Hot off the press: our latest testing cafe

Hot off the press: our latest testing cafe
October 19, 2018 admin
A group of smiling older women


All the hot gossip from our latest testing cafe in North London, chatting about all things bathrooms, and me learning about what the hell a scullery is!

Read time: 6 minutes

A big thank you to my testers on Monday in North London. What a lovely bunch. We had such a laugh and they made me feel so welcome in their weekly meetup.

This week we were talking all things bathrooms – frustrations and preferences – with a particular focus on grab rails. It is the slipperiest and most used room in the house, but rarely gets talked about, especially how it can become a total pain in the bum as you get older.

For people who don’t know about our testing cafes, they are all about enabling real (predominantly older) people to share their lifetime of experience to improve living spaces and design for us all. We drop in on groups all around the country with products and designs for them to see and comment on. We then feed back what people have said direct to the designers to help them make them improvements – particularly with a view to making them more inclusive for all of our different, changing and ageing bodies. You can read more about inclusive design and why we do what we do here.

First and foremost though, these sessions are a just an enjoyable social occasion where we have a natter, a cuppa and a laugh together. Cake is essential. With this week’s subject focusing on bathrooms, we definitely all had a giggle about one another’s toilet habits! Chatting about design informally like this is such a great way to break the ice and get conversations started. Our testers often tell me it makes them feel really good that their experiences can feed into something bigger and maybe even help other people too. So a warm fuzzy glow AND better design. What’s not to like!

I absolutely love doing testing cafes. The mix of folks you get to meet and the sheer number of different experiences you hear about. I have been hosting these for a long time now and it never ceases to amaze me how every single time the groups will come up with different issues and experiences to share; things they have struggled with, preferences they have, and ingenious solutions they have found. Sure, there are loads of common themes now, but always something new that surprises me too. One example this week for me was learning about sculleries. Who knew (not me!) that some people still have these in their houses? I wasn’t even sure exactly what they were except maybe something you’d find in Downton Abbey. And I certainly had no idea how this might impact on someone as they age. Just goes to show how everyone’s housing situation is so different and you can’t make any assumptions. How many other people also live in housing stock from the 1800s that has been barely updated and might be struggling?

Something I have noticed over the years doing these testing cafes is the difference in how people of different ages think about this sort of stuff. People in their 60s are very aware that they may need to change their homes; they may have first hand experience of ageing parents and they themselves may be starting to feel that they might not be quite as spritely as they once were. So it is something this Baby Boomer generation are starting to engage with and can speak quite eloquently about their needs and desires and have pretty high standards.

Younger people may have experience of grandparents dealing with issues associated with ageing, but the idea of changing their homes to make things friendlier for themselves is a pretty foreign concept to them; it is something that is for other people. That said, younger people totally get the concept of inclusive design once you do start talking about it. Adaptability, inclusivity and sustainability just makes sense to this generation and they are often keen to learn more, for themselves, their parents and their grandparents. Read another blog about pretty amazing adaptable design throughout your whole life here.

But is is people in their 80s that have all the good stuff about what it’s really like fighting gravity for 80 odd years. They have the highest quality, grade A, top notch insight into how the body changes and the impact this has on how they interact with their environments. Whilst the rest of us talk about getting older and imagine what it might be like, these folks are living it every day. Despite this however, they are the least likely to talk about their struggles. It’s such a cliche, but it’s true, this wartime generation simply don’t complain.

I find it endlessly fascinating how you can ask people of this age about their bathrooms and they will say how they are completely happy with it. Then you drill down into how it is exactly that they are washing everyday (by way of a nice informal natter over a cuppa – we’re not Big Brother) and you uncover a multitude of painful, dangerous, time-consuming, faffy steps.

My favourite comment from this week’s testing cafe summed this up for me: “Having an indoor bathroom is my pleasure”. Even where they have had up adaptation made to help make things easier, they generally take what they are given even if it’s not what they would really like, or doesn’t quite work for them, because they fear appearing ungrateful or getting something worse. Quite amusingly, when you get a group where there is parent (80s or 90s) and child (60ish) present, (which is quite regularly as they are often caring for their parents and so have brought them to the group), the parent may say they are blissfully content, but the child always has another, very different story to tell as it is more often than not them who has to deal with the day-to-day impact of poor design on their parent’s independence and happiness.

These age observations are obviously all massive generalisations; there are people of all ages that either engage with this subject or not, are shy or outspoken, but it is my experience that these themes are generally the case. This week’s crowd was a group of 15 ranging in age between 60 and 90 and lived in a range of housing tenures – privately owned, rented, sheltered and council.

Something that is pretty universal though is that people LOVE talking about this stuff. Once you get them going it all pours out: toilet cubicles that are too small, fridges with shelves that don’t fit a milk bottle, scissor packets you need scissors to get into. It’s like a support group sometimes! And we always run out of time. But what’s amazing is it always gets people talking. People really engage with it and each other, make connections with other members of the group, empathise, make recommendations, think about things slightly differently, have a chat and have a giggle. We really do put the world to rights sometimes. But that’s where some of the best insight I have ever heard comes from – these informal, honest chats that are stimulated as a result of doing it in this way. It’s not dry like some product testing can be – all tick boxes and intrusive questions. They are not self-selecting groups either as many user testing panels can be. The voices you hear through a Pretty, Good testing cafe may never have thought about product design or sharing their thoughts in their lives, or felt like they have anything to add or know how to. But they are certainly real.

Something else I thought was really interesting from listening to the people in sheltered and council housing in particular today, was that even when the accessibility of their bathroom had been upgraded and improved, there was a huge lack of consultation with the residents about what they would like (not just functionally need), how they would actually use it day-to day and how it would make them feel. People seem to be afraid they won’t get anything if they say the wrong thing, or don’t want to appear needy, so they often put on a show despite being unhappy with something or struggling with a situation. That’s why talking with someone a bit removed, like The Pretty, Good Project, that is impartial and non-threatening people feel much more able to be truthful.

So much so in fact, we ran out of time as always in this session. Everyone was also desperate to talk about kitchens next if anyone needs anything testing! They said they have so many problems and irritations with theirs and were almost bursting to tell me!

All in all, a lovely afternoon.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions about our testing cafes, how to get involved as a participant, or if you are a designer or supplier and would like something testing, please do drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you.

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