Last year, while working on her thesis project for her master’s degree at Pratt in New York City, Lauren Lee–an industrial designer now based in California–came up with a concept for tampon packaging that allowed users to throw away an old tampon inside the wrapper for the new. That project solved a simple need, she says, “but it was interesting to hear how people responded to design for menstruation,” she tells Fast Company. “It’s still a topic that makes people uncomfortable.”
If you are a woman who gets a period, you probably have learned, by now, not to talk about it. Until very recently, even advertisements for pads and tampons used a hygienic blue-colored stain as a stand-in for blood, and leaned on phrases like “time of the month” instead of outright saying period. Her professors (many of them male) were no different, skirting around even critiquing the project. She realized that innovations around packaging and products failed to address the core issue: When it comes to menstruation, people would rather not engage with it at all.
Why was there so much silence still around a very common thing that regularly affects 50% of the population, she wondered? “I wanted to create something that was integrated into public space–an amenity and a resource, rather than something you go out and buy for yourself,” Lee says.
Her prototype, Warm Wall–the winner of the students category in Fast Company‘s 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards–fulfills that function. Lee designed a heated, gently curved wall mount that could be installed in public restrooms to give women on their periods a place both to alleviate pain (warmth helps with cramps) and to build community. Lee envisions women gathering at the heated section to commiserate over a shared experience and to start conversations around it. “Restrooms should have something for women that’s provided, that shows that periods aren’t a disease or something you should be ashamed of,” Lee says.
While Warm Wall is still largely in the concept phase, Lee wants to bring it into the world by working with architects who could include the concept in their designs. “It’s subtle, and that is what makes it able to be appreciated by someone even if they don’t have periods,” she says. “They could still see it and think it’s a beautiful protrusion in the wall, while recognizing what it’s used for,” she adds. “That’s addressing taboo–when it’s just there in plain sight.”