Bureaucracy

Salt licked? by Dan

Salt shakers. Image from Daily MailSalt shakers. Image from Daily Mail UPDATE: See the detailed response below from Peter of Gateshead Council, which clarifies, corrects and expands upon some of the spin given by the Mail articles. The new shakers were supplied to the chip shop staff for use behind the counter: "Our main concern was around the amount of salt put on by staff seasoning food on behalf of customers before wrapping it up... Our observations... confirmed that customers were receiving about half of the recommended daily intake of salt in this way. We piloted some reduced hole versions with local chip shops who all found that none of their customers complained about the reduced saltiness."

A number of councils in England have given fish & chip shops replacement salt shakers with fewer holes - from the Daily Mail:

Research has suggested that slashing the holes from the traditional 17 to five could cut the amount people sprinkle on their food by more than half.

And so at least six councils have ordered five-hole shakers – at taxpayers’ expense – and begun giving them away to chip shops and takeaways in their areas. Leading the way has been Gateshead Council, which spent 15 days researching the subject of salty takeaways before declaring the new five-hole cellars the solution.

Officers collected information from businesses, obtained samples of fish and chips, measured salt content and ‘carried out experiments to determine how the problem of excessive salt being dispensed could be overcome by design’. They decided that the five-hole pots would reduce the amount of salt being used by more than 60 per cent yet give a ‘visually acceptable sprinkling’ that would satisfy the customer.

OK. This is interesting. This is where the unit bias, defaults, libertarian paternalism and industrial design come together, in the mundanity of everyday interaction. It's Brian Wansink's 'mindless margin' being employed strategically, politically - and just look at the reaction it's got from the public (and from Littlejohn). A BBC story about a similar initiative in Norfolk also gives us the industry view:

A spokesman for the National Federation of Fish Friers called the scheme a "gimmick" and said customers would just shake the containers more.

Graham Adderson, 62, who owns the Downham Fryer, in Downham Market, said: "I think the scheme is hilarious. If you want to put salt on your fish and chips and there are only four holes, you're just going to spend longer putting more on."

I'm assuming Gateshead Council's research took account of this effect, although there are so many ways that users' habits could have been formed through prior experience that this 'solution' won't apply to all users. There might be some customers who always put more salt on, before even tasting their food. There might be people who almost always think the fish & chips they get are too heavily salted anyway - plenty of people, anecdotally at least, used to buy Smith's Salt 'n' Shake and not use the salt at all.

And there are probably plenty of people who will, indeed, end up consuming less salt, because of the heuristic of "hold salt shaker over food for n seconds" built up over many years of experience.

Overall: I actually quite like this idea: it's clever, simple, and non-intrusive, but I can see how the interpretation, the framing, is crucial. Clearly, when presented in the way that the councils media have done here (as a government programme to eliminate customer choice, and force us all down the road decided by health bureaucrats), the initiative's likely to elicit an angry reaction from a public sick of a "nanny state" interfering in every area of our lives. Politicians jumping on the Nudge bandwagon need to be very, very careful that this isn't the way their initiatives are perceived and portrayed by the press (and many of them will be, of course): it needs to be very, very clear how each such measure actually benefits the public, and that message needs to be given extremely persuasively.

Final thought: Many cafés, canteens and so on have used sachets of salt, that customers apply themselves, for many years. The decision made by the manufacturers about the size of these portions is a major determinant of how much salt is used, because of the unit bias (people assume that one portion is the 'right' amount), and, just as with washing machine detergent, manipulation of this portion size could well be used as part of a strategy to influence the quantity used by customers. But would a similar salt sachet strategy (perhaps driven by manufacturers rather than councils) have provoked similar reactions? I'm not sure that it would. 'Nanny manufacturer' is less despised than 'nanny state', I think, certainly in the UK.

What do you think?

How to fit a normal bulb in a BC3 fitting and save £10 per bulb by Dan

BC3 and 2-pin bayonet fitting comparedStandard 2-pin bayonet cap (left) and 3-pin bayonet cap BC3 (right) fittings compared

Summary for mystified international readers: In the UK new houses/flats must, by law, have a number of light fittings which will 'not accept incandescent filament bulbs' (a 'green' idea). This has led to the development of a proprietary, arbitrary format of compact fluorescent bulb, the BC3, which costs a lot more than standard compact fluorescents, is difficult to obtain, and about which the public generally doesn't know much (yet). If you're so minded, it's not hard to modify the fitting and save money.

A lot of visitors have found this blog recently via searching for information on the MEM BC3 3-pin bayonet compact fluorescent bulbs, where to get them, and why they're so expensive. The main posts here discussing them, with background to what it's all about, are A bright idea? and some more thoughts - and it's readers' comments which are the really interesting part of both posts.

There are so many stories of frustration there, of people trying to 'do their bit' for the environment, trying to fit better CFLs in their homes, and finding that instead of instead of the subsidised or even free standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs available all over the place in a variety of improved designs, styles and quality, they're locked in to having to pay 10 or 15 times as much for a BC3 bulb, and order online, simply because the manufacturer has a monopoly, and does not seem to supply the bulbs to normal DIY or hardware stores.

Frankly, the system is appalling, an example of exactly how not to design for sustainable behaviour. It's a great 'format lock-in' case study for my research, but a pretty pathetic attempt to 'design out' the 'risk' of the public retro-fitting incandescent bulbs in new homes. This is the heavy-handed side of the legislation-ecodesign nexus, and it's clearly not the way forward. Trust the UK to have pushed ahead with it without any thought of user experience. One of the most egregious aspects for me is the way that Eaton's MEMLITE BC3 promotional material presents users with, effectively, a false dichotomy between the 'energy saving BC3' and the energy-hungry GLS incandescent filament tungsten bulbs, as if these are the only two options available. There is no mention at all of standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs which have all the advantages of the BC3 with none of the disadvantages. The adoption of CFLs has been, I would argue, in large part because they are widely available as drop-in replacements for standard 2-pin bayonet (or Edison screw) bulbs. If they'd all required special fittings, very few people would have bought them.

Anyway, if you don't fancy swapping your BC3 fittings for standard 2-pin bayonet ones (which is cheap but would(?) presumably make your home non-compliant with part L of the building regulations - any knowledgeable readers able to clarify this?), it isn't actually too difficult to get a 2-pin bulb to fit acceptably. You will need a pair of pliers, ideally thinner/longer-nosed than the ones in my photos. I should warn you to TURN OFF THE ELECTRICITY FIRST. Unless you're absolutely sure that someone else won't walk in and flip the light switch, don't rely on just turning this off. Turn it all off at the main switch for the house.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie and fittingStandard 2-pin BC Philips Genie and fitting

Here (above) is a Philips Genie 11W 2-pin bayonet CFL. It fits properly into a 2-pin bayonet fitting. When you try to fit it into the BC3 fitting (below), one of the pins will go into one of the J-slots OK, but due to the offset of the other slots, the other pin won't go in. Ignore the third slot.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fittingStandard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fitting

But if you look carefully at how the non-fitting pin lines up with the slot (below), you can see that the bottom end of the slot, i.e. where the pin would sit if it could be got into the top of the J, is (just) to the left of the pin. (See the line I scratched on the fitting.) That is, if you could get it there, it would still sit in place without immediately falling out.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fitting

So, with the pliers (making sure the electricity really is off), bend the edge of the non-fitting slot (the inside edge of the J) inwards and fold it back on itself, squeezing it as tight as you can (below two photos):

Bending BC3 fitting with pliers Bending BC3 fitting with pliers

Now try the 2-pin bayonet bulb again (below) - it should fit OK, with a bit of wobbling perhaps. One pin should fit under the bit you just bent; the other should butt up against the inside corner of the J on the other side. It's not perfect, but the friction there is enough to hold the bulb in place OK.

Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting

Switch on the electricity again, and there you have it: any standard 2-pin bayonet bulb, working, in a BC3 fitting (below). Given the amount of free CFLs handed out by various organisations, you could probably replace all the BC3 bulbs in your house for zero cost, once they come to the end of their lives.

Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting

Disclaimer: I can't accept any responsibility for injuries, non-compliance with building regs, incidental damage, etc. The above is just a proof of concept, etc. Have fun.

Paper Rights Management by Dan

Springer delivery noteSpringer delivery note

This delivery note from Springer informs me that the book I've bought "must not be resold". Good luck with that. So have I bought it or not? Or have I bought a licence to read it? What if I give it away?

Many companies would love to be able to control what users can do with things they buy, or with information after someone's learned it. We know that, and we know that, fundamentally, it's not going to work. You can try and shape behaviour, to guide users into helping themselves, but nonsense such "end-user licence agreements" for books has no mechanism of enforcement, and offers no benefit to the reader if he/she obeys it anyway.

How valid, legally, are any of these "post-purchase conditions", anyway? Surely the first-sale doctrine or its equivalents allow users to re-sell items they buy with impunity?

(Anti-)public seating roundup by Dan Lockton

Photo by Ville Tikkanen
Single-occupancy benches in Helsinki. Photo by Ville Tikkanen Ville Tikkanen of Salient Feature points us to the "asocial design" of these single-person benches installed in Helsinki, Finland. In true Jan Chipchase style, he invites us to think about the affordances offered:

As you can see, the benches are located a few meters away from each other and staring at the same direction. What kind of sociality do particular product and service features afford and what not?

Comments on Ville's photo on Flickr make it clear that preventing the homeless lying down is seen as one of the reasons behind the design (as we've seen in so many other cases).

Bench in Cornmarket, Oxford
The street finds its own uses for things. Photo from Stephanie Jenkins

Ted Dewan - the man behind Oxford's intriguing Roadwitch project, which I will get round to covering at some point - pointed me to a fantastic photo of the vehemently anti-user seating in Oxford's Cornmarket Street, which was covered on the blog last year. When I saw the seating, no-one was using it (not surprising, though to be fair, it was raining), but the above photo demonstrates very clearly what a pathetic conceit the attempt to restrict users' sitting down was.

As Ted puts it, these are:

The world's most expensive, ugly, and deliberately uncomfortable benches... Still, people have managed to figure out how to sit on them, although not the way the 'designers' expected. They might as well have written "Oxford wishes you would kindly piss off" on the pavement.

And indeed they were expensive - the set of 8 benches cost £240,000:

Benches in Oxford's Cornmarket Street will now cost taxpayers £240,000 - and many have been designed to discourage people from sitting on them for a long time... the bill for the benches - dubbed "tombstones" by former Lord Mayor of Oxford Gill Sanders -- has hit £240,000.

...

The seats, made of granite, timber and stainless steel, are due to be unveiled next week but shoppers wanting to take the weight off their feet could be disappointed, because they will only be able to sit properly on 24 of the 64 seats. There is a space for a wheelchair in each of the eight blocks, while the other 32 seats are curved and are only meant to be "perched" on for a short time... Mr Cook [Oxford City planning] said the public backed the design when consultation took place two years ago. He added: "There's method in our madness. We did not want to provide clear, long benches both sides because we did not want drunks lying across them."

But a city guide said the council had forgotten the purpose of seating. Jane Curran, 56... said: "When people see these seats and how much they cost, they are going to be amazed.

"They look like an interesting design, but seats are for people to sit on... the real function of a seat has been forgotten."

Mrs Sanders, city councillor for Littlemore, said: "I said time and again that the council should rethink the design, because I don't think it's appropriate for Cornmarket. People who need a rest if they're carrying heavy shopping need to be able to sit down. If they can't sit on half the seats it's an incredible waste of money."

David Robertson, the county executive member for transport, said: "They have been designed so that the homeless will not be able to use them as a bed for the night."

Bench by Matthew Hincman
Matthew Hincman's 'bench object' installed at Jamaica Pond, Boston, Mass. Photo from WBUR website

Following last week's post on the 'Lean Seat', John Curran let me know about the 'bench object' installation by sculptor Matthew Hincman. This was installed in a Boston park without any permission from the authorities, removed and then reinstated (for a while, at least) after the Boston Arts Commission and Parks Commission were impressed by the craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and safety of the piece.

While this is probably not Hincman's intention, the deliberately 'unsittable' nature of the piece is not too much beyond some of the thinking we've seen displayed with real benches.

Photo of Exeter St David's Station by Elsie esq.
Exeter St Davids station - photo by Elsie esq.

In a similar vein to the Heathrow Terminal 5 deliberate lack of-seats except in overpriced cafés, Mags L Halliday also told me about what's recently happened at Exeter St Davids, her local mainline railway station:

There are no longer any indoor seats available without having to sit in the café, and the toilets are beyond the ticket barrier. So if you're there waiting for someone off a late train, after the cafe has closed, you can only sit outside the building, and have no access to the toilet facilities (unless a ticket inspector on the barrier feels kind). ... [First Great Western] are currently doing their best to discourage people from just hanging around waiting at Exeter St Davids. The recent introduction of barriers there (due to massive amounts of fare dodging on the local trains) has created a simply awful space. ... If you take a look at the stats, FGW has lost over 5% points for customer satisfaction with their facilities in the last 6 months - I wonder why!

Waiting outdoors for late-night trains, with the cold wind howling through the station, is never pleasant anywhere, but I seem to remember St Davids being especially windy (south-south-west to north-north-east orientation). This kind of tactic (removing seats) might not be deliberate, but if it isn't, it demonstrates a real lack of customer insight or appreciation. Neither reason is admirable.

UPDATE: Mags has posted photos (slideshow) of the recent changes at Exeter St Davids, along with notes - which also show other poor thinking by First Great Western, alongside the obvious removal-of-seating:


Click to see more notes

This is the only seating freely available at Exeter St Davids if you do not have a ticket (i.e. if you are waiting for someone). Note that one of the two benches is delightfully occupied.


Click to see more notes

Exeter St David's no longer has any freely accessible indoor seating. This is the view of the increasingly encroached concourse area where you can wait for people. The only toilets are beyond the barriers.


Click to see more notes

Having walked into the main concourse, you have to turn 180 degrees in order to see the departures screen, then 180 degrees back to go through the gates.

What an attractive meeting point!

The right to click by Dan Lockton

English Heritage, officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, and funded by the taxpayer and by visitors to some of its properties, does a great deal of very good work in widening public appreciation of, and engagement with, history and the country's heritage. But its ViewFinder image gallery website* sadly falls into the trap of trying to restrict public engagement rather than make it easy. Yes, someone specified the old 'right click disabled' policy:

English Heritage Viewfinder: right-click disabled
Screenshots of this page, launched from this page.

Now, the image in question - here's a direct link - which happens to be an engraving of the former Datchet bridge**, in 1840 according to this page (with a colour image) is, even taking English Heritage's "1860-1922" suggested date range, surely out of copyright, so presumably there cannot be any 'legal' question over 'letting' people save a copy (which is easiest to do by right-clicking on the most common operating systems and browsers). Using Javascript to remove the browser toolbars and menus also hides the ability to print the image for most users, presumably also deliberately.

