Neighbourhood Police Uniform Redesign
2017-2019

Background

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) invited design proposals to address the challenge of redesigning and rebranding uniforms for their neighbourhood policing unit, enhancing the comfort and performance of the garments and public perception of the officers. I collaborated with a team of eight apparel and human-centred design researchers and practitioners to submit a proposal for this project, which mapped out a plan to develop functional apparel solutions rooted in user experience research with current officers, and create uniform designs that aligned with the TPS's desired professional image.

My Role 

In this project I co-facilitated focus groups, conducted usability tests on current uniforms, thematically analyzed qualitative survey and focus group data, quantitatively analyzed survey data for theme prevalence, developed new uniform designs, created technical illustrations, drafted sewing patterns, and evaluated garment prototypes for fit and proportion.

Challenges

Uniforms are a distinct clothing category and communicative tool that play a critical role in community policing. The rebranding of the uniform included a mandate to improve fit and functionality for neighborhood officers working on bicycles in Toronto. Officers in this unit operate on bicycles through all seasons, no matter the weather; they did not have the option of changing clothing mid-shift, so garments had to meet a variety of weather-related needs in a limited number of pieces. This project also demanded the consideration of uniform styling to build positive public perceptions, reduce authoritative barriers, and promote the image of a police officer who is approachable, credible, and a respectful leader within the community. Our study used a human-centered, qualitative approach, gathering information directly from the people wearing the uniform to determine performance-optimizing clothing attributes (Watkins & Dunne, 2015) for officers working in Canada.

Limitations

The budget for this research and design was capped at $50,000, which included research, design, and prototype development of final uniform samples. The project was allocated two years to complete the research and development.

Methods

Secondary research

Existing literature was consulted to identify existing uniform innovations and gaps in user needs. 

Precedent Analysis

Existing police cycling uniform designs from across the world were reviewed.

Interview Probes

Officers wore their uniforms and brought accessories and old uniforms as probes for discussion.

Focus Groups

6 focus groups were conducted with a total of 39 officers (33 male, 6 female)

Usability Test

Officers visited the researcher to try on uniform prototypes and test functional featured in a controlled setting.

Field Test

Officers tested uniforms in field for a period of 9 months, through multiple seasons.

Design concerns were identified from focus group discussions using current and old uniforms as probes. Data was organized into four categories: functionality, fabric, safety, and (professional) image. 

Shirt deficiencies.png
Police Uniform Shirt Deficiencies for Neighbourhood Patrol (Cycling)
Copyright 2022. Not to be used without permission.
Pant deficiencies.png
Police Uniform Trouser Deficiencies for Neighbourhood Patrol (Cycling)
Copyright 2022. Not to be used without permission.
Screen Shot 2022-08-02 at 11.33.19 PM.png
Police Uniform Jacket Deficiencies for Neighbourhood Patrol (Cycling)
Copyright 2022. Not to be used without permission.
Short deficiencies.png
Police Uniform Shorts Deficiencies for Neighbourhood Patrol (Cycling)
Copyright 2022. Not to be used without permission.

Results

Officers demonstrated fit issues, functional concerns, as well as damage/wear patterns while members of the design team observed and documented the person/garment/firearm/equipment interface with photographs and field notes. Concerns focused on health/safety, performance/comfort, and image/identity and were categorized according to themes related to functionality, fabric, safety, and image. Our team developed a shirt, modular trouser (converts to shorts), new hi-vis jacket, and proposed a new garment, a softshell jacket for transitional seasons that could be attached to the hi-vis jacket for added warmth.

Shirt Design Features
Shirt Design Features

press to zoom
Softshell Jacket Design Features
Softshell Jacket Design Features

press to zoom
Hi-Vis Jacket Design Features
Hi-Vis Jacket Design Features

press to zoom
Shirt Design Features
Shirt Design Features

press to zoom
1/4
Proposed Uniform Designs
Copyright 2022. Not to be used without permission.
Final Uniform Design Prototypes
Copyright 2022. Not to be used without permission.

Impact

The research findings were incorporated into proposed designs for a polo shirt, convertible trouser with removable legs, softshell jacket, and high-visibility jacket. These were approved by the TPS in 2020 for production.

Publications

Tullio-Pow, S., Schaefer, K., Dell’Agnese, L., Chau, P.Y., Dares, J., Lee, D. and Kim, N. (in process). An officer-centric approach toward uniform renewal for neighborhood police. 

Tullio-Pow, S., Schaefer, K.,  Dell’Agnese, L., Chau, P.Y., White, T., Dares, J., Lee, D. and Kim, N., (2018). Neighbourhood Police Officers: An Assessment of Needs for Uniform Renewal. In ITAA 2018 Proceedings: Re-Imagine the Renewable. Cleveland, OH: ITAA.

Reflection

Our research identified the actual uniform-related needs for officers in this unit, including storing, laundering, and wearing the garments. Because of the new design features and recommendations for an increased number of components in a basic uniform kit, our final report and design proposal more than doubled the previous cost of a kit. With cheaper mass-produced options (albeit with poorer functional properties) readily available, we were concerned that the client would not recognize the scope of the value in our design solutions and the impact that these designs would make on the officers’ performance and wellbeing. While we saw the value in the design solutions, we were acutely aware that others may need to be guided to see things from our perspective. To do this, we were mindful to present our research approach, findings, and solutions in a way that clearly and strongly connected the actual user needs and performance concerns to our design recommendations. Organizing our findings into the four themes of functionality, fabric, safety, and image allowed us to ensure that we presented solutions that were relatable and practical, which justified the need – and budget – for a significant change in uniform design.