Design Research: A Case Study in Asking the Right (and Wrong) Questions, The Summer Rain Shower System, and the Japanese Bucket Bath

Greg Tew

Summer Rain -CAUS 2016_Page_2Climate change and the depletion of natural resources, notably fresh water, are lifestyle issues that can be mediated with design innovation. But, innovation is by definition, change, and people resist change unless it is exciting or an obvious improvement to the life they are living. So, to address climate change, designers need to devise new ways of doing the things we do that elevate our quality of life while minimizing the environmental impact of our actions.

Showering is an aspect of our lives that is greatly enjoyed, but also consumes large quantities of energy and potable water. In 2013, I led a research team that asked the question: can we design a more enjoyable, healthy, and efficient way of showering?

The result was The Summer Rain Shower System. It is a significant improvement in showering, saving 50% of water and energy, but in hind sight, it’s now clear we fell far short of the potential savings in water and energy by asking the wrong research question. Instead of designing a better way to shower, we should have explored a better way to clean one’s body.

In this presentation I will explain The Summer Rain Shower System. Then using the improved research question, I will show how 4.0 billion gallons of hot water and 78.9 million dollars of water, sewer and energy can be saved every day in the United States if we collectively switched from showering to the traditional Japanese bucket bath for personal cleanliness. The Japanese Bath – washing with a small bucket of water and wash cloth while sitting on a stool – is arguably more relaxing, is at least as effective for cleaning, and saves more than 90% of the water and energy used in the typical shower today.


Tew HeadshotGreg Tew is an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture + Design and multiple AIA Honor Award winning architect with a broad base of experience ranging from town and city planning down to the scale of objects including work for Artemide, a premier manufacturer of contemporary lighting based in Milan, Italy. Greg is also an award-winning educator and has presented his research to diverse academic audiences representing architecture, health care and economics. His work is published in prestigious international design and business publications including: DETAIL: Zeitschrift fur Architektur, l’architecture d’aujourd’ hui, Architectural Review, Abitare, and The Wall Street Journal.