Yes, of course, many (most?) readers of this post will know how to get around the no-right-click architecture of control, but you're reading a technology blog; think of whom the site is presumably aimed at. It is supposed to be a resource to encourage public engagement with history and heritage. Most users will be computer-literate enough to know how to search and probably familiar with right-clicking, but not to mess round with selectively disabling Javascript. Why should they have to? Incidentally, if you do disable Javascript entirely, you can't even view an enlarged image at all:

English Heritage Viewfinder

What actual use to the public, other than for momentary on-screen interest, is a photo archive website where nothing can be 'done' with the images? What is a child doing a local history project supposed to do? Order a print at £18.80 for each photo and then scan it in? Does English Heritage really think that the ability for someone to save or print or e-mail a low-resolution 72 dpi image is going to devalue or compete with the organisation in some way?

It's ridiculous: such a short-sighted, narrow-mindset policy removes a significant proportion of the usefulness of the site. I don't know whether the site developer did this with or without English Heritage's instruction or cognizance (and it was in 2002, so perhaps different thinking would apply today), but it seems that no-one bothered to think through what an actual user might want to get from interacting with the site.

In fact, regardless of the fact that this particular image (as with many others on the site) is in the public domain, even the images which are still under copyright (or "© English Heritage.NMR" as the site puts it, NMR being the National Monuments Record) should, of course, be freely downloadable, printable, and do-whatever-you-want-able. Their acquisition, preservation and cataloguing were paid for by the public, and they should all be available as widely, and easily, as possible. As it is, I would call the website a waste of public money, since it does not appear to offer what most intended users would expect and need.

Still, at least the site's not one giant bundle of Flash. That would make it marginally more hassle to extract the images.

*Partially funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and thus not entirely directly taxpayer-funded, unless one regards the National Lottery as an extra tax on the hopeful and desperate, which some commentators would. **Almost exactly the spot where I've been testing a prototype radio-controlled toy for a client this very afternoon, in fact, though the bridge is long gone.

Ticket off (reprise) by Dan Lockton

Last year we looked at the way that the pricing structure of no-change-given ticket machines is often - apparently - designed to lead to overpayment, and I posed the question of whether councils/car park operators actually draw up their budget based on a significant proportion of customers overpaying. Parking ticket machine in Totnes, Devon

Parking ticket machine in Totnes, DevonParking ticket machine in Totnes, Devon

I'm still no closer to answering that last question, but I was reminded again of this 'the house always wins' idea last week by this ticket machine (above) in Totnes, Devon. Look at the price intervals: 25p, 90p, £1.70, £2.55, £4.20, £5.75 - those are some rather odd figures. The price jumps - 65p, 80p, 85p, £1.65 and £1.55 - are odd in themselves, but given that the machine does not give change, it's a fairly safe bet that,unless they carry a lot of change, many people parking for 1 hour will pay £1.00 rather than 90p, many 2 hour customers will pay £2 instead of £1.70, and many 3 hour customers will pay some amount larger than the very awkward £2.55. Why not £2.50? What's the logic behind that extra 5p if not to force overpayment by people not carrying a spare fivepence?

One car park visitor was clearly sufficiently irritated to label the machine with exactly what he or she thought of the pricing policy (third photo above)!

Dublin Bus ticket details at Dublin Airport

An interesting case: Dublin Bus

One detail which was thrown up in the comments last time by Undulattice is that at least one no-change-given policy, that of Dublin Bus, is accompanied by the ability to get a refund if you really want, by taking your receipt to Dublin Bus's headquarters (which are at least located in a fairly prominent place in the city centre), as explained on signs such as the above (photographed at Dublin Airport earlier this year):

Dublin Bus have operated an ‘Exact Fare - No Change’ policy for years now. In the case of over-payment, they issue a ticket receipt which can be exchanged at Dublin Bus HQ. Oh, and they don’t accept notes either!

and Damien added this:

I can’t remember which one, but there was a charity in Dublin that started collecting the Bus refund receipts and cashing them as donations. Great idea.

The Jack and Jill Children's Foundation, St Francis Hospice and Barnardos are among the charities actively asking for the receipts - as Barnardos says:

Did it ever occur to you that you are throwing away real money – and lots of it!

As much as €750,000 a year is going into rubbish bins across the county!!

In 2004 there were over 150 million passenger journeys on Dublin Bus routes right across the city. If ONLY 1% of those journeys were over–paid by 5c that’s a total of €750,000 that often ends up in the bins!

This forum discussion from 2004 suggests (how accurately, I don't know) that Dublin Bus has more than €9 million in unreturned change. As with the car parking overpayments, how do accounting standards deal with this kind of overpayment arrangement? Can budgets be drawn up based on projections of massive overpayments along these lines? Are there businesses (bus companies, car parks, etc) that are only profitable because of the scale of overpayment? Some forum posts suggest that drivers may pocket and redeem a lot of the receipts themselves, which may further complicate the picture further.

The charity initiatives are a fascinating way to 'fight the system' and achieve some good - a mechanism for recovering overpayment en masse - and it does make me wonder just how much overpayment Transport for London's bus ticket machines receive each year, and how that money is accounted for.

A different strategy

Back to parking ticket machines, Carrie McLaren of the brilliant Stay Free! commented that:

...in New York, like most major cities in the US, parking meters are priced way below their market value - so “the house always wins” claim wouldn’t apply here. Anyone able to find a metered spot is getting a real bargain, even if they don’t have the right change.

This is an interesting strategy, very different to that used by most car parking operations in the UK. Restricting the number of spaces and not deliberately overcharging for them seems to be clearly targeted at discouraging drivers from even thinking of driving into the city, while not ripping off those who need to do so. This generally does not happen in the UK, where parking charges (and fines) are a major revenue source for councils and private operators, and while high charges (and forcing overpayment) may pay lip-service to 'discouraging traffic', the still-full car parks would tend to show up that this does not work. I'll look further at this, and 'architecture of control' strategies for parking, in a future post.

Anti-user seating in Oxford by Dan Lockton

Anti-user seating in Oxford
Anti-user seating in Oxford
Anti-user seating in Oxford
Anti-user seating in Oxford
Top two photos: A bench on Cornmarket Street, Oxford; Lower two photos: A bus stop seat perch on Castle Street. While from a very narrow specification point-of-view 'they do their job', what utter contempt for users these two seating examples demonstrate! The benches on Cornmarket Street are clearly intended to prevent anyone lying down on them (armrests, small radius of curvature) or indeed sitting for very long at all in comfort (height off the ground, vertical backrest, small radius of curvature). Why? Why despise the public so much?

The designer must have been given a specification requiring all the above features: I can't believe they just arose out of aesthetic or manufacturing considerations. That bench has been engineered to restrict, control and discipline users. Was it really necessary? Does forcing the homeless to lie on the ground instead, or preventing people sitting comfortably and watching the world go by really 'solve' any problems?

The bus stop perch - in this particular location intended at least partially for Park & Ride users - is perhaps even worse. It's angled such that a young child couldn't easily sit on it without sliding off. An adult has to stretch out his or her legs just to perch. A parent couldn't sit next to a young child. A shopper would have to put down his or her bags on the ground, since they'd slide off the perch. My girlfriend and I couldn't rest our drinks on the bench next to us; we had to put them on the ground. OK, that's not much of a hardship, but it's just frustrating design, intended to serve objectives other than the users' benefit or convenience.

