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5 reasons to care about public toilet design

To coincide with World Toilet Day (19 November 2020), the Public Toilets Research Unit (PTRU) at the RCA’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, led by Professor Jo-Anne Bichard and Senior Research Associate Gail Ramster, is proud to launch the Toilets Innovation and New Knowledge Exchange (TINKLE) in partnership with The Toilet Consortium and British Toilet Association

TINKLE brings together design guidance, standards, academic research and expertise in public toilet design and service delivery.

So, why should we care about toilet design? 

1. Everyone will, at some point in the day, need to use the toilet. 

Signs to public toilets
Signs to public toilets
Some people will need facilities more than others, and some will need to find toilets sooner rather than later. In 2014, the PTRU launched The Great British Public Toilet Map to help people find toilets across the UK. It is the UK's largest database of publicly-accessible toilets, with over 11,000 facilities and growing.

2. The lack of public toilets disproportionately affects people with ill health or disability, the elderly, women, outdoor workers and the homeless.

Assistance Required sign
Assistance Required sign
There are many best practice standards and guidelines on toilet design, yet more work is needed to stop simple mistakes being made. Inclusive design – the empathic involvement of people in the design process – is at the heart of TINKLE. Rather than developing more and more guidance, TINKLE seeks to make existing resources easier to find.

3. The issue of public toilet access became a central concern as Covid-19 lockdown eased. 

Toilet signage, Covid-19
Toilet signage, Covid-19
As the changes and challenges of 2020 redefine the world around us, shops, businesses and local authorities had to quickly adapt toilet provision. PTRU was called upon to make an essential contribution to the British Standards Safe working guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic with specific reference to safe toilet provision.

4. Designers, architects and planners are facing a series of interesting challenges when considering the future of toilets.

Toilet signage
Toilet signage
PTRU is at the heart of ongoing research into how UK toilet provision can be inclusive of a diversity of bodies and their rights to access, by considering how the design of toilets can affect the acceptance of gender-neutral spaces.

5. Innovation in toilet design will produce safe, accessible provision for all. 

PTRU and TINKLE aim to explore and share ongoing innovation in toilet design, especially in regards to Covid-19 hygiene and safety concerns where public toilets stand at the forefront of hand washing opportunities and public health management. Design has to ensure that new innovations are not only environmentally sustainable and robust for public facilities but accessible for all potential users. 
Toilet with leaflets on the wall
Toilet with leaflets

As a resource site, TINKLE will also act as a network for architects, designers and those undertaking and interested in toilet research to contact other researchers and experts, access research and design guidance, and assess current policy with regards to provision. Its aim is to generate real world impact through policy, public engagement and spin-out innovation.

PTRU has 30 years of public toilet research experience combined to examine this understudied area.