Washroom dispensers - design versus function

1st of December 2023
Washroom dispensers - design versus function
Washroom dispensers - design versus function

Is it possible for a washroom dispenser to combine an attractive design with high functionality, asks ECJ? Or does there always need to be a compromise?

When visiting a public washroom we users expect the soap and paper dispensers to work – and to work efficiently.

If multiple button-pushes are required to access the soap, for example, or if we are obliged to fiddle around inside the toilet tissue dispenser to find the end of the paper, we will quickly become frustrated and impatient. And we will also expect the soap and paper supply to be continuous since any run-outs will only further exacerbate our irritation.

However, most of us like our away-from-home washroom environment to be attractive and aesthetically pleasing as well. But can functionality be combined with attractiveness? Will an elegant, slimline dispenser inevitably run out more quickly than a larger unit? And will the shiniest of casings show up fingermarks in a way that their more utilitarian counterparts will not?
It is important to consider the role of the washroom in question when discussing attractiveness versus functionality, says Kimberly-Clark’s industrial design engineer Eric Chalko.

“The goal when designing any washroom is to create an environment that feels safe, hygienic and free from distraction,” he said. “So the dispensers should fit within the space without creating any negative effect. In some cases that might mean they should be attractive and eye-catching whereas in others the dispensers need to be secondary to the interior design - and simply serve to complement the environment.”

Aesthetics are more than merely a matter of looking attractive, he said. “As humans we tend to respond subconsciously before formulating our conscious opinions, and that initial reaction has a huge effect on our perception of a product,” he said. “Aesthetics influence users’ feelings towards product quality and reliability which can make us feel cared for and ultimately valued. And they demonstrate that a facility is willing to invest in quality while also showing that they are not prepared to settle for a sub-par customer experience.”

Despite being behind closed doors, a tired-looking washroom will create a negative impression on staff and visitors, says Chalko. “By choosing modern, innovative and stylish dispensers a washroom manager will provide an uplifting experience for users.”

But attractiveness is context-dependent, he adds. “What is considered attractive in one setting may appear to be flashy, overly-luxurious or attention-grabbing in another.”

Functionality crucial

And functionality should be considered first and foremost, he adds. “The product design should make the process of using it as smooth and seamless as possible because aesthetics have no true meaning if a unit doesn’t work.”

Kimberly-Clark’s Icon dispenser collection offers multiple signature faceplate designs and a range of bespoke options. These include Ebony Woodgrain faceplates for high-end washrooms and White Mosaic units which are designed to create an impression of hygiene. The dispensers are also said to feature an intuitive control panel, servicing cues and a jam-free performance.

Washroom dispensers reflect the level of care a facility offers to its customers, says Essity’s communications director Jenny Turner. “As the lines between the traditional B2B and B2C worlds begun to blur, purchasing and facility managers have higher expectations of design and aesthetics than ever before,” she said.

“As a result the purely functional but unattractive dispenser is no longer an acceptable compromise.”

All dispensers should be aesthetically pleasing, easy to use and hygienic – wherever they happen to be, she says. “The environment should have no impact on the attractiveness of a dispenser because a high quality and well-designed unit will impart a sense of professionalism, care and hygiene upon any facility,” said Turner.

Design and functionality are not mutually exclusive - and they should go hand in hand in the development stage, she says. “A good design is about more than simply manufacturing an aesthetically pleasing object, since we are not in the business of creating beautiful fine art sculptures,” she says.

“Ensuring that the dispenser is ergonomic, intuitive, easy to use and quick to operate is all part of the design. So we develop our dispensers to consider all functional and operational needs as well as ensuring that they are aesthetically pleasing.”

She claims design and function are successfully paired in Essity’s Tork Image Design Line and Tork Elevation dispensers which feature curved lines with no sharp edges or corners. Tork Image Design Line units have a slimline design that combine brushed stainless steel fascias with a black trim.

Feel and image

Aesthetically-pleasing dispensers are becoming more important than ever in today’s washrooms, says Hagleitner product manager Dominik Hadjiyski. “The design of the dispenser contributes to the feel and image of a washroom and will influence the end-user’s impression of the facility,” he said. “And the more attractive a dispenser, the more likely it is to be used. This is particularly important in hospitals, restaurants and in other public places.”