You wouldn't want to wait any longer than necessary at that bus stop. If you were making the decision about whether to drive into Oxford or take the bus to go shopping (assuming cycling not to be an option for this) the unattractiveness of perching at an angle for 15 minutes on that mean strip of perforated sheet would begin to weigh heavily against the public transport option. Sure, you might end up sitting in your car in heavy traffic for 15 minutes, but it's your car. The seats are comfortable, it's warm, and you can shape and adjust the environment to suit you.

I don't want to go off on one here about solving (or easing) Britain's transport problems, but I do feel that this kind of situation embodies some of the very important issues. By making bus users feel unwanted - despised even - you don't enhance the image or desirability of the mode of travel. Little details such as this can make a huge difference to perceptions. The buses themselves are great, but if the experience of using the service seems to demonstrate contempt for the user, the user may develop contempt for the service.

Japan may have some of the most explicitly user-unfriendly public benches we've come across so far, but there's also something rather disturbing about the sheer blandness of the bench implementations shown above. Their starkness embodies the thinking behind the design: all possible interaction methods to be reduced down to one sole, pre-defined utility function, with the user not permitted to do anything outside that intentionally myopic definition.

(Incidentally, to be fair, there were some lower seats with horizontal platforms on the other side of the bench in Cornmarket Street. They still had armrests to prevent lying down (or even sitting close to someone), but were not as awful as the curved ones.)

West Coast code meets Far East code by Dan Lockton

Thanks to Mr Person at Text Savvy, I've just learned that this blog is blocked in China:



Images from the Great Firewall of China test.

I don't know if that's good or bad. From a censorship point of view, it's bad, but it's certainly interesting to be able to say that the blog's blocked in China, even if it's just for a rather prosaic reason (using Wordpress?) as Mr Person suggests, and not the incendiary demagoguery contained within these posts and comments.

(Additionally interesting is that as the whole of danlockton.co.uk seems to be blocked, I might not have any more of my portfolio items appearing on Chinese design sites. One site even had me listed alongside Karim Rashid for a while, which was odd and flattering, perhaps, though I don't think he'll be losing sleep over it!)

37signals: Control vs Communication by Dan Lockton

Johan Strandell kindly lets me know about a discussion of 'Control vs Communication' at 37signals' Signal vs Noise:

Every once in a while we get an email from a customer asking about how permissions work with our products. They’re almost always asking how to prevent someone from doing something. “How do we prevent someone from posting a message or adding a to-do or downloading a file? How can we make our project site read only except for a select few?”

...

Simply communicating with people about your expectations of their behavior is often the simplest and most effective solution. It’s respectful, it’s kind, it’s fair. And if someone does something you didn’t want them to do just remind them politely that they weren’t supposed to do that. They’ll almost always get it the second time.

[N]ext time you are looking for more control, consider more communication. It may surprise you.

While the specific context of the discussion is setting permissions, etc, in the Basecamp collaboration software, some of the comments expand the scope to the idea of control and trust within organisations and in society generally - e.g. Neil Wilson comments:

Everybody always wants to try and control behaviour via technical means when by far the most powerful mechanism is via social means.

Friday quote: Fashion & convention by Dan Lockton

All heading the same way L.J.K. Setright, the late motoring writer and commentator, self-taught mechanical engineer and all-round Renaissance Man, once wrote:

Fashion is a terrible fetter; convention, since it lasts longer, is even worse.

This was in an issue of Car, when it was still any good.

Setright wrote it in reference to car design, and the lack of progress thereof, but I think we can all see how applicable it is to many fields of endeavour, not just in technology but in society also. We should be very wary when fashions become conventions - or at least we should think them through before they become norms. And we should always leave ourselves a way out. (I've mentioned this in a few contexts before, perhaps with a little hyperbole.)

What almost became a norm - DRM'd music - is now apparently on the way out. DRM was a fashion, not a convention: still a fetter, but one which can ultimately be shaken off, as it should be.

The great thing about fashions, of course, is that they can be talked into existence, and talked out of existence too. Fashions are not architecture.

Some more architectures of control for traffic management by Dan Lockton

Many of the 'built environment' examples discussed here over the last year-and-a-bit have been intended to control (or "manage") traffic in some way, e.g to slow drivers down, force them to take an alternative route, or force them to stop. I thought it would be worth mentioning a couple of other methods, the rationales behind them, and some of the problems: Monmouth Thame
Amersham Thaxted
Top row: Monmouth, Monmouthshire and Thame, Oxfordshire; Bottom row: Amersham, Buckinghamshire and Thaxted, Essex. Images from the sites linked.

Historical example: market places

Mediæval market towns commonly had a wide market street, or square, with narrow entrances at the ends, to make it more difficult for animals to escape, and also easier to control when herding them in and out. It may not be immediately obvious from the above photos, but in each of these towns (as with many others where the old layout has been preserved), the market area was, and still is, laid out in this way. It may also have made it more difficult for a thief to escape, since with only a few exit 'pinch points', it would make him easier to spot.

This is, of course, almost the opposite rationale to Baron Haussmann's Paris, with its wide, straight boulevards which prevented effective barricading by revolutionaries and allowed clear lines-of-sight to fire on them.

References: Thaxted at 'Rural Roads'; History of Thame; Monmouth on Wikipedia.

Pinch point with car overtaking cyclist Pinch point with car overtaking cyclist
Stills from video clips of cars overtaking cyclists at pinch points, from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign website.

Pinch points and other road narrowings

In modern use, pinch points are often installed (along with centre hatching) to force drivers to slow down, usually in built-up areas or at the entrance to them, where there may also be a speed limit change. Sometimes they also force one stream of traffic to stop to allow the other priority, for example when crossing a narrow bridge. Sometimes there are built-out kerbs on both sides of the road; sometimes just a central island; sometimes all three. In general, they prevent drivers overtaking other cars by putting a physical obstruction in the way, even though otherwise it might be legal to overtake. (This is a built environment example of Lessig's "Code is law" - regardless of what the law might permit or prohibit, it's the way the system is coded which actually defines what behaviour is possible.)

The problem is that - something which as a driver and a cyclist (and bike designer) I experience a lot - the sudden narrowing of the carriageway causes (forces) drivers to move towards the nearside. And if there's a cyclist on the nearside, even cycling close to the kerb, he or she will suddenly have a driver passing very close, braking very hard, possibly clipping the bike or actually hitting it. It's even worse if the kerb is built out as well, since the cyclist has to swerve out into the path of the traffic which may also be swerving in to avoid a central island. In cities such as Cambridge with a lot of cyclists and a lot of traffic, the pinch points are a major problem.

A lot of injuries and deaths have been caused by this 'safety' measure. Someone very close to me was knocked off her bike and hurt after swerving onto the kerb to avoid a large truck bearing down on her as the driver tried to fit through a pinch point (similarly to the situation in the photo at the top of Howard Peel's detailed assessment of pinch points at the Bike Zone). As with so many architectures of control, the designers of these layouts seem to view most users (both drivers and cyclists) as 'enemies' who need to be cajoled and coerced into behaving a certain way, without actually looking at what their needs are.

The North Somerset Cycle Campaign's article on "Good and bad practice" with pinch points shows a far superior layout, for both drives and cyclists (photo reproduced below), from the Netherlands - cycles and cars are kept apart, neither cyclist nor driver is forced to deviate from his/her path, but drivers must give negotiate priority with their oncoming counterparts.

