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Designing to improve hygiene since 1800

Posted on Fri, 2020-12-04 15:58 by Steve Smith

Without doubt hygiene has ramped up since the outbreak of Covid 19 and is now evident in just about every aspect of life.  From dispensers at the entrances of shops to hearing our children sing Happy Birthday (twice) whilst washing their hands, we have all adapted to keep safe. Design has always played a large part in hygiene control. 


Our cities in fact have been shaped by disease; cholera outbreaks in the 19th century led to the introduction of sewer systems, the third plague pandemic which spread from China in 1855 challenged designers to rethink building design. Everything from drainpipes to door thresholds were changed to curtail the spread of disease carried by the rat.


The temporary widened pavements we see on our high streets today are not new concepts, but lessons learned from infections of the past.  These lessons influence the design of everyday objects too, wipe clean surfaces, contactless payment.  These days we find ourselves hesitating as we reach for a pull handle.


How will design improve hygiene if / when we begin to move back to the workplace? 


  • Perspex screens were the first defense solution, appearing quickly along with rumors of Perspex shortages in the supply chain, but what about the time we no longer need them controlling the spread of infection?
  • Automatic doors may become more popular in an effort to reduce touch points. 
  • With contact points being minimized can we expect to see virtual receptionists? 
  • Will the kettle be replaced with a coffee dispenser controlled by our smart phones?


Many businesses, including our own, now have internet booking systems to control occupancy in office spaces and allow for targeted cleaning while app-based systems for meeting room bookings are increasing in popularity and technology trends will only continue to increase


For decades we’ve obeyed the sign – Please Use The Handrail………..  Erm, no thanks, I’d rather not.