Closet, Clothes & Clutter is an exploratory research & design course project of Qualitative User Research & Design Methods. This project probed deeply into student’s compact live style around their closets, with the goal of improving the closet management experience through creative designs. Through a series of human-centered design practices, the final deliverable of this project is a Closet Enhancement Kit - a modular system with weather indication, laundry schedule, and cloth sanitizing functionalities to enhance target users’ closet experiences with an emphasis on efficiency, personalization, and adaptability.
Background & Literature Review
We started our background research doing the literature reviews on clutter and home organization. To understand current solutions for closet organization, we reviewed existing literature and gathered key findings into following categories:
- Clutter & Home Organization: Previous researches shows that clutter is central and important to wellbeing in terms of emotion and personal satisfaction. It can also be taken as an extended self to express self-identity and achieve well-being.
- Wardrobe Organization & Recommendations: A large body of previous research has been focusing on wardrobe recommendations to achieve a further utilized wardrobe, such as using machine learning algorithms to help users choose outfits based on occasion and aesthetic. However, an intriguing area in the field is how to effectively organize the wardrobe for easier and more efficient outfit matching.
- Commercial Designs: Commercial applications such as Notion and Airtable have provided personal database tools for users to track their wardrobe inventory or create outfits based on their clothing preferences, but they require high maintenance efforts by users. Mobile applications like Closet + and Cladwel offered easier user entry with less customizability.
Our project intends to create a more enjoyable and satisfying closet management experience for college students. From previous research, we learned that clutter and wardrobe organization are tightly associated with people’s emotional states, and a disorganized closet might worsen the case of an already stressed-out college student. Existing products in the industry require much maintenance effort or lack customizability. Rather than providing a standard closet organization method that could potentially cause students mental stress, we hope to use design to enhance their current closet experience. Therefore, our project would like to bridge the gap between customization and intuitive interaction in the personal wardrobe organization field.
Our research process began with a survey of basic demographics and background information of our target users. The survey also served as an effective recruitment tool for further research. To make it easier for respondents to estimate their responses, we designed the online survey in a more tangible manner. For example, instead of directly asking how many clothes they have, we rephrase the question and ask how often they repeat outfits and how often they get new clothes. We also provided clear illustrations to give respondents a better approximation of their closet size.
In order to understand the closet experience and the potential problem space, we conducted contextual interviews recruited through the background survey and balanced school years and genders. We asked our participants to participate in the interview by being next to their closets or sending several pictures of their closet space to probe their specific memories related to closets. The conversation is centered around a closet tour of them introducing their closet in detail.
- People have their own ways to deal with the limitation of space: many interviewees utilize extra storage space such as racks, hocks, and closet layers to expand their storage space for clothes
- They have creative and personal ways to organize their closets: interviewees differ in the way that they organize their clothes, for example, some of them like hanging while others prefer folding
- The level of organization of their closet have real impacts on their emotions: most of the interviewees reported stress when their closet is in a mess; and many of them said they are satisfied and feeling comfortable after organizing their closet
After the contextual interviews, we noticed that users tended to describe their experiences separately (e.g. cleaning, laundry, decluttering), yet these experiences are actually correlated. To further understand this holistic experience, we conducted a diary study to understand the flow and inspect nuanced issues in their closet routine that has not been addressed during interviews.
- Changing / Choosing clothes: The major activity around the closet is changing clothes, around 65% of responses are triggered by this activity.
- Weather factor: many of the respondents mentioned that they needed to check the weather first before choosing clothes for going outdoor
- Time factor: many of the respondents mentioned that they are in a rush for changing clothes, and most of the participants spent less than 3 minutes for it
- Change for Pajamas / Pants: most participants tended to change their pants or change for their pajamas when back home, this activity is usually done very quickly in less than 1 minute
- Taking Off Clothes / Temporary Storage: when taking off worn clothes, most participants will not put them back into the closet. Instead, they have temporary storage places such as their bed, hooks on the wall or chairs.
- Cleaning / Organizing: most of the organizing activities were triggered by other clothes/closet-related activities such as after laundry, or packing for a trip
- Laundry: most of the participants don’t have a regular laundry routine. Laundry routines are usually triggered when people wanted to wear certain clothes but only found them inside the dirty clothes bin or when they were running low on a particular item, such as socks
Based on our understanding of the problem from the research process, we started our design phase by brainstorming ideas. Each group member came up with possible feature ideas with sketches, and then shared them within the group.
Group discussion resulted in a consensus that a closet add-on kit might be helpful. We summarized the following possible design features:
- Weather information indicator: From interviews and diary studies, we found that weather information is critical for choosing outfits, and there is space for an intuitive weather indicator.