Pinch point in the Netherlands Astonishingly dangerous hatching in Devon
Left: A better pinch point implementation from the Netherlands - image from the North Somerset Cycle Campaign; Right: A very dangerous (and ridiculous) real-world example of hatching-with-obstacles from Devon - image from Richie Graham, discussed in this thread on SABRE

Looking further at centre hatching, this too often causes drivers to pass much too close when overtaking cyclists, since (in the UK), most drivers are reluctant to enter it to overtake even though (with broken lines along the side) they are legally entitled to do so. The reluctance may come from ignorance of the law, but in many cases it is often because there may suddenly be a central concrete island in the middle with no warning. (This is certainly why I'm very careful when using the hatched area to overtake.) Again, this is a de facto imposition of regulation without a legal mechanism enforcing it. As Peter Edwardson puts it:

Two reasons are normally advanced to justify hatched areas, neither of which is entirely convincing. The first is that they separate streams of traffic, but how many head-on collisions occur on single carriageway roads anyway, and surely in the vast majority of cases they involve a driver who has recklessly crossed the white line. The second is that they slow traffic down, which may be true to a limited extent, but again is of no value unless it reduces accidents at the same time...

However, I have recently seen a document from the Highways Agency... that stated clearly that one of the aims of hatched areas was to "deter overtaking". They daren't go so far as to actually ban it on straight stretches of road by painting double white lines (although no doubt that will come) but instead they put in confusing paint schemes that have the practical effect of doing just that.

There is of course one entirely sound and legitimate reason for painting hatched areas on the road, to provide a refuge for vehicles turning right, something that in the past has been a major factor in accidents. However such areas should only extend at most for a hundred yards or so on either side of the right turn, and should not be used as an excuse to paint a wide hatched area for a long distance.

In the case of the astonishing (to a UK driver's eyes) implementation of hatching on the A39 (soon to be A361) Barnstaple southern bypass in Devon - the right-hand photo above - actual bollards have been embedded in the road surface to 'enforce' a de facto 'no overtaking' intention, though the hatching area actually makes it perfectly legal to overtake. (It makes it worse that the reflectors on the bollards are the wrong colour as well.) Motorcyclists could overtake by weaving between the bollards into the hatched area, but this wouldn't be especially easy or safe. It would certainly be more dangerous than the alternative situation of wider lanes with no hatching and no bollards. So what's the point of the scheme?

Shared space at Seven Dials, London Shared space at Seven Dials, London
A Shared Space implementation at Seven Dials in central London, by Hamilton-Baillie Associates

Psychological techniques

We've looked before at 'Shared Space', 'naked roads' and other 'psychological techniques' to encourage drivers to be more alert, but Mike Morris sends me a link to this Spiegel story going into more detail and discussing Europe-wide pilot projects:

The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town (population 1,000) reads "Verkeersbordvrij" -- "free of traffic signs." Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones. Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines painted on the streets.

"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

...

About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.

...

The new traffic model's advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion.

I think that's the key to a lot of 'control-versus-the-user' debate. Allowing users to take responsibility for their own actions is encouraging them to think. Encouraging people to think is very rarely a bad thing.

One of the simplest consequences of the shared space situations I've come across (whether deliberately planned implementations such as at Seven Dials, shown above, or just narrow old streets or village layouts where traffic and pedestrians have always mixed) is that drivers and pedestrians, and drivers and other drivers start to make eye contact with each other to determine who should have priority, or to determine each other's intentions. Eye contact leads to empathy; empathy leads to respect for other types of road users; respect leads to better understanding of the situation and better handling of similar situations in future. Shared space forces all of us (pedestrians, cyclists and drivers) to try to understand what's going on from others' points of view. We learn to grok the situation. And that can't be bad.

Mike Dickin, the legendary British radio talk-show host who was very sadly killed earlier this week after a heart attack at the wheel, often made the point in his frequent discussions on motoring issues that there should be no need for speed limits in many villages, towns and cities, because in many cases the 'natural' limit imposed by pedestrians, other traffic, road layouts and so on, should be enough to slow drivers down to well below the imposed 'safe' limits of 20 or 30 mph which lull drivers into a false sense of safety. Of course, he was right, and of course, in most small villages this is still the way things are done, as they were centuries ago, and as Hans Monderman suggests in the above quote.

The age of hyper-regulated behaviour, and treating the user (driver, cyclist, pedestrian) as an idiot incapable of thinking for him or herself, is largely coincident with the age of bureaucratic, centrally planned urban dystopia which sees individuals as components which must all perform identically for the system to operate. I would like to think we can move beyond that view of humanity.

Back to the issue of psychological techniques for traffic management, Jim Lipsey left a comment a couple of months ago mentioning the use of progressively closer painted stripes across the road in Chicago to cause drivers to slow down on a dangerous curve:

In a few weeks, dozens of new pavement stripes will be laid down. At first they’ll be 16-feet apart, but as drivers get closer to the curve, the stripes will only be eight feet apart. "They provide an optical illusion that vehicles are actually speeding up and that causes motorists to slow down, which is of course, the intended effect that we’re trying to have at that location."

The Chicago example appears to be using only the visual effect to provide the illusion, but a similar technique is often used with raised painted 'rumble strips' on the approach to junctions or roundabouts in other countries - e.g. in my (poor) photos below, on the A303 in Somerset, and clearly in this Google Maps image of Ottawa (via this thread).

I remember reading a story once in which someone cycling along an avenue with regularly spaced trees, late one afternoon, had an epileptic fit (I think) as a result of the frequency of the shadow flicker on the road (this is clearly something considered by wind turbine planners [PDF]). Have there been any cases of epilepsy triggered by stripes painted on the road?

Progressively closer rumble strips on the A303 in Somerset Progressively closer rumble strips on the A303 in Somerset
Progressively closer rumble strips on the A303 in Somerset.

A couple of stories from the Consumerist by Dan Lockton

"Is Sylvester Stallone Taking Over Your TV?" - anecdotal suggestion that some digital video recorders may be attempting to 'push' certain movie franchises in the run-up to release by recording (unrequested) previous titles in a series, or with the same actors.

Well, this is totally impossible to confirm, but we just got a complaint from a reader saying that their DVR was recording Sylvester Stallone movies all on its own. They think this might be some sort of sly promotion tied into the new Rocky movie. Is this happening to anyone else, or do these people have a possessed DVR?

And from the comments:

I have Time Warner in NYC as well, and a month ago Bond movies started automatically queuing up. I thought it was a fluke, but that was right when Casino Royale was hitting wasn't it? I'm the only person who touches my DVR, so it wasn't a prank.


Also, in a similar vein to my earlier post on the price structures of ticketing systems, Consumerist reports on US Postal Service stamp vending machines, which require a minimum purchase of $1 (it's suggested that this is in violation of Visa's merchant agreements).

While minimum purchase amounts for credit card use are fairly common, (especially with smaller businesses, due to the transaction fees charged by the card company) when a minimum price is imposed on a system such as this stamp vending machine - and only made clear to the user after he or she has already selected the desired item - the practice seems somewhat sneaky. Many people who use a stamp vending machine will do so since they are in a rush, need to send that item of mail, and haven't got time to wait in a queue. If you only wanted a 39 cent stamp, you're forced to pay an additional 61 cents (more, in fact, since the stamp face values don't add up to exactly $1) just to accomplish what you set out to do.

Still, you do get the extra stamp(s) you were 'forced' to buy, and at least they don't go out of date or expire like a bus ticket or a parking ticket.

