Control

Code as control by Dan

'You removed the card!' In the earlier days of this blog, many of the posts were about code, in the Lawrence Lessig sense: the idea that the structure of software and the internet and the rules designed into these systems don't just parallel the law (in a legal sense) in influencing and restricting public behaviour, but are qualitatively different, enabling distinct forms of affordance and constraint. Designers (and developers) -- or in many cases those overseeing the process -- in this sense potentially wield a lot of (political) power. My aim initially, arising from my Master's dissertation, was to chronicle and investigate something like this, but expanded to include 'architectures of control' in physical architecture and products as well as digital ones. The blog was a wonderful way to continue this research informally; readers' comments convinced me that this was an interesting, under-explored subject.

While many examples were socially 'negative' -- e.g. anti-homeless benches -- it seemed that similar techniques could be applied in more socially beneficial ways. B.J. Fogg's Persuasive Technology offered a template for designing systems to help people behave in ways they wanted (exercising more, eating more healthily, and so on), and this more optimistic approach suggested that maybe I could bring together techniques into a form of use to other designers who wanted to help people, society, and the environment. That led to the PhD, and the Design with Intent toolkit, and gradually the focus drifted away from the 'code' angle.

Code as Control workshop

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be part of Submit: Code as Control in Online Spaces [PDF], a workshop at the Good School in Hamburg, organised by Sebastian Deterding (a leading voice on intelligent approaches to 'gamification'), Jan-Hinrik Schmidt, Stephan Dreyer, Nele Heise, and Katharina Johnsen from the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research. Eighteen participants, deliberately chosen (curated?) to represent disciplines such as interaction design, games, economics, information science, human geography, media studies and law, spent two days "locked in a room" (as Jen Whitson put it), well-oiled with Club-Mate and Fritz-Kola, exploring questions around code through a series of collaborative exercises. Nele has Storified tweets and photos from the two days, while Jen Whitson has a great blog post going into more detail.

In small groups and all together, we looked at questions* including 'code literacy' (who needs to know how code works? what should they know? how should it be taught?), the boundaries of what exactly code can be considered to regulate, intentionality (does it matter? - something I've sort of looked at before), historically relevant perspectives (Jacquard loom as the thin end of a long wedge), 'war stories' of code's unexpected effects, and the rise of self-regulation via code as a kind of counterpart to Quantified Self approaches and commitment devices. Via a "dinner of ridiculously bold claims", we considered the extents of privacy, and personal resistance to control, among other issues.

Post-It notes: Photo by Nicolas Nova Doorrank in operation Left photo by Nicolas Nova

With Theo Röhle, R. Stuart Geiger and Malte Ziewitz, I helped devise Doorrank, a kind of "role-playing algorithm game", centred on the idea of a programmable robot nightclub doorman (player 1), an API which could get information from elsewhere (player 2), some kind of designer / developer / censor / nightclub boss / security authority (player 3) making decisions about what rules to code into the doorman to decide who is let in, and who isn't, and guests trying to get into the club (other players).

It wasn't exactly fully resolved in the time we spent on it, but the idea was that by "imagining you're a software object" (as Nicolas Nova put it), something along these lines could be used as an exercise to help highlight the power, and social consequences, of apparently arbitrary (and often hidden) algorithms in everyday life -- and how quickly the idea of tricking the doorman (hacking the system) arises. Jen pointed out the game's parallels with Memento Mori's Parsely Games; the initial idea I had was something similar to the explicitly behaviour change-focused 'Rules of interaction' exercise I've used in a couple of workshops.

Doorrank algorithm - photo by Christian Katzenbach Photo by Christian Katzenbach

I went away with a list of new perspectives and angles to investigate, potentially in collaboration with some very clever people, bridging disciplines in increasingly diverse ways. Thanks again to all the organisers and participants for a very interesting few days.

