In modern society where openness and diversity are respected, why does it seem that menstruation is still treated as "taboo"?
On June 21, 2016, New York City passed a law to provide tampons and sanitary napkins free of charge to some public toilets, schools, and prisons. The mass media said 2016 is "The year of the period," "The year the period went public." because of that law. This case is an excellent example of the Taboo aspect of menstruation.
Women, half of the world's population experience period as an unpleasant experience for over 3,000 days. They have to cope with the various kinds of cramps that appear in the body and spend money on menstrual products. However, they have to hide this unpleasant experience and cannot speak confidently in public.
'dot.' provides a different perspective of menstruation for the women. Our goal is to create a reliable product and system for women to check their health status with menstrual blood during their period as an advantage. Imagine a small medical checkup product to check the womb status, hemoglobin, and glucose level to prevent disease without visiting the clinic or hospital with expensive costs.
The goal of 'dot. Menstrual cup', the physical product is to measure and analyze the menstrual blood with embedded sensors which sends the data to the mobile application. Through this information, the system will give notifications about an upcoming period and volume of menstrual blood. Notifications will prevent leakage which is the most inconvenient point of women during their period. The information from their menstrual blood is not only used for their notification but also sent anonymously to a women's health lab or hospital to study about menstruation, gather big data, understand patterns and changes through different life stages. 'dot.' can be an excellent opportunity for women to increase their knowledge and learn more about themselves during their period to obtain quality information, insight and understanding of their cycle.
Research, Discovery and Insights
During the research of this project we interviewed people, and faced many difficulties during our initial conversations. Interviews with women were particularly difficult, as more women were ashamed to talk about their period experiences and hesitated to speak in a public space.
These situations repeated, and we had to conduct private and anonymous interviews to make them feel comfortable. While doing the interviews, we were shocked that the perception of menstruation was so conservative (taboo) that it was hard to believe half of the world's population is suffering. However, the difficulties they faced were almost similar.
1. It is difficult to know precise dates of menstruation, so women will have menstrual products on hand.
2. Leakage problems of menstrual blood, especially in public places.
3. Unexplained menstrual pain and emotional ups and downs.
4. Expenses for menstrual products.
These points were observed through their behaviors during our interviews. No one told us that it is a mild and pleasant experience of their menstruation. It seemed very clear that 'menstruation' is a lousy experience for women.
Questions and Product Development:
Before setting goals for the project, we asked ourselves this question. "How can we change the perception of menstruation into a better direction for women and people?"
We started with this question and made a goal for the project and tried to solve the related problems. First of all, our team selected a menstrual cup that is eco-friendly, harmless to human body and the most cost-effective among the period items that women can use.
The menstrual cup is a trendy product that is rising, but the barriers to entry are higher than other products, and insertion and removal are challenging to use for the first time users. One of the problems that menstrual cup users are most worried about was leakage. In general, women are afraid that they will miss the timing when they empty the menstrual cup during their busy day, and many of the interviewees answered that they wear pads or menstrual panties together with menstrual cups or prepare other shorts. It is easy to miss at which timing to empty the menstrual cup in a busy routine through the day.
To solve this problem, we decided to create a smart menstrual cup. Our team thought about giving a notification to the user if there is more than the amount of blood that the user decided in the mobile application. For that function, we had to put the sensor in the menstrual cup, but the reaction of women was more than we thought. It is a big challenge for them to put electronic devices in their bodies without apparent purpose. Using the sensor only to empty the cup was seen as a risk for women.
While interviewing a variety of women to solve the problem, we found that some of our interviewees observed blood from the period to check their health condition before flushing their menstrual blood. We started looking at various scientific papers and research materials based on these insights to use color and check on the health status of the menses as one of the hypothesis.
In the meantime, our team found a paper on research form the lab that checks the health status by using women uterine tissue. Furthermore, We were aware of the sensors that can analyze blood using light to check the concentration of red blood cells or glucose level. However, the sensor and the technology from the study have not yet reached the stage of commercialization and too big to put it in the cup, so we made a hypothesis and saw the reaction of the users. Fortunately, the majority of our interviewees were mostly positive. Many responded that they took more supplements such as iron, calcium, and vitamin during their menstrual periods. So they showed a favorable response to their health. Therefore, We decided to design a menstrual cup as a medical device, not just a product worn during menstruation.
In order not to end up merely connecting the cup with the user, our team created an ecosystem diagram. This ecosystem includes not only users and cups but also professional groups working in women's health labs and doctors to check the users' health status and to collect the data. Accessing the system with a different point of view was intended to make the design for use. We developed a diagram after deep thought about what part the user wanted, what part can be systematically provided and what should be improved by receiving feedback from the class.
For the actual product, menstrual cups are available in the market with a variety of shapes and materials, but most of them are differentiated through the hardness and size of silicone materials. In the case of a hard menstrual cup, it was challenging to fold, and the period cup with a weak strength was limited to be a perfect sealing state in the body. We studied how to fold and insert silicon by studying origami. As a result of applying various shapes, we decided to change the thickness in a swirling form. We made a cup with 3D printing in a swirling form, made a molding using Urethane Rubber. We poured silicone into it, and heated that in a low-temperature oven. We divided it into several stages and experimented a lot. The swirling shape cup was easy to fold so that the user can easily insert, and remove.The majority of users of the menstrual cups suffer the pain of removing the menstrual cup because of the vacuum status in the cup when it is in the body. So we designed the cup tip which can be twisted to remove the cup easily during the cup in the body. We also designed a sanitizer which is also a charger based on the feedback of the users that can be used both before and after to solve the hygiene problem when users carry the menstrual cup. The sanitizer has a magnetic substance that attaches to the walls and magnetic materials in a public toilet for hygiene-sensitive women as well a provides the ability to be be hooked anywhere with the built in hooks on top of the device.
If the dot. project becomes a reality and succeeds; we believe that this can be a turning point for women who suffer from menstruation. Through this project, we can not wholly solve the long-term worries of a women, but we think it can be an advantage to them. Moreover, Our team looks forward to talking with women about this topic without a hesitation and a smile on their face without the shame and conservative reaction of hiding and feeling that it is a taboo subject.