BBC report on Gowers Report reads like a press release by Dan Lockton

They've got quotes from the BPI, AIM, FACT and the Alliance Against IP Theft, but nothing from the Open Rights Group or anyone else offering any counter-view. I wonder why, and I wonder if the BBC will update or alter the article at any point. Newssniffer's Revisionista will let us know. Still, I can rest easy in my bed tonight knowing that those vicious pirates will be facing a tough legal crackdown to stop them copying data. Apparently, it's also possible to legislate that pi=3.

BBC: Surveillance drones in Merseyside by Dan Lockton

From the BBC: 'Police play down spy planes idea':

"Merseyside Police's new anti-social behaviour (ASB) task force is exploring a number of technology-driven ideas.

But while the use of surveillance drones is among them, they would be a "long way off", police said. ...

"The idea of the drone is a long way off, but it is about exploring all technological possibilities to support our war on crime and anti-social behaviour."

Note that "anti-social behaviour" is mentioned separately to "crime." Why? Also, nice appropriation of the "war on xxx" phrasing.

"It plans to utilise the latest law enforcement technology, including automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), CCTV "head-cams" and metal-detecting gloves."

This country's had it.

We've got Avon & Somerset Police using helicopters with high-intensity floodlights to "blind groups of teenagers temporarily" and councils using tax-payers' money to install devices to cause deliberate auditory pain to a percentage of the population, again, whether or not they have committed a crime. Anyone would think that those in power despised their public. Perhaps they do.

Has it ever occurred to the police that tackling the causes of the problem might be a better solution than attacking the symptoms with a ridiculous battery of 'technology'?

Ticket off by Dan Lockton

Parking meter in Salem - picture from Henry Henry e-mails:

"Perhaps this is too obvious: parking meters; and I mean modern digital ones, enforce arbitrary limits on how much you can pay for at a time (4 hours). Is this to share the enjoyment of democratic parking (at a dollar an hour), or some social engineering ploy to force productive members of the workforce to enter the valet service economy, and thus a reminder of the fact that if they work harder, they could afford a driver?"

Tongue-in-cheek aside, there is something unhelpful, to some extent manipulative, designed into a lot of parking ticket machines (as well as some other vending machines). Take a look at the following machine I photographed this morning in a shoppers' car park in Pinner, Middlesex, UK:

Ticket machine in Pinner, Middlesex What's the excuse?

What's the excuse for the 'No change given - Overpayment accepted' policy? It's not as though it's technically too difficult to give change: these aren't mechanical penny gobstopper machines from the 1950s. Sure, it would make each machine a bit more expensive to include the change-giving function, but so what? If every one of the hundreds of people who park each day paid, say, 5 pence extra the cost of the more expensive machine would be recouped within a week or two, surely?

Of course, the real reason for the 'no change given' policy is that many customers who arrive at the machine without the 50p + 20p (or other combinations needed to make 70p) will put in £1 instead. Thus for a certain percentage of customers, the machine receives 1.43 times the revenue it ought to. I don't know how many people overpay, but the point is, none of them can underpay. The system is asymmetric. The house always wins.

Does the car park operator (in this case Harrow Council) factor the extra revenue it receives from forcing overpayment into its projected revenues from the machines? Do they record how many people overpay, and use that statistic to plan next year's budget? Or is overpayment treated as an 'unexpected' windfall? Or perhaps, just perhaps, without the overpayment the car park would make a loss?

Any more examples of awful 'no change given' implementations, or related anecdotes, musings, etc, much appreciated!

Review: Made to Break by Giles Slade by Dan Lockton

This TV wasn't made to break Last month I mentioned some fascinating details on planned obsolescence gleaned from a review of Giles Slade's Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Having now read the book for myself, here's my review, including noteworthy 'architectures of control' examples and pertinent commentary.

Slade examines the phenomenon of obsolescence in products from the early 20th century to the present day, through chapters looking, roughly chronologically, at different waves of obsolescence and the reasons behind them in a variety of fields - including the razor-blade model in consumer products, the FM radio débâcle in the US, the ever-shortening life-cycles of mobile phones, and even planned malfunction in Cold War-era US technology copied by the USSR. While the book ostensibly looks at these subjects in relation to the US, it all rings true from an international viewpoint.*

The major factors in technology-driven obsolescence, in particular electronic miniaturisation, are well covered, and there is a very good treatment of psychological obsolescence, both deliberate (as in the 1950s US motor industry, the fashion industry - and in the manipulation techniques brought to widespread attention by Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders) and unplanned but inherent to human desire (neophilia).

Philosophy of planned obsolescence

The practice of 'death-dating' - what's often called built-in obsolescence in the UK - i.e., designing products to fail after a certain time (and very much an architecture of control when used to lock the consumer into replacement cycles) is dealt with initially within a Depression-era US context (see below), but continued with an extremely interesting look at a debate on the subject carried on in the editorials and readers' letters of Design News in 1958-9, in which industrial designers and engineers argued over the ethics (and efficiency) of the practice, with the attitudes of major magazine advertisers and sponsors seemingly playing a part in shaping some attitudes. Fuelled by Vance Packard's The Waste Makers, the debate, broadened to include psychological obsolescence as well, was extended to more widely-read organs, including Brooks Stevens (pro-planned obsolescence) and Walter Dorwin Teague (anti- ) going head-to-head in The Rotarian.

(The fact that this debate occurred so publicly is especially relevant, I feel, to the subject of architectures of control - especially over-restrictive DRM and certain surveillance-linked control systems - in our own era, since so far most of those speaking out against these are not the designers and engineers tasked with implementing them in our products and environments, but science-fiction authors, free software advocates and interested observers - you can find many of them in the blogroll to the right. But where is the ethical debate in the design literature or on the major design websites? Where is the morality discussion in our technology and engineering journals? There is no high-profile Vance Packard for our time. Yet.)

Slade examines the ideas of Bernard London, a Manhattan real estate broker who published a pamphlet, Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence, in 1932, in which he proposed a government-enforced replacement programme for products, to stimulate the economy and save manufacturers (and their employees) from ruin:

"London was dismayed that "changing habits of consumption [had] destroyed property values and opportunities for emplyment [leaving] the welfare of society ... to pure chance and accident." From the perspective of an acute and successful buinessman, the Depression was a new kind of enforced thrift.

...

London wanted the government to "assign a lease of life to shoes and homes and machines, to all products of manufacture ... when they are first created." After the allotted time expired:

"these things would be legally 'dead' and would be controlled by the duly appointed governmental agency and destroyed if there is widepsread unemployment. New products would constantly be pouring forth from the factories and marketplaces, to take the place of the obsolete, and the wheels of industry would be kept going... people would turn in their used and obsolete goods to certain governmental agencies... The individual surrendering... would receive from the Comptroller ... a receipt... partially equivalent to money in the purchase of new goods."

This kind of ultimate command economy also has a parallel in a Aldous Huxley's Brave New World where consumers are indoctrinated into repetitive consumption for the good of the State, as Slade notes.

What I find especially interesting is how a planned system of 'obsolete' products being surrendered to governmental agencies resonates with take-back and recycling legislation in our own era. London's consumers would effectively have been 'renting' the functions their products provided, for a certain amount of time pre-determined by "[boards of] competent engineers, economists and mathematicians, specialists in their fields." (It's not clear whether selling good second-hand would be prohibited or strictly regulated under London's system - this sort of thing has been at least partially touched on in Japan though apparently for 'safety' reasons rather than to force consumption.)

