Mäntykartano

Analyzing the living experience of a flat in Espoo

Service Design case study

Claudio Lintunen

The home should be the treasure chest of living.

– Le Corbusier, architect

The Covid-19 pandemic stuck the world to their homes due to quarantines, rise of remote work, closures on daycares and restrictions on recreational activities, making the home environment more important than ever. The trend is expected to continue and thus—just like with technology—the usability and aesthetics of the home environment need to be paid attention to, if tenants are to be pleased.

In this fictional Service Design case study, I will focus on the usability and accessibility of built environment, a typical flat of a residential building in Espoo, Finland.

Thorough user (tenant) research was not done for this fictional case study, but feedback was collected from one tenant, and combined with my own analysis, I created a fictional user persona to look through the eyes of throughout the study.

The ”order” from the ”client” and the background information is mainly fictional, but not too far fetched.

Note: This is an all-encompassing study to showcase my way of seeing the world. Whereas a ”real” user experience analysis wouldn’t necessarily be this detail-oriented, I do believe that the small things play a big role in creating the experience. Whether or not these are included in the final report depends on the client, their needs, and the purpose of the study.

Key issues

  • Living experience is not seamless
  • Tenant dissatisfaction and short-term contracts
  • Accessibility not considered enough

Amount of tenants leaving after 12 month contract

32%

In Finland it’s a normal practice to sign a rental contract with a 12-month fixed term. This means that the tenant would lose their deposit, if they were to break the contract (leave before 12 months).

In this case, a high number of the tenants did not continue renting the appartement after the necessary time had passed. The client wished to increase the number of longer-term tenants. The feedback questionnaires provided proof for the suspicion that this might be caused by tenant dissatisfaction.

elderly couple holding each other, looking past the camera with nature in the background

The user

Isabel & Pedro

Ages: 58 & 67

Gender: Female & Male

Occupation: Office worker & pensioner

Status: Married

Frustrations

  • Complicated technological devices
  • Older tenants not considered
  • Fear of themselves or grandchildren getting hurt
  • Cultural and lingual differences

Goals

  • Accessible, enjoyable and safe living environment
  • Appartement for a longer time

We want an enjoyable and safe living environment to spend our retirement days and host our grandchildren

The analysis

Kitchen

Drawers, cupboards and integrated appliances

Issues

  • Major: Handles’ sharp edges potentially dangerous for a toddler
  • Major Dishwasher requires significant finger strength to open
  • Minor: Drawers hard to open due to the thin, slippery handles

Drawers, cupboards and the dishwasher can be hard to open. The thin, slippery, metallic handle on them does not allow a good grip. The drawers have a hydraulic system that prevents them from slamming, but at the same increases the resistance to open them, and thus a good grip would be essential. Especially with wet or otherwise slippery hands– common in kitchen–it can be challenging to open the drawers, as the wet hand just slips off before one can pull them open. Where not a critical issue, tenants like Isabel and Pedro, who grab the handles up to tens of times a day, find this very frustrating.

The dishwasher especially requires significant finger strength to open with one hand, as the resistance is strong and the thin, slippery handle needs to be gripped tightly in order to pull the machine open. Especially older people see reduced hand grip strength¹ , age being only one of many factors causing a loss of grip strength². This can make it incredibly difficult to operate a handle such as the one in question.

My hand grip strength isn't how it used to be. Opening the dishwasher is a real challenge, so I often end up giving up and washing dishes by hand

Another pain point, and a potential safety hazard, of the handles is their sharp edges. When the hand slips off the handle, one can scratch it on the sharp edge. More importantly, the handles are sticking out a few centimeters on the level of a toddler’s head, making the sharp edges of the lower handles potentially dangerous for children running around or even for a tripping adult.

Suggested solutions

  • Change or modify the handles

The issues with the handles could be fixed by changing or modifying them. The handles could either be inverted or completely removed for a better grip and safety, as in the adjacent examples. Removing and replacing all the handles of the appartement would, however, be quite a laborious and potentially expensive solution. Thus a cheaper, easier alternative solution would be to add rubber/silicone ”socks” to the handles with an extended and hardened ”peak” at the bottom of the handle.

wooden drawer with narrow gaps in top center of drawer boxes for opening
wooden drawer with wide gaps in top center of drawer boxes for opening
oven control panel with a dial and touch buttons

OVEN

Abstract

The microwave-oven of the appartement is a useful and compact solution for the kitchen. However, the learning curve can be steep even for younger users due to a large number of different features, functions and modes. It also lacks some essential parental control measures, which can compromise safety in a household with toddlers.

