Design Thinking in Action: The Period Shop

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Top row: Entrance of the shop and blackboard wall, located at the back of the shop. / Bottom row: Panoramic of the shop showing branded clothing and other objects on the left, and tampons hanging from the celling at the center. / Mirrors and signs with positive phrases to help women build confidence.

Last month while walking down Fifth Avenue in NYC, we saw a peculiar shop called ‘The Period Shop‘. As we got closer, we learnt that it was a three-day pop-up shop designed by U by Kotex, the brand of feminine hygiene products, in response to one of their consumer’s idea: Sarah M. This shop offered a combination of products from U by Kotex and other female-based companies related to women’s menstrual cycle*. In addition, this shop was also a space where all women could ‘feel comfortable, safe, respected and revered while shopping for their period’.

The idea of creating a period shop helped put out there and in the open a topic which until now has been very much taboo and that even today many women are still afraid to talk about. What makes this an innovative idea is that the shop was much more than a place to go and buy products: it invited women to share experiences. As soon as you entered the shop you saw familiar feminine objects (like tampons and pads) of different scales and materials everywhere. These objects, that are normally (consciously or unconsciously) hidden, were de-contextualised to the extent of being used in artistic ways, but not looking odd or out of place. On the contrary, they were used in very bold and smart ways: hanging from the ceiling, as patterns in mugs, t-shirts, pajama pants and underwear, as pillows and more. In addition to decorative patterns, these objects in combination with phrases (e.g. ‘You are beautiful’, ‘You are the stars, you are the galaxy’, ‘Go with the flow’) were used to communicate the core message of the shop: give confidence to women during those days that they tend to feel inexplicable fat, ugly and irritable, and help them realise that:

‘their period doesn’t have to be something that holds them back from doing what they want. It’s something to joke about, and if it’s possible, have fun with’. (Sarah M.)

Chocolate and ice cream, also available to buy at the store, helped reinforce this message!

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Left: Different flavours of chocolate. Right: The ice-cream bar located on the second floor of the shop.

In addition to the innovative character of the idea, the pop-up shop is an excellent example of design thinking in action. It reflects how adding a user-centered and empathic focus, and a collaborative way of working can greatly enrich the way of thinking about a problem situation. The idea originated from a Tumblr comment nearly three months ago (February 25, 2016), and, even sounding a little bit crazy and risky, the idea made it all the way from conception to implementation creating real change. Four aspects of this idea suggest that this creative way of thinking can help tackle (simple and complex) problems and make a difference:

  • The Challenge: What could have been approached as a more traditional challenge (e.g.: How might we increase the consumption of U by Kotex products among female teenagers?) was redefined and reframed as: How might we create a space where women can feel comfortable, safe, respected and revered while shopping for their period? This shows a deeper and more holistic understanding of the problem, which goes beyond the mere acquisition of products.
  • Human-centered: The idea was conceived and executed by women which helped build empathy and have a pretty clear starting point in terms of knowing their intended audience’s needs, interests and preferences. Further learning must have focused particularly on identifying women’s needs during the pre-days and days when they have their periods. This is a brilliant example of how important it is to be thoroughly familiar with the intended target-audience’s experiences.
  • Interactive: In the shop, a massive blackboard wall invited women to share their feelings about their period days, and an ice-cream bar in the second floor also helped women chill out and bond while enjoying each other’s company. Various relevant events were also scheduled during those three days, including nail art, comedy night, DJ sets and massages.
  • System thinking: The shop wasn’t an isolated pop-up event in response to a ‘wild idea’; it was the launch of the The Period Projects, a series of projects inspired and led by women to generate change. The project shows a holistic understanding of the different pieces (e.g. social media, reinventing the image of pads, making periods fun) that are in play and how each of these pieces (this shop is only one of them) contributes to achieve their future vision and ultimate goal (break the stigma surrounding periods).

We all tend to accept some situations as they are because we have always seen them like that, but any mundane problem or situation can be reframed and repositioned by looking at it from a completely new perspective. Clear vision, passion and wild ideas are what we need to generate the type of change that makes a difference in the world and makes it a better place.

How many other unspoken, hidden problems, situations or topics could immensely benefit from adopting a similar, refreshing and completely new approach like this? 

The Period Shop was located at 138 Fifth Ave between 18th and 19th in New York City during May 13 to 15, 2016.
Watch a video of the shop here and download a poster from here.

*All profit was donated to a residence for homeless women.

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