This model of forced product retirement and replacement is not dissimilar to the 'function rental' model used by many manufacturers today - both high-tech (e.g. Rolls-Royce's 'Power by the Hour') and lower-tech (e.g. photocopier rental to institutions), but if coupled to designed-in death-dating (which London was not expressly suggesting), we might end up with manufacturers being better able to manage their take-back responsibilities. For example, a car company required to take its old models back at their end of life would be able to operate more efficiently if it knew exactly when certain models would be returned. BMW doesn't want to be taking back the odd stray 2006 3-series among its 2025 take-back programme, but if the cars could be sold in the first place with, say, a built-in 8-year lifetime (perhaps co-terminant with the warranty? Maybe the ECU switches itself off), this would allow precise management of returned vehicles and the recycling or disposal process. In 'Optimum Lifetime Products' I applied this idea from an environmental point of view - since certain consumer products which become less efficient with prolonged usage, such as refrigerators really do have an optimum lifetime (in energy terms) when a full life-cycle analysis is done, why not design products to cease operation - and alert the manufacturer, or even actively disassemble - automatically when their optimum lifetime (perhaps in hours of use) is reached?

Shooting CRTs can be a barrel of laughs

The problem of electronic waste

Returning to the book, Slade gives some astonishing statistics on electronic waste, with the major culprits being mobile phones, discarded mainly through psychological obsolescence, televisions to be discarded in the US (at least) through a federally mandated standards change, and computer equipment (PCs and monitors) discarded through progressive technological obsolescence:

"By 2002 over 130 million still-working portable phones were retired in the United States. Cell phones have now achieved the dubious distinction of having the shortest life cycle of any consumer product in the country, and their life span is still declining. In Japan, they are discarded within a year of purchase... [P]eople who already have cell phones are replacing them with newer models, people who do not have cell phones already are getting their first ones (which they too will replace within approximately eighteen months), and, at least in some parts of the world, people who have only one cell phone are getting a second or third... In 2005 about 50,000 tons of these so-called obsolete phones were 'retired' [in the US alone], and only a fraction of them were disassembled for re-use. Altogether, about 250,000 tons of discarded but still usable cell phones sit in stockpiles in America, awaiting dismantling or disposal. We are standing on the precipice of an insurmountable e-waste storage that no landfill program so far imagined will be able to solve.

...

[I]n 2004 about 315 million working PCs were retired in North America... most would go straight to the scrap heap. These still-functioning but obsolete computers represented an enormous increase over the 63 million working PCs dumped into American landfills in 2003.

...

Obsolete cathode ray tubes used in computer monitors will already be in the trash... by the time a US government mandate goes into effect in 2009 committing all of the country to High-Definition TV [thus rendering every single television set obsolete]... the looming problem is not just the oversized analog TV siting in the family room... The fact is that no-one really knows how many smaller analog TVs still lurk in basements [etc.]... For more than a decade, about 20 to 25 million TVs have been sold annually in the United States, while only 20,000 are recycled each year. So, as federal regulations mandating HDTV come into effect in 2009, an unknown but substantially larger number of analog TVs will join the hundreds of millions of computer monitors entering America's overcrowded, pre-toxic waste stream. Just this one-time disposal of 'brown goods' will, alone, more than double the hazardous waste problem in North America."

Other than building hundreds of millions of Tesla coils or Jacob's ladders, is there anything useful we could do with waste CRTs?

Planned malfunction for strategic reasons

The chapter 'Weaponizing Planned Obsolescence' discusses a CIA operation, inspired by economist Gus Weiss, to sabotage certain US-sourced strategic and weapon technology which the USSR was known to be acquiring covertly. This is a fascinating story, involving Texas Instruments designing and producing a chip-tester which would, after a few trust-building months, deliberately pass defective chips, and a Canadian software company supplying pump/valve control software intentionally modified to cause massive failure in a Siberian gas pipeline, which occurred in 1983:

"A three-kiloton blast, "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space," puzzled White House staffers and NATO analysts until "Gus Weiss came down the hall to tell his fellow NSC staffers not to worry.""

While there isn't scope here to go into more detail on these examples, it raises an interesting question: to what extent does deliberate, designed-in sabotage happen for strategic reasons in other countries and industries? When a US company supplies weapons to a foreign power, is the software or material quality a little 'different' to that supplied to US forces? When a company supplies components to its competitors, does it ever deliberately select those with poorer tolerances or less refined operating characteristics?

I've come across two software examples specifically incorporating this behaviour - first, the Underhanded C Contest, run by Scott Craver:

"Imagine you are an application developer for an OS vendor. You must write portable C code that will inexplicably taaaaaake a looooooong tiiiiime when compiled and run on a competitor's OS... The code must not look suspicious, and if ever anyone figures out what you did it best look like bad coding rather than intentional malfeasance."

There's also Microsoft's apparently deliberate attempts to make MSN function poorly when using Opera:

"Opera7 receives a style sheet which is very different from the Microsoft and Netscape browsers. Looking inside the style sheet sent to Opera7 we find this fragment:

ul { margin: -2px 0px 0px -30px; }

The culprit is in the "-30px" value set on the margin property. This value instructs Opera 7 to move list elements 30 pixels to the left of its parent. That is, Opera 7 is explicitly instructed to move content off the side of its container thus creating the impression that there is something wrong with Opera 7."

Levittown: designed-in privacy

Slade's discussion of post-war trends in US consumerism includes an interesting architecture of control example, which is not in itself about obsolescence, but demonstrates the embedding of 'politics' into the built environment.The Levittown communities built by Levitt & Sons in early post-war America were planned to offer new residents a degree of privacy unattainable in inner-city developments, and as such, features which encouraged loitering and foot traffic (porches, sidewalks) were deliberately eliminated (this is similar thinking to Robert Moses' apparently deliberate low bridges on certain parkways to prevent buses using them).

The book itself

Made to Break is a very engaging look at the threads that tie together 'progress' in technology and society in a number of fields of 20th century history. It's clearly written with a great deal of research, and extensive referencing and endnotes, and the sheer variety of subjects covered, from fashion design to slide rules, makes it easy to read a chapter at a time without too much inter-chapter dependence. In some cases, there is probably too much detail about related issues not directly affecting the central obsolescence discussion (for example, I feel the chapter on the Cold War deviates a bit too much) but these tangential and background areas are also extremely interesting. Some illustrations - even if only graphs showing trends in e-waste creation - would also probably help attract more casual readers and spread the concern about our obsolescence habits to a wider public. (But then, a lack of illustrations never harmed The Hidden Persuaders' influence; perhaps I'm speaking as a designer rather than a typical reader).

All in all, highly recommended.

Skip

(*It would be interesting, however, to compare the consumerism-driven rapid planned obsolescence of post-war fins-'n'-chrome America with the rationing-driven austerity of post-war Britain: did British companies in this era build their products (often for export only) to last, or were they hampered by material shortages? To what extent did the 'make-do-and-mend' culture of everyday 1940s-50s Britain affect the way that products were developed and marketed? And - from a strategic point of view - did the large post-war nationalised industries in, say, France (and Britain) take a similar attitude towards deliberate obsolescence to encourage consumer spending as many companies did in the Depression-era US? Are there cases where built-in obsolescence by one arm of nationalised industry adversely affected another arm?)

'Anti-Homeless' benches in Tokyo by Dan Lockton

Photo by Yumiko Hayakawa Images from Yumiko Hayakawa

Yumiko Hayakawa has a very thoughtful and well-illustrated article at OhMyNews on the story behind the variety of 'anti-homeless' benches and architectural features (including public art) in Tokyo's parks and public areas - by making it difficult or impossible to lie down. (We've looked briefly before at benches with central armrests before, along with anti-sit devices and of course anti-skateboarding measures - 'disciplinary architecture')

Many of the features, such as the benches shown above and below, are also designed to discourage everyone from spending too long on them, even when sitting normally, by deliberately making them uncomfortable:

"The bench in the photo below may appear to be of modern design, but because of its tubular construction one risks sliding off if not careful.