*A vague thing which I suggested as something to explore -- but with which I could barely even work out where to start -- is the idea of representing code (or rules in general) in visual or tactile ways which would allow their impact to be seen or felt 'directly' (whatever that means). For example, a low doorway could be seen as a physical representation of a rule that allows shorter people through and restricts taller people, or Spear's Spellmaster tiles as a physical representation of spelling rules. I am fascinated and inspired by Mark Changizi's Escher Circuits and David Cox's FLIPP Explainers, and the idea of physical "perceptual mechanisms" as a form of embodied cognition, along with some of the more visual forms that analogue computing has taken over the years. But I don't know quite where this idea could lead, and what exactly it would be useful for.

P.S. Sebastian's recent presentation on Policy Making as Game Design is also very relevant here.

'Smart meters': some thoughts from a design point of view by Dan

Here's my (rather verbose) response to the three most design-related questions in DECC's smart meter consultation that I mentioned earlier today. Please do get involved in the discussion that Jamie Young's started on the Design & Behaviour group and on his blog at the RSA. Q12 Do you agree with the Government's position that a standalone display should be provided with a smart meter?

Meter in the cupboard

Free-standing displays (presumably wirelessly connected to the meter itself, as proposed in [7, p.16]) could be an effective way of bringing the meter 'out of the cupboard', making an information flow visible which was previously hidden. As Donella Meadows put it when comparing electricity meter placements [1, pp. 14-15] this provides a new feedback loop, "delivering information to a place where it wasn’t going before" and thus allowing consumers to modify their behaviour in response.

“An accessible display device connected to the meter” [2, p.8] or “series of modules connected to a meter” [3, p. 28] would be preferable to something where an extra step has to be taken for a consumer to access the data, such as only having a TV or internet interface for the information, but as noted [3, p.31] "flexibility for information to be provided through other formats (for example through the internet, TV) in addition to the provision of a display" via an open API, publicly documented, would be the ideal situation. Interesting 'energy dashboard' TV interfaces have been trialled in projects such as live|work's Low Carb Lane [6], and offer the potential for interactivity and extra information display supported by the digital television platform, but it would be a mistake to rely on this solely (even if simply because it will necessarily interfere with the primary reason that people have a television).

The question suggests that a single display unit would be provided with each meter, presumably with the householder free to position it wherever he or she likes (perhaps a unit with interchangeable provision for a support stand, a magnet to allow positioning on a refrigerator, a sucker for use on a window and hook to allow hanging up on the wall would be ideal - the location of the display could be important, as noted [4, p. 49]) but the ability to connect multiple display units would certainly afford more possibilities for consumer engagement with the information displayed as well as reducing the likelihood of a display unit being mislaid. For example, in shared accommodation where there are multiple residents all of whom are expected to contribute to a communal electricity bill, each person being aware of others' energy use (as in, for example, the Watt Watchers project [5]) could have an important social proof effect among peers.

Open APIs and data standards would permit ranges of aftermarket energy displays to be produced, ranging from simple readouts (or even pager-style alerters) to devices and kits which could allow consumers to perform more complex analysis of their data (along the lines of the user-led innovative uses of the Current Cost, for example [8]) - another route to having multiple displays per household.

Q13 Do you have any comments on what sort of data should be provided to consumers as a minimum to help them best act to save energy (e.g. information on energy use, money, CO2 etc)?

Low targets? This really is the central question of the whole project, since the fundamental assumption throughout is that provision of this information will “empower consumers” and thereby “change our energy habits” [3, p.13]. It is assumed that feedback, including real-time feedback, on electricity usage will lead to behaviour change: “Smart metering will provide consumers with tools with which to manage their energy consumption, enabling them to take greater personal responsibility for the environmental impacts of their own behaviour” [4, p.46]; “Access to the consumption data in real time provided by smart meters will provide consumers with the information they need to take informed action to save energy and carbon” [3, p.31].

