shoe (this was an issue while trying to set up the prototype). I got around this by dead-bolting the door so that it could not be opened while I was tying my shoe. In everyday use, it is reasonable to think that someone might forget to lock the door and have it opened on them, which could cause injury. This is an area that would have to be further tested.
This prototype was designed for my own personal specifications - the size of my shoe and the height at which it is comfortable for me to tie my shoe. The device may be useful to more individuals in a given household if it were installed on a sliding surface, similar to how seats on an incline bench are designed at a gym.
Because the device comes close to touching the wall when it swings out, it might be useful to install a protective strip on the wall where the device meets it to not damage or dirty the wall.
While a prototype of wood, cardboard, and tape allowed me to test the concept, if this were to be a device for everyday use, a hard plastic or metal might be good materials. The device should also be drilled into the wall and not taped to the wall for better stability.
I learned through this project and through the use of materials and tools required that there is value in developing a physical prototype for a device for which the determination of its feasibility is related to its structural integrity. If I had used more convenient materials that are already shaped similarly to the design I had in mind, I would not have been able to prototype the experience of putting my weight on the device. However, I did learn that I only needed to design the prototype with wood materials for the aspects of the design that needed the strength of wood, using cardboard for the angled surface which worked successfully due to the established supporting wood structure.
I also learned through this project that ideation, concept development, and design are better accomplished before entering the wood shop. I found myself retreating to a classroom to walk through my practice of entering and exiting my house, putting on and removing my shoes, and making necessary measurements and sketches there. Doing this allowed me to be efficient and focused once I got to the woodshop.