One should be especially careful if drunk at the time! Made of stainless steel, the benches are hot in summer and cold in winter. The Toshima-ward parks office, which oversees Ikebukuro West Park, home to this bench, describes the bench as "designed to keep with the modern image of the area while at the same time not allowing homeless people to loiter."

Suggestions that the benches were dangerously slippery and also uncomfortable met with the advice that "people should take the utmost care when sitting on them" and that these benches were only something to lean on or sit on for a few minutes.

That is, they want us to regard the bench as "somewhere you can sit if you have to." It makes you wonder who would actually want to sit on such a bench."

Photo by Yumiko Hayakawa

There are examples of bus stop 'perches' and uncomfortable café seating to discourage loitering from many areas of the world, but it does seem as though Tokyo's authorities perhaps see inconveniencing all members of the public as merely collateral damage in a 'war' against the homeless, which itself is more than simply contentious. Nevertheless, people adapt and find their own ways around discipline. Hayakawa interviewed some homeless people about the benches:

"Most common were the "defeatists," who gave up on the grounds that the benches were so uncomfortable that it was easier to just lay down a newspaper and sit on the ground. Next most common were the "optimists," who argued that while they found it a hassle to be unable to sit on benches for a long period of time, it did mean that other park users had to put up with seeing homeless people less. Finally, there were the "innovators," who would lie folding their bodies into a V-shape around the central bench divider, or placing bags on either sides of the divider at the same height, or even placing a camping stove underneath the stainless steel tubular bench above to cook and at the same time warm the bench!"

"Do artefacts have politics?" Langdon Winner asked in 1986; the answer is, of course, yes.

'Secret alarm becomes dance track' by Dan Lockton

The Mosquito sound has been mixed (sort of) into a dance track:

"...the sound is being used in a dance track, Buzzin', with secret melodies only young ears can hear.

...

Simon Morris from Compound Security said: "Following the success of the ringtone, a lot of people were asking us to do a bit more, so we got together with the producers Melodi and they came up with a full-length track.

"It has two harmonies - one that everyone can hear and one that only young people can hear.

"But it works well together or separate," he added."

There's a clip linked from the BBC story, or here directly (WMV format). Can't say the "secret melodies" are especially exciting (and yes, I can hear it!) but I suppose it's a clever idea. There could be some interesting steganographic possibilities, and indeed it could be used for 'cheating in tests' as Jason Thomas puts it here.

This is the same Simon Morris who's quoted in an earlier BBC story as saying that teenagers (in general) don't have a right "to congregate for no specific purpose", so it's interesting to see him getting involved with young peoples' music. Nevertheless, I can see the dilemma that Compound Security are in: they've created something designed to be unpleasant for teenagers, but are also capitalising on its potential appeal to teenagers. It's clever, if rather inconsistent branding practice.

Countercontrol: blind pilots by Dan Lockton

Eye In a recent post, I discussed a Spiked article by Josie Appleton which included the following quote:

“Police in Weston-super-Mare have been shining bright halogen lights from helicopters on to youths gathered in parks and other public places. The light temporarily blinds them, and is intended to ‘move them on’, in the words of one Weston police officer.”

A friend, reading this, simply uttered a single word: "Mirror".

What'd happen then? Is the risk of a blinded pilot and a crashed helicopter really worth it?

Or perhaps it's the state, and by extension Avon & Somerset Police (in this case), who are the real blind pilots, attempting to 'guide' society in this way? If not blind, they're certainly short-sighted.

Shaping behaviour at the Design Council by Dan Lockton

RED talk, Design Council. Photo by Kate Andrews
Photo by Kate Andrews

I've blogged before mentioning the work of the UK Design Council's RED research arm, which applies 'design thinking' to redevelop and create public services appropriate for societal changes right now and in the years to come. The previous post was specifically about Jennie Winhall's 'Is design political?' essay, but I've kept in touch with RED's work and was very interested to attend RED's Open House last Friday, along with Katrin Svabo Bech and Kate Andrews.

The presentation, by Jennie Winhall, Chris Vanstone* and Matthew Horne, introduced the Kitchen Cabinet (democratic engagement) and Activmobs projects, along with a brief discussion of the concept of shaping behaviour through design, which is of course of significant pertinence to the 'architectures of control' idea (as it is indeed to captology).

(Sadly, there was apparently not time to give any more than a cursory treatment of RED's Transformation Design concept [PDF link, 193 kb], which re-casts design thinking as the cross-disciplinary approach for problem-solving in a great variety of disciplines. The paper leads with a great quote from Charles Eames: "More than 30 years ago, Charles Eames, the American multidisciplinary designer, was asked, ‘What are the boundaries of design?’. He replied, ‘What are the boundaries of problems?’". I was especially looking forward to a discussion on transformation design, as my hunch is that many of us who've chosen to go into design (and engineering) have realised and appreciated this for a long time - indeed, it may even be the reason why we went into it: a desire to acquire the tools to shape, change and improve the world - but that by expressing it explicitly, RED has a great chance to win the understanding of a political establishment and general public who still often equate design with styling and little more. But I digress...)

Jennie Winhall's discussion of shaping behaviour through design was a clear exposition of the principle that empowering people to change their own behaviour ought to be more preferable than forcing them to change their behaviour externally. Traditional policy-making fails in this context: it is easier to put in CCTV than to solve the underlying casuses of crime; it is easier to fund more obesity treatment than it is to tackle poor diet in the first place (the phrase 'symptom doctor' was not used, but it might have been). Describing the idea of manipulating behaviour through design as being slightly 'sinister', Jennie noted that it has been used in a commercial context for many years (it was one of those talks where I was almost bursting to interrupt with actual examples discussed on this website, though I didn't!), but, as Oxford's Lucy Kimbell pointed out, there is not necessarily an easy way to apply the techniques in a field where the aims are less well-defined ("social good" as opposed to "money"):

"But the outcomes of public service designs are complex. RED sees value in making use of design methods used in Marks & Spencer, for example, to make the consuming experience "compelling and desirable" and applying them to public service contexts. In the M&S context, the use of these methods may well have a clear, measurable business objective: increasing sales, for example - and even here design practitioners may well struggle with framing the design problem, communicating with the client, and measuring the value of the design process and artefacts. How much harder it is to define and agree goals for public services or public goods?"

Looking at the politically motivated examples of architectures of control which I've examined over the last couple of years, I'd say a significant percentage of them are designed with the goal of stamping out a particular type of behaviour, usually classed as anti-social and usually extremely contentious: this really is social engineering. The success of skateboarding 'deterrents' is measured by how few children skateboard in an area. The success of the Mosquito is measured by how few children congregate in an area. The success of park benches with central armrests is measured by how there are no longer people lying down on them. The "woollier" behaviour-shaping architectures of control, such as Square Eyes or the Entertrainer are very much edging towards captology, and perhaps these examples are closer to RED's field of experience.

WorldChanging also has a discussion of the RED Open House presentation.

*Speaking to us individually, Chris Vanstone used "stick, carrot or speedometer" as a way of classifying design methods for behavioural change, and I think this is worthy of a separate post, as this is an extremely insightful way of looking at these issues from an interaction design point of view.