Nevertheless, with “the predicted energy saving to consumers... as low as 2.8%” [4, p.18], the actual effects of the information on consumer behaviour are clearly not considered likely to be especially significant (this figure is more conservative than the 5-15% range identified by Sarah Darby [9]). It would, of course, be interesting to know whether certain types of data or feedback, if provided in the context of a well-designed interface could improve on this rather low figure: given the scale of the proposed roll-out of these meters (every household in the country) and the cost commitment involved, it would seem incredibly short-sighted not to take this opportunity to design and test better feedback displays which can, perhaps, improve significantly on the 2.8% figure.

(Part of the problem with a suggested figure as low as 2.8% is that it makes it much more difficult to defend the claim that the meters will offer consumers “important benefits” [3, p.27]. The benefits to electricity suppliers are clearer, but ‘selling’ the idea of smart meters to the public is, I would suggest, going to be difficult when the supposed benefits are so meagre.)

If we consider the use context of the smart meter from a consumer’s point of view, it should allow us to identify better which aspects are most important. What is a consumer going to do with the information received? How does the feedback loop actually occur in practice? How would this differ with different kinds of information?

Levels of display Even aside from the actual 'units' debate (money / energy / CO2), there are many possible types and combinations of information that the display could show consumers, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll divide them into three levels:

(1) Simple feedback on current (& cumulative) energy use / cost (self-monitoring) (2) Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs (social proof + self-monitoring) (3) Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions (simulation & feedforward + kairos + self-monitoring)

These are by no means mutually exclusive and I’d assume that any system providing (3) would also include (1), for example.

Nevertheless, it is likely that (1) would be the cheapest, lowest-common-denominator system to roll out to millions of homes, without (2) or (3) included – so if thought isn’t given to these other levels, it may be that (1) is all consumers get.

I've done mock-ups of the sort of thing each level might display (of course these are just ideas, and I'm aware that a) I'm not especially skilled in interface design, despite being very interested in it; and b) there's no real research behind these) in order to have something to visualise / refer to when discussing them.

Simple feedback on current (& cumulative) energy use, cost
(1) Simple feedback on current (& cumulative) energy use and cost

I’ve tried to express some of the concerns I have over a very simple, cheap implementation of (1) in a scenario, which I’m not claiming to be representative of what will actually happen – but the narrative is intended to address some of the ways this kind of display might be useful (or not) in practice:

Jenny has just had a ‘smart meter’ installed by someone working on behalf of her electricity supplier. It comes with a little display unit that looks a bit like a digital alarm clock. There’s a button to change the display mode to ‘cumulative’ or ‘historic’ but at present it’s set on ‘realtime’: that’s the default setting.

Jenny attaches it to her kitchen fridge with the magnet on the back. It’s 4pm and it’s showing a fairly steady value of 0.5 kW, 6 pence per hour. She opens the fridge to check how much milk is left, and when she closes the door again Jenny notices the figure’s gone up to 0.7 kW but drops again soon after the door’s closed, first to 0.6 kW but then back down to 0.5 kW again after a few minutes. Then her two teenage children, Kim and Laurie arrive home from school – they switch on the TV in the living room and the meter reading shoots up to 0.8 kW, then 1.1 kW suddenly. What’s happened? Jenny’s not sure why it’s changed so much. She walks into the living room and Kim tells her that Laurie’s gone upstairs to play on his computer. So it must be the computer, monitor, etc.

Two hours later, while the family’s sitting down eating dinner (with the TV on in the background), Jenny glances across at the display and sees that it’s still reading 1.1 kW, 13 pence per hour.

“Is your PC still switched on, Laurie?” she asks. “Yeah, Mum,” he replies “You should switch it off when you’re not using it; it’s costing us money.” “But it needs to be on, it’s downloading stuff.”

Jenny’s not quite sure how to respond. She can’t argue with Laurie: he knows a lot more than her about computers. The phone rings and Kim puts the TV on standby to reduce the noise while talking. Jenny notices the display reading has gone down slightly to 1.0 kW, 12 pence per hour. She walks over and switches the TV off fully, and sees the reading go down to 0.8 kW.

