case study: Nature Commode

Nature Commode
Revolutionizing an Industry and Transforming Public Attitudes
Through Design & User Experience

The Problem

Chemical porta potties housed in plastic boxes are despised by many, endured by all. The chemicals, some containing formaldehyde, can be harmful to sanitation workers and the broader environment.

Manufacturing of nitrogen fertilizer requires a tremendous amount of energy.

There is limited public awareness about environmentally friendly sanitation alternatives and beneficial use of human derived fertilizer.

My Role

The Project

In 2015, I launched Nature Commode, the first commercial portable compost toilet company in the United States.

The intent was to use uniquely designed, chemical free toilets as educational tools, at events, in order to expose the greatest number of people to ecological sanitation.

For many, it was the first time they ever heard of any alternative to flush or chemical toilets. But we had countless repeat users, many complimenting the design and service, bringing friends over to see the toilets, taking pictures to share with others via social media.

To date the company has introduced over 250,000 people to ecological sanitation.

User Insights

1:1 interviews with event planners

1:1 interviews with event attendees

Field research and surveys – spoke to 100s of people about their impressions of Nature Commode, the design, the material choices, the overall feel within the units, and their thoughts on the concept of nutrient cycling.

These insights informed the new version of the toilet, the information graphics door banner, brand development and customer engagement.

Actual User Comments

Team Management
Based on user input, I developed a criteria list for toilet designs. I led the design team’s collaboration on design and fabrication of 2 new toilet designs – the Porta Popup and the Men’s Urine Cabana.

Given the ubiquity of chemical porta potties in standardized plastic boxes, I knew we had to create a design that looked dramatically different but was inviting and comfortable, in order to create a positive impression, especially for first time users. 

The toilets also had to meet the additional criteria for rapid installation, compact transport, durability and inclement weather.

Design Solutions
I wanted the entire experience to be completely unique and positive in comparison to people’s former impression of portable sanitation.

Every aspect from shape to color to material choices to installation layout was considered.

I improved the service offering by providing an attendant at every event, therefore ensuring a clean experience for all, and dramatically improving impressions of the overall event, as noted by our clients, the event organizers.

In collaboration with the design team, I created the Popup Porta, a unit that can quickly fold out from a compact 10” wide to a stable toilet structure with a unique profile.

With the intent for the toilets to have a dual function as information kiosks, I designed the exterior door graphics to convey information about nutrient cycling in an attractive and engaging fashion

Website Development
I built and maintain the Nature Commode website.

Brand Development
Nature Commode, as a name, was intentionally selected to suggest a completely new type of portable restroom. Folks are now referring to compost toilets as Nature Commodes, in much the same way that Honey Bucket has become synonymous with porta potties.

Exterior and interior signage incorporates positive imagery and wording to create a fun but informative experience. We’ve had many take photos of Nature Commode doors because they convey a colorful description of nutrient cycling and the environmental benefits of ecological sanitation.  Inserted into the nutrient cycle phases is the term “gifting”, referring to the users contribution. This simple shift in labeling positively impacts many who have otherwise only assumed a negative connotation in relation to human excrement.

I created the phrase, “Fork to Field”, and inserted the term in the door graphics, in order to highlight the need for a holistic view on our food system that evolves the roll of eaters from consumers to valuable contributors.