EVITENT - protecting evidence on crime scenes in challenging weather conditions
Weather conditions can often challenge a crime scene investigation in Scandinavia. The project's goal was to design an ultra-light, easily storable, and reliable product solution that will protect evidence from contamination.
The result is EVITENT – a pop-up tent that unfolds into an 80x100cm shelter in a matter of seconds. If needed, a second tent can be zipped on to cover larger pieces of evidence, up to the size of a human body. The cover can be secured from wind by tent pegs or by weighing down the side-flaps with heavy objects such as traffic pylons.
EVITENT protects evidence from inclement weather like rain, snow, ice, and wind. In addition, it does provide a physical privacy screen against the public. The graphic imprints were designed to emphasize the authority and presence of the respective police force.
Evitent (folded) dimensions
Evitent (deployed) dimensions
Connection of two tent units
Evitent (connected) dimensions
Packaging, sewing process
EVITENT was the result of a 10-week design project in collaboration with the Swedish police education unit and the national forensic department of Sweden. The objective was to look deeper into the needs, challenges, and wishes of both the patrolling police and the specialized crime scene investigators who both secure evidence at crime scenes. Based on the needs and pain points of these professionals, I wanted to explore the design space for new relevant product solutions and opportunity areas.
A crime scene investigator can be a police officer who has furthered their education or someone who specializes in the procedures for crime scene investigations. In less severe crimes, so-called "everyday crimes," police officers out on patrol can carry out the crime scene investigation, documentation, and secure traces.
In the project's second phase, the students compiled their findings and were introduced to methods for sharing information and generating ideas from the insights obtained. The outcome of these activities was used to identify relevant design opportunities. After this, the students were asked to choose a design opportunity of interest, carry out additional research, and write a design brief specifying how they would address this design challenge for the remaining time of the project. Students presented and exhibited their final concepts at the final presentation with posters and presentation models.
A people-centered design process in dialogue with expert stakeholders:
At the beginning of the project, students from Umeå Institute of Design had the opportunity to visit the local police school of Umeå University and specialists from the forensic department to understand their everyday lives and work processes. Students got hands-on experience in finding fingerprints and footprints, but they could also talk to police officers to learn more about their professional experience and expertise.
Opportunity area: protecting evidence in challenging weather conditions:
An awe-inspiring insight was the exceptionally diverse challenges for crime scene investigators in northern Scandinavia. For a considerable duration of the year, north Sweden experiences temperatures down to -25° Celsius. In addition to challenging weather conditions such as snowstorms, heavy rain, icing, and drifts, the permanent darkness and lack of sunlight in the winter can significantly problematize the work of police officers. When I asked the police academy how crime scene investigators deal with these conditions, I got an answer that caught my attention: "Sometimes we work in -30° and snowstorms. You have to deal with that; we can't bring the nice weather with us. If you have a dead body 3km away from any road, well, then you have to walk! That's the way it is."
To my surprise, police officers in Scandinavia to this day do not have professional tools adapted to work in these particular weather conditions. In another interview with crime scene investigators, I asked how police officers might respond to a murder during a heavy weather scenario. My interview partner replied: "Sometimes they (police officers) may use jackets to cover the most important evidence."
Another important finding from the field research was that police officers often have to get creative during their work and improvise with whatever materials are available. I greatly admired the creativity and improvisational skills that the police officers exemplified during their demonstration. It was clear that I wanted to consider these abilities and make good use of them in my final design.
I clearly formulated the requirements for the product solution from that point on. The idea was to create a protection for small as well as larger pieces of evidence, which on the one hand, would be small enough and designed to be portable, and on the other hand, would be ultra-lightweight. Furthermore, in addition to protecting against external environmental factors such as wind, ice, snow, and rain, the product should also be used as a visual shield to mark the crime scene and avoid gawkers. In addition, the product should be reliable and allow a smooth operation. The solution should be usable regardless of the crime scene investigator's age, gender, or individual physique. Finally, the product shouldn't touch the evidence under any circumstances to avoid contamination.
