The LAB: Innovating Toilet Paper with Attribute Dependency (July 2012)

by | Jul 30, 2012 | Creativity Tools, Technology, The Wheel | 0 comments

When Joseph Gayetty invented commercially available toilet paper in 1857, he called it “The greatest necessity of the age!” Of course, he wasn’t exaggerating. The use of paper for toileting dates back to the 6th century AD. Gayetty’s Medicated Paper was sold in packages of flat sheets, watermarked with the inventor’s name. Since then, many companies have tried to innovate this product. Many innovations are simple gag gifts while others are quite useful.

For this month’s LAB, let’s apply the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., to create new concepts for toilet paper. S.I.T. is a collection of thinking tools, principles, facilitation methods, and organizational structures to help companies innovate products, processes, and services. We will use the Attribute Dependency Technique, one of five in S.I.T..

Attribute Dependency differs from the templates in that it uses attributes (variables) of the situation rather than components. Start with an attribute list, then construct a matrix of these, pairing each against the others. Each cell represents a potential dependency (or potential break in an existing dependency) that forms a Virtual Product. Using Function Follows Form, we work backwards and envision a potential benefit or problem that this hypothetical solution solves.

We start with a list of attributes: internal (those related to the product) and external (those related to the environment immediately around the product – not within the manufacturer’s control).


  1. number of plys
  2. coarseness of ply
  3. shape of ply
  4. size of ply
  5. number sheets per roll
  6. color
  7. temperature
  8. moisture content


  1. age of user
  2. medical condition of user
  3. mood of user
  4. frequency of user

Here are some concepts that might emerge from these attributes.

1. Double Sided Wipe: The coarseness of the toilet paper is different on one side than the other. One side is rougher while the other is smooth. Perhaps the user might use one side intially then switch to the other for a more convenient and functional experience.

2. Diagnostic TP: The color of the paper changes depending on the medical condition of the user. This might be useful to detect certain medical conditions. Signs of intestinal cancer or other conditions such as hemorrhoids might trigger an indicator on the toilet paper.

3. Round and Round: The shape of the paper varies with age of the user. Toilet paper sheets tend to be square probably because it is easier to manufacture. Why not have different shapes for different uses? Perhaps a round or oval sheet might let the user bunch up the toilet paper in a way that makes the job easier. Perhaps different shapes would make it easier to dispense from a roller or other device. Perhaps kids might like a fun-shaped toilet paper for potty training to make the experience less frightening.

4. Standard Pull: The number of plys varies with the length of the amount pulled. Imagine a toilet paper roll where all the sheets have two plys (like most toilet paper), but at every twentieth sheet, the next five sheets have four plys. The idea is to create a standard amount of toilet paper used “per job” – twenty sheets of thin paper followed by five sheets of thick paper. These last five sheets might be color coded so you know where to tear of the standard pull. The heavier paper is used for the heaviest part of the job. This product would cost less while while providing the more premium poduct just when and where it is needed. It would encourage people to use less toilet paper making it more environmentally friendly.