Like Turner he believes functionality and design should go hand in hand. “The design should complement the functionality – but the functionality is paramount,” he adds.

Using a dispenser should be a smooth process and the unit should require minimal servicing, he said. “The design – both inside and out – plays a pivotal role.”

Hagleitner dispensers are said to be appealing to look at and easy to clean. They are available in black and white and have the option of customised side panels.

GOJO’s UK and Ireland managing director Chris Wakefield agrees that a stylish dispenser will enhance the image of an establishment. “However, attractiveness needs to be integrated with functionality, intuitiveness and ease of maintenance since a beautiful dispenser serves no purpose if it’s difficult to operate or is empty,” he says.

“It makes sense for washroom dispensers to match their surroundings in upmarket hotels and restaurants. But function trumps attractiveness in hospitals where speed of use and easy maintenance are key. And in environments such as construction sites, garages, workshops, and factories it is more important that dispensers are robust and sturdy.”

GOJO’s Purell dispensers are described as being ergonomically designed and easy to clean and refill.

Washroom dispensers should provide a perfect blend of functionality, innovation, sustainability and style according to Hylab’s product and project manager Joshua Edwardes. “Aesthetics can enhance a washroom’s image and promote a cleaner, more valued space,” he said. “And an appealing dispenser will encourage proper usage, reinforce brand identity and contribute to a positive user experience.”

Functionality and design are both essential in a dispenser, he says. “The right balance between the two is crucial, but functionality remains paramount to ensure that a dispenser fulfils its intended purpose,” said Edwardes. “A dispenser should be ergonomic, intuitive, easy to use and quick to operate to provide a seamless and convenient user experience.”

Hylab’s in-house design team works with the company’s quality control and manufacturing teams to offer tailored solutions for customers.

Practical and durable

High-end dispensers should be designed with the same level of practicality and durability as any other system, according to Edwardes. “For example, our Milano range combines a sleek satin aluminium design with an anti-fingerprint finish,” he said.

JVD’s chief marketing officer Simon Pienne believes aesthetics to be more important in some environments than in others. “An attractive washroom dispenser can contribute to a more pleasant overall experience in places where ambience is key such as in upscale restaurants, hotels and retail spaces,” he said. “And if the establishment is focused on building a strong image, then well-designed dispensers that match the company’s visual identity will reinforce brand consistency and leave a positive impression on customers.”

While aesthetics matter, durability and functionality should never be compromised, he adds. “An attractive dispenser should still be sufficiently robust to withstand the rigours of everyday use,” said Pienne. “It’s essential to strike a balance between design and practicality to ensure that the dispenser fulfils its primary function effectively.”

He claims the company’s Yaliss Jumbo 400 toilet paper dispenser and Zigzag soap dispenser are both elegant and robust. “While stainless steel is expensive, black plastic is more affordable and just as stylish,” he points out.

But at the end of the day, how practical are the more aesthetically-pleasing dispensers on the market? Will they inevitably be less robust and easier to vandalise than their uglier counterparts? And will they require more frequent refilling and be quicker to show knocks and marks than more utilitarian alternatives? Our commentators refute this.

“Well-designed dispensers are no less practical than functional units,” says Essity’s Jenny Turner. “And they present no disadvantages as far as vandalism, frequency of refilling or surface finish
are concerned. These challenges are taken into consideration during the development stage and a solution is found to address them.”

The more attractive a dispenser, the more likely it is to be well looked after, adds Hagleitner’s Dominik Hadjiyski. “Our dispensers are designed to be elegant – but also practical, robust and able to withstand excessive stress and frequent use in high-traffic areas,” he says.

And Kimberly-Clark’s Eric Chalko agrees that a good dispenser can easily combine attractiveness with high capacity and a robust casing. “Aesthetics and functionality need to work together to enable a dispenser to meet its full potential,” he said. “A clean, purposeful design - when paired with excellent functionality -  creates a recipe for a successful product.”


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