My process: Prototype iteration & expert user validation
EVITENT is the result of a four-week prototyping phase, in which I first familiarized myself with the subject of softgoods. Very quickly, I realized that the product had to be foldable and therefore made of a light, waterproof, and at the same time resilient material. For me, it was my first work with textiles. Thus, I deliberately learned about the sewing machine and industrial sewing techniques at the beginning of the project. I structured my prototype exploration in three separate steps based on the strength and portability of the product.
"No structure," "soft structure," and "hard structure."
In the "no structure" exploration, I experimented with simple sterile wrapped films that would be unfolded and placed over a piece of evidence. During my "soft structure" exploration, I connected fabric in an airproof manner to obtain air pillows that could be inflated with CO2 cartridges. During my "Hard structure" experiment, prototypes were equipped with spring metal spokes or firmer metal rods to enhance stability further.
Testing and sewing physical prototypes was an essential part of my concept exploration. Therefore, I tested the finished prototypes in the winter conditions in Umeå, where I could more easily identify problem areas and modify details on the prototypes. In addition, I had the opportunity to present my prototypes to our cooperation partners and get valuable feedback. As a result, I decided to pursue the concept of a foldable pop-up tent. The idea seemed extremely promising due to its compact dimensions and lightness when stowed in the packaging.
Concept details: A pop-up tent designed for the needs of police officers
In my final concept phase, I designed and built a ready-to-use pop-up tent. EVITENT consists of two stand-alone tent units that can be connected by two zippers depending on the size of the evidence. As a stand-alone unit, the tent measures 100x90x50 centimeters. When assembled, the tent measures 200x90x50 centimeters, allowing police officers to cover larger pieces of evidence, like a human body.
The heart of the tent is a pair of three-meter-long metal bands sewn into a hem around the textile wings. They allow folding the tent into a flat, circular shape. When both tent units are stowed in their packaging, the product measures only 35x35 centimeters, weighing only 1.6 kilograms. This means that EVITENT can fit in the trunk of any police car. Both units can easily be transported with the help of a sleeve with an extendable carrying strap. Once crime scene investigators arrive on the scene and fear contamination of the evidence, EVITENT can be set up in only 25 seconds for the single unit or 50 seconds in a duo setup. If necessary, tent pegs can be accessed from textile pockets to protect the tent from stronger wind gusts.
In addition to physical protection from weather conditions, I designed new digital ways for crime scene investigators to interact with the tent. In most cases, police officers first document the crime scene with their smartphones, which have a police-owned app called "FILIP" installed. The photographs and videos are automatically synchronized with police servers. With a software update, police officers can scan the tent's product number (barcode) and link it to the individual case. The pictures are placed in a 3D space using augmented reality and projected into the smartphone's viewfinder. Thus, police officers can "take a look through the tent" without opening it and compromising the evidence. This function has been developed especially for the handover procedures between police officers and crime scene investigators.
Summary: Learning by sewing!
Designing new tools for Crime Scene Investigators required an appropriate and respectful handling of research material, visualizations, and graphic representations. Especially in the subsequent visualization of the project, it was essential to communicate the seriousness of the police work in a restrained way. For me, working with so-called "softgoods" was a completely new subject area. It was a challenge because I could not fall back on already known software applications and routine methods compared to the more classic industrial design approach. It was essential to get a feeling for the materials early in the design process. For example, understanding how polyester behaves when stretched, folded, unfolded, and stressed.
Prototyping at an early stage and being familiar with the sewing machine helped me make quick changes to prototypes and uncover problem areas. The numerous opportunities to receive feedback from professional police officers, their trainers, and my tutors maintained an iterative, fact-based, and focused process. This process resulted in an emphatic product experience, where I was able to address and solve a real-world problem. Due to its pure functionality and reliability, I was able to add an emotional dimension to the product that could add significant value to the everyday work of police officers.