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Why you can’t forget your phone in this Japanese public toilet

Japan

Ever forgotten your wallet or smartphone in a toilet cubicle?

In 2015, the Japanese highway company NEXCO was dealing with close to 20,000 instances per year of people leaving their wallets or phones in toilet cubicles at rest stops.

Forgetting your phone at a rest stop in the middle of a cross country drive is a pretty unpleasant experience, and the administrative costs of dealing with the lost items were increasing.

To solve this problem and improve the user experience of their rest stops, NEXCO considered the problem from a UX perspective, and started by researching how people used their bathrooms.

Diagram of user forgetting wallet in toilet
People weren't looking back at the cubicle before leaving (Source: NEXCO)

As a result of their research, they found that people often place items on the shelf behind the toilet , then sit on the toilet to use it. The toilets flush automatically, meaning that most users simply finish their business and leave the stall straight away -  without looking back at the shelf with their belongings.

After identifying this problem, NEXCO brainstormed ways to ensure that users check their belongings before leaving .

The result was the decision to attach a piece of plastic to the door handle that can be used to hold your phone, keys or wallet.

Toilet door handle with tray
Accessory tray built into the door lock (Source: NEXCO)

With the new lock, it became impossible to open the door without picking up your belongings first.

This simple solution reduced the number of forgotten wallets and smartphones in toilets from 20,000 per year to 0.

Not only is this solution cheap and easy to install, but it is also truly universal design, and is easily understood and used by people of all ages and backgrounds.

The company has also considered how to stop people from forgetting larger bags, and introduced infrared sensors that detect the presence of an item on a shelf, and play an announcement to encourage the user to check their belongings before leaving the stall.

Toilet with infrared sensors
Infrared sensors detect forgotten belongings and play an announcement (Source: NEXCO)

Currently, they are developing a system using infrared outline sensors that use AI to determine what sort of item users leave behind, and also detect when people are ill or collapse in the cubicle.

This is a great example of how considering problems from a human perspective can result in simple and effective solutions to everyday problems.