I’ve bin thinking

Simon Ellis | December 19, 2018

Time to read: 10 mins

An Office Manager goes into the office kitchen and sees, once again, that the lid on the office kitchen bin is open again. They are incandescent with rage. Well, mildly frustrated at least: it’s the height of summer and there are flies buzzing around the waste. It makes the kitchen smell and it looks gross.

“Why can’t people just close the bloody bin lid?”

How do they solve the problem?

“What we need is a poster!” They determine. Said poster is hastily run off and posted above the bin:


The very next day, the office manager goes back into the kitchen to find… the bin lid is open again. Mild frustration is giving over to, yes, the beginnings of a right strop.

A new poster goes up:


“Underlining ‘closed’ was a master stroke,” they think to themselves as they stride back to their office, secure in the knowledge they will see a change in behaviour.

You can imagine their outrage then, when next morning the bin lid’s silent openness screams defiance once again.

“We need to escalate!”


Later that day, the office manager can’t help but think people are looking at them oddly. People aren’t quite as chatty as normal. But the bin lid remains stubbornly not-closed.

“Right, a different approach is needed. I’ll try to win them over with humour. And the power of Comic Sans.”



“Right then, time for the big guns.”


“BOOM! And drop the mike. Nailed it.”

To their moot satisfaction, this one did have an effect. The bin was still open, but it was entirely empty – everyone had been so grossed out they stopped using the kitchen and started using the open bins next to their desks instead.


At this point a friendly colleague took the office manager aside. “This bin thing is really getting to you isn’t it? Have you thought about using a designer?”

“A Designer??!?!” They spit. And then after a brief pause to wipe the dribble of coffee from their chin, “OK, whatever quackery you suggest, I’ll give it a go.”

The next day the office manager sits down with this ‘Designer’ person. “Right,” they say, “I need a poster. It’s about this bin…”

“Ah yes, I heard,” the designer interjects gently. “Shall we go and sit in the kitchen for a while?”

“Quackery!” The office manager replies, but goes along for the laugh.

So they take a seat in the corner of the kitchen and bide their time. A few moments later a young intern comes in, peels the top off some Swedish-named pot of millennial wholesomeness, drops it in the bin…and closes the lid. As she heads off to eat, the office manager shares a wry glance with the designer – maybe they have solved the problem afterall, without the need for ‘design-ey stuff’. But then…

…with a soft ‘click’ the lid pops open again.

“You don’t need a poster,” said the Designer. “You need a new bin.”

There are a few morals tucked away in this daft little tale.

The first is, before you go headlong towards a ‘solution’, be sure you know what problem it is that you’re trying to solve. Initial thoughts of the office manager were toward blame – a common human reaction – and consequently, decided too early that the solution was one of behavioural change.

Second, if you’re dealing with the behaviour of people, deal with reality – with human nature. Don’t assume bad intent; find out what is driving the behaviours you seek to change. Let’s assume that the bin was in perfect working order. In that case, why would the poster fail? Were the posters even seen?

And thirdly, get problem solvers in early. If you invite a creative to come in only after you’ve decided on the solution, you’ve already missed out on a wealth of potentially more effective alternatives, and more than likely opportunities for innovation and deeper, more meaningful change. For instance, looking into this small problem might have broadened the scope to consider how waste is dealt with throughout the business. Perhaps, if the staff were given a range of recycling options they’d be more invested in what they did with their rubbish.

Design is taught as a fancy thing — a nice to have, the icing on the cake — and unfortunately that persists in attitudes towards the field in adult, business life. As a result, investment in design is often sporadic, when it’s already been decided what is needed, and sadly the true deep benefits of design are not enjoyed.

If you really want to treat your business to design, make it available to everyone, every day.


Design Thinking is where empathy drives strategy through human understanding. That’s why we love it so much. I hope you’ve found this article fun and a good read.

All the best and thanks for reading. Please like and share!

Si Ellis