Design thinking in everyday life

I was at the ABC Towers off Waiyaki way in Nairobi on Thursday last week and saw a sign in the corner of my eyes as I was using the urinal, yes, I am human. I couldn’t read the sign and that bothered me, but, I had something else in my hands and needed to focus on that.

While I was trying to go about my business, I started to get bothered by that sign. I didn’t like that I couldn’t read it. Then it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t for me, the urinal user, perhaps it was for someone else. The urinal cleaner.

I was then able to happily carry on about my business, went to wash my hands and was about to leave when that nagging voice came back into my head “check the damn sign!” So I checked the sign. It was for me, the urinal user.

I think Design should be taught to everyone, as it helps us achieve our communication goals. Everyone has communication goals, including the team assigned with keeping the urinals at Nairobi’s ABC Towers clean.

I imagine they had a meeting where the conversation went something like:

Manager: The loos have been smelling excessively, what can be done about it?
Person 1: Well, it is caused by people not flushing after peeing.
Person 2: what about a sign that says flush after peeing.
Manager: Excellent guys. Let’s do that.

That is how everyday communication needs are established and addressed. I would be very pleased if I was a manager. Problem identified, cause identified and solution identified and rolled out in less than five minutes.

The problem with the above formula is that there has been no discussion of a few crucial points that everyone attempting to communicate should think about:


Adlife Plaza’s gent’s Urinal is automatic flush.

  1. What is the frame of mind of the urinal user at the time of use. Probably cracking a problem or rushing back to a meeting. If they have great sausage handling skills, they may be on WhatsApp.
  2. Are they likely to look at the sign? Probably not, unless they cannot help but to see it, right there, in front of their faces. Not like it is in the pictures above where it seems to be a communication to no one specific. Placement is important in telling people a piece of communication is for them. That is why stop signs are at junctions.
  3. Is it somewhere that will catch their line of sight. If they try everything not to look at the sign, will they see it anyway?
  4. Will the sign then be to read? The ABC Towers cleaning manager tried, the sign was easy to read.
  5. Is the communication professional like the wielder? Don’t forget KPMG are in this building! Definitely not professional. It looks very generic and out of place.

In effective communication these items are all thought about and addressed.

The lesson for me here is that nothing is too small to receive the attention of a good designer. Here’s what a sign might look like instead of the above mess.


Not that I used the same amount of tape and the same amount of paper, maybe a touch more ink!

I bet the next meeting the above mentioned manager will have will go something like:

Manager: The smell hasn’t really reduced.
Person 1: These people have many degrees but can’t read a simple sign!
Manager: George, please flush individual urinals every hour. Thanks.