Read the full analysis of the oven’s User Experience:

oven control panel with a dial and touch buttons

OVEN

Abstract

The microwave-oven of the appartement is a useful and compact solution for the kitchen. However, the learning curve can be steep even for younger users due to a large number of different features, functions and modes. It also lacks some essential parental control measures, which can compromise safety in a household with toddlers.

Read the full analysis of the oven’s User Experience:

Bathroom

  • Major: Toilet seat is very low
  • Minor: Inconvenient shower
  • Minor: Ambiguous toilet flush buttons
  • Minor: Bidet too short
  • Cosmetic: Sink tap conceals temperature labeling

Two almost identical flush buttons of the same shape and nearly the same size are for a big and small flush. But which is which, since there are no cues? Through trial the user must memorize them (left or right) or label them themself. Pressing the wrong button does not result in a catastrophe, in long-term it could be seen in increased water usage. A dual flush toilet uses² approximately 3 and 6 liters, respectively, of water for the different flushes. Thus flushing with the wrong button could lead to using three extra liters per flush. In one appartement with two tenants this could already be a big loss in one day, let alone in hundreds of households with the same design.

The shower has some inconveniences. Most showers have a knob to pull in order switch between the showerhead and tap. Here, the tap has to be rotated to either side to switch to the showerhead. This is a clever solution to tuck away the extruded tap when not needed. However, this allows the shower head to be activated unintentionally by bumping into the tap when, for example, washing clothes under the running water. This could cause the user to get soaked accidentally. While not severe, it would be less inconvenient to accidentally turn to the water back to the tap while showering, only interrupting the shower.

The tap temperature indicator, indicating which way to turn for hot (red) and cold (blue) is hidden under the handle. Thus the user has to tilt their head to see it, be the right height or memorize the action. The latter, most common option violates the common user interface design advice ”Recognition over recall”, meaning that the user shouldn’t have to remember how things work. While left=hot, right=cold is almost universally accepted, the indicator should be visible for those, who can’t remember it. Turning the tap all the way to hot instead of cold when washing hands could result in small burns.

A low toilet seat can be easier for children to climb on, but for adults it can be uncomfortable to sit too low and for elderly people with limited mobility and weakened lower body muscles³, such as Pedro and Isabel, it can be nearly impossible to get back up once seated too low.

Suggested solutions

  1. Change the design of the flush buttons
  2. Add a locking mechanism to the shower tap
  3. Make temperature indicator visible on the sink tap
  1. Help the user identify (recognize) the right button by labeling them with color and/or icons hinting the water usage. If possible, modify the buttons, so that there is a clear difference in their size
  2. Adding a simple locking mechanism with clear cues (e.g. pull down to release) would prevent the user from accidentally moving the tap and activating the showerhead
  3. Move the temperature indicator on top of the tap, so that it’s always visible to the user and doesn’t require head bending to see it
toilet dual flush buttons labeled by color and water usage using icons

Other issues

Door phone

The door phone has ambiguous controls with low accessibility.

It is clear that the ”key” icon unlocks the door and the ”bell” icon mutes/unmutes the alarms, but what do the buttons ”1” and ”2” do? The intercom doesn’t offer any hints on what these are for. Upon the guest calling, the door can be opened by just pressing the ”key” icon and the number buttons aren’t needed for this action.

The controls are small, offer no haptic feedback, and have low contrast. Especially for aged residents, such as Isabel and Pedro, and others with low vision, this can make interacting with the door phone challenging¹.

The user interface of the door phone could be improved by removing the extra buttons (”1”, ”2”) or placing them aside, making them visually secondary and prioritizing the primary actions (”key” and ”bell” icons). Adding raised icons and coloring them darker could help people with low vision operate the buttons.

The buttons light up when a call comes in, which can significantly help using the intercom in the dark, but at daytime the bright white light could make it harder to interact with it. Thus the surroundings of the icons should be black, too, so when the icon glows in white, it’s recognizable from the background even in lighted conditions.

Hypothesis and conclusion

After making the changes to the test appartements a decrease of 10%< to tenants leaving after 12 months is expected due to improved customer satisfaction by 20%<.

Less tenants moving out would save time and money for the client, as no extra paperwork and inspections are needed, and there wouldn’t be any ”empty” months between tenants. These improvements could also bring more customers in with a positive word of mouth from happy tenants.