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Project Transfer

Fighting the perils of commuting during cold and flu season

It’s no secret that trains and buses are full of germs. Project Transfer was a gravitytank effort to better understand the spread of sickness and prototype solutions for disease prevention in an urban context. The project represents a glimpse into the way we integrate research, strategy, and design to deliver compelling consumer offerings. What started as a mere idea has since become a real product, the Germinator jacket, sold online through Betabrand.


Ten and a half billion trips are made on public transit in the US each year1 and this number is growing at a record rate. With more people filling a small enclosed space, passengers commonly find themselves on crowded trains and buses with someone who has a cold or flu. gravitytank set out to understand the science behind the spread of disease, as well as the behaviors and motivations of health-conscious transit riders through interviews, observations, shadowing, and hashtagging.





Featured Outcomes

Research insights about public health on public transit
Personal apparel and transit infrastructure concepts
A crowdfunded product, the Germinator Jacket


Our research showed that education is not the problem. Transit riders know they are at risk of getting sick on crowded trains and buses, and they know the etiquette around sneezing or coughing in public. However, even the most conscientious individuals can find it difficult to contain their germs. We hear so much about healthy hygiene habits, but in one of the situations where it matters most—a crowded rush hour train—there’s very little we can actually do to protect ourselves or others.

Armed with an understanding of how germs spread and the tactics that commuters employ to avoid them, we prototyped and ultimately developed two separate solutions around the key levers of people and infrastructure. The first solution was a consumer product line, Straphanger, that subtly incorporated hacks we saw riders implementing like using a scarf as a facemask and grabbing poles with one’s jacket cuff. The second was a set of considerations for the future of transit system design based on the principle of reducing contact with the environment.


Straphanger was a line of transit apparel and accessories concepts designed for the urban commuter. These concepts included a backpack that flipped around to an individual's front side to take up less space in crowded trains, a scarf that protected people against germs through a stylish form, and a jacket with a built-in transit pass holder and antimicrobial elbow patches for sneezing. Straphanger built on momentum around lifestyle brands and increasing public transit use to introduce a completely new product category to the apparel market: transit gear.


Based on our knowledge that disease spreads through touch and proximity, gravitytank also developed a set of solutions around the transit system itself. Rather than calling for new self-cleaning stations or vehicles made of antimicrobial materials, we suggested modifications to the current system that would empower riders to protect themselves. From crowd-level indicators to hanging leaners, our solutions help riders get one step closer to a “no-touch ride.”


To our delight, Straphanger resonated with the public so well that we were met with a wave of news articles. We received coverage from Fast Company, the Atlantic, Gizmodo, New York Observer, Brooklyn Magazine, PSFK, and The Bold Italic. After a few months, Betabrand contacted us to voice interest in making Straphanger a real jacket. Our team was ecstatic and worked with Betabrand to develop production prototypes and market the jacket. We renamed our concept the Germinator, but retained many of the original key features, such as the antimicrobial, washable sleeve cuffs, as well as a hidden forearm pocket for riders to put their transportation pass in. To get Germinator off the ground, Betabrand launched it as a trial item on its website. After successfully selling enough jackets within the trial's first month, Germinator became a regular item that can be bought online today.


In less than a year, gravitytank delivered a product to the market based on identifying a common need for improved health among commuters. Our team believes that Germinator does not mark the end of Project Transfer, but opens up a world of possible products, services, and experiences that seek to help people in their everyday lives. We put together a video to tell the story of the project in its entirety. In the video, you will find strategist Amy Seng and industrial designer Nadeem Haidary speaking to the everyday inspirations behind the jacket and modeling of its features. True to form, our team sought to make the entire process tangible, iterative, and fun. Have a look.

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