Kira Alexander. (1976)  The Bathroom.  Urine Trajectories
Kira Alexander. (1976) The Bathroom. Urine trajectories by sex

What works

This is the most graphic of graphic sociology so far. For those of you with delicate constitutions, give yourself a pat on the back for taking a deep breath and deciding to read the rest of this post without tossing it upon first glance.

This was published in 1976 in a book that is now out of print called The Bathroom by Alexander Kira, an architect and professor at Cornell. He was interested in the bathroom as a design challenge with an eye to the ergonomics of the fixtures and spaces commonly encountered in standard bathrooms, home to standard fixtures. The bathroom is not exactly a hotbed of design revolution so many of his ideas are not only still relevant, but still fresh. This particular diagram was used to help sort out how one might go about designing a urinal for women (if not a unisex urinal that could serve both women and men, not at the same time, though).

I usually find the use of photographs in information graphics to be superfluous. Generally, there is some graph about, say poverty or out of wedlock birth and the photograph paired with the graph takes a person and turns them into a token. The homeless man as icon of poverty; the mother and child (usually a woman of color) as icon of poignant nurturance. That sort of reductive photography has no place in information graphics. Quite frankly, I’d be happy never to see predictable, reductionist photography like that anywhere.

But in this case, Kira used a grid in the photo shoot turning the resulting photograph into an infographic. Did I mention that his ideas still seem fresh? With the grid, we have a much easier time making the visual comparison between trajectories of urine between women and men.

Imagine you are a urinal designer. Ask yourself: how would I use these diagrams to help me design a urinal that works for women? Realize that you would either pursue a trough strategy or, better, a urinal that women do not face. They could stand with their backs to it and bend forward like the woman in the third panel is doing. Of course, there are sartorial concerns. Backing up to a urinal works just fine if you are naked, like our urination model is. But what if she’s wearing clothing? That’s a different design challenge. I would be interested to see what would be possible by relocating pants’ zippers so that they open between the legs rather than in the front.

What needs work

I apologize that in some of these panels it is hard to see the stream of urine, which is a necessary piece of information. With the women, it’s pretty much straight down except when bent over at the waist. For the men, it is slightly in front of the body unless he is holding his penis in which case the trajectory is quite a bit in front of him — it leaves the photographic frame.


Kira, Alexander. (1976) The Bathroom New York: Viking Adult. [out of print]