- Laundry reminder: most people find it hard to maintain a regular laundry routine. We could figure out ways to better remind people to do laundry at a proper time
- Sanitization tools: users started to be more sensitive to the sanitization of their coats and pants since covid, so we might head in this direction to help people sanitize their clothes more easily
- Organization facilitators: we want to create designs that facilitate people to organize their closets and incorporate these organizing processes into their own routines and habits
- Temporary clothes storage: we would like to create designs for better temporary storage solutions besides putting clothes on beds or chairs
Design Method - Autobiographical Design
We learned through our research process that the closet experience is very personal. The majority of participants, regardless of whether they are satisfied with their current closet solution or not, have unique routines around their closets and organize them differently. To better empathize with users and understand how our design could be adapted to different users, we choose the autobiographical design to facilitate our design and implementation. We conducted a set of autobiographical studies in the implementation and evaluation phase, including weather color mapping and two iterations of prototyping and testing. The autobiographical design method provides us with detailed nuances of using the product and we were able to efficiently iterate and prototype to quickly validate the design.
The participants of the autobiographical study are four of our team members. Since our design is a modular kit, each of us will use one or multiple prototypes and use our creativity to customize the module to adapt to our own closet.
For the weather indicator module, our implementation process began with an autoethnographic study: weather color mapping. Every team member spent 3 days creating daily color maps of the weather of the day. Participants could creatively use colors and figures to visualize the weather of the day, based on their perceptions. This autoethnographic study process is to understand the color-weather mapping that is meaningful for each user and will impact the design of the weather module.
To build all components in this kit, we hosted a crafting session to work together and built prototypes for ourselves. Our design concept of a modular kit allows users to only choose what they really need. We also followed this concept in this session: each team member picked the modules that she needed in the closet.
Evaluation & Iteration
In the autobiographical design process, each of our team members will take each version of our physical prototypes and use them on a daily basis for 3 days. During the 3 days, we will note down the nuances of using the prototype and share them with the team, rapidly iterate on the current design, and test new prototypes.
Following the first crafting session, each team member took the physical prototypes home and used them for 3 days. They could easily mount the prototypes to their closets because the design was customized during the crafting session. During the 3 days of usage, we took notes on interactions they had with the prototypes, issues they encountered, and new ideas they came up with.
We evaluated our design during the autobiographical design process. Combining rapid prototyping with iteration, we evaluated the usability and feasibility of the prototype in an early stage. As designer and user in the autobiographical design process, we found the system can be well adapted to our current closet situation. However, as the limitation of autobiographical design, we would need to conduct a further user study with participants outside our design team to further evaluate the product.
After several rounds of testing and iteration, we present our final design of this closet management kit through an introduction video:
The actual prototype were also showcased in the end-semester poster section at Cornell University:
In this project, we conducted 4 user research & design methods by far: background survey, contextual interview, diary study, and autobiographical design. By analyzing and synthesizing the result of these studies, we come to the following key findings:
Our target users (college students) have a very compact lifestyle related to the closet - their activity is limited in space and time. According to our background survey, 86% of their closest sizes are less than 16 square feet (1.5 square meters). One of the most frequent quotes from the background survey as well as the contextual interview is “not enough space in my closet”. Time is another important factor that limits students’ daily closet activities. From the diary study, many of the respondents mentioned that they are in a rush to change clothes, and most of the participants spent less than 3 minutes on it.
According to our studies, we found that people tended to treat their clothes and closet in a rather casual and loose manner. From our diary study, participants usually dropped their worn clothes in some temporary storage places for convenience, those places include their beds, chairs, or hooks on the wall. Also, most of the participants didn’t have a regular routine for organizing their closets or doing laundry. Instead of following routines, participants had different triggers for these activities. For example, most of the organizing activities were triggered by other clothes/closet-related activities such as after laundry, or packing for a trip; and laundry was usually triggered when people wanted to wear certain clothes but only found them inside the dirty clothes bin or when they were running low on a particular item, such as socks.
By synthesizing our qualitative user research results, we noticed that individuality played an important role in closet-related activities. Different individuals had different habits and opinions dealing with their clothes and closet. From the contextual interviews, we found that people have their own ways to deal with constraints such as the limitation of space: many interviewees utilize extra storage space such as racks, hocks, and closet layers to expand their storage space for clothes; they also had creative and personal ways to organize their closets: interviewees differ in the way that they organize their clothes, for example, some of them like hanging while others prefer folding. In our autobiographical design, participants reported a more joyful and fun closet experience after they customized the widgets and integrated them into their own contexts and habits.
This finding relates back to our literature review that the closet layout can be taken as an extended self and could express self-identity and personality. In other words, we should respect and even encourage individuals’ unique ways of dealing with their closet as long as they are comfortable with it.
Looking back to the research process, the topic of closet experience is a wicked problem since it is highly contextual and is connected with many related factors such as time, space, weather, laundry, and so on. It is almost impossible to design a one-fits-all solution to help everyone organize their closet and make everyone happy. Therefore, we chose to design this enhancement kit that facilitates users to have a more enjoyable closet experience based on their own needs.
We understand that there’s a limitation of autobiographical and this method won’t be the only method for design validation. This method is helpful to us during our rapid prototyping phase and when we have a more finalized prototype, the prototype could be used for a focus group or other user study/test that involves a larger group of people.
One of the essential findings that we addressed in this project is individuality. From the result of qualitative user research and literature review, we decided to respect and encourage individuals to discover their own unique way to deal with their closets. Users’ own way is the best way to facilitate themselves as well as to express their self-identity. Therefore, instead of creating a rigid design, we decided to open up the design opportunity to users themselves by providing a large space for customization and integration in our final design.