Later, as it gets dark and lights are switched on all over the house, along with the TV being switched on again, and Kim using a hairdryer after washing her hair, with her stereo on in the background and Laurie back at his computer, Jenny notices (as she loads the tumble dryer) that the display has shot up to 6.5 kW, 78 pence per hour. When the tumble dryer’s switched on, that goes up even further to 8.5 kW, £1.02 per hour. The sight of the £ sign shocks her slightly – can they really be using that much electricity? It seems like the kids are costing her even more than she thought!

But what can she really do about it? She switches off the TV and sees the display go down to 8.2 kW, 98 pence per hour, but the difference seems so slight that she switches it on again – it seems worth 4 pence per hour. She decides to have a cup of tea and boils the kettle that she filled earlier in the day. The display shoots up to 10.5 kW, £1.26 pence per hour. Jenny glances at the display with a pained expression, and settles down to watch TV with her tea. She needs a rest: paying attention to the display has stressed her out quite a lot, and she doesn’t seem to have been able to do anything obvious to save money.

Six months later, although Jenny’s replaced some light bulbs with compact fluorescents that were being given away at the supermarket, and Laurie’s new laptop has replaced the desktop PC, a new plasma TV has more than cancelled out the reductions. The display is still there on the fridge door, but when the batteries powering the display run out, and it goes blank, no-one notices.

The main point I'm trying to get across there is that with a very simple display, the possible feedback loop is very weak. It relies on the consumer experimenting with switching items on and off and seeing the effect it has on the readings, which - while it will initially have a certain degree of investigatory, exploratory interest - may well quickly pall when everyday life gets in the way. Now, without the kind of evidence that’s likely to come out of research programmes such as the CHARM project [10], it’s not possible to say whether levels (2) or (3) would fare any better, but giving a display the ability to provide more detailed levels of information - particularly if it can be updated remotely - massively increases the potential for effective use of the display to help consumers decide what to do, or even to think about what they're doing in the first place, over the longer term.

Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs

(2) Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs

A level (2) display would (in a much less cluttered form than what I've drawn above!) combine information about 'what we're doing' (self-monitoring) with a reference, a norm - what other people are doing (social proof), either people in the same neighbourhood (to facilitate community discussion), or a more representative comparison such as 'other families like us', e.g. people with the same number of children of roughly the same age, living in similar size houses. There are studies going back to the 1970s (e.g. [11, 12]) showing dramatic (2 × or 3 ×) differences in the amount of energy used by similar families living in identical homes, suggesting that the behavioural component of energy use can be significant. A display allowing this kind of comparison could help make consumers aware of their own standing in this context.

However, as Wesley Schultz et al [13] showed in California, this kind of feedback can lead to a 'boomerang effect', where people who are told they're doing better than average then start to care less about their energy use, leading to it increasing back up to the norm. It's important, then, that any display using this kind of feedback treats a norm as a goal to achieve only on the way down. Schultz et al went on to show that by using a smiley face to demonstrate social approval of what people had done - affective engagement - the boomerang effect can be mitigated.

Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions

(3) Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions

A level (3) display would give consumers feedforward [14] - effectively, simulation of what the impact of their behaviour would be (switching on this device now rather than at a time when there's a lower tariff - Economy 7 or a successor), and tips about how to use things more efficiently at the right moment (kairos), and in the right kind of environment, for them to be useful. Whereas 'Tips of the Day' in software frequently annoy users [15] because they get in the way of a user's immediate task, with something relatively passive such as a smart meter display, this could be a more useful application for them. The networked capability of the smart meter means that the display could be updated frequently with new sets of tips, perhaps based on seasonal or weather conditions ("It's going to be especially cold tonight - make sure you close all the curtains before you go to bed, and save 20p on heating") or even special tariff changes for particular periods of high demand ("Everyone's going to be putting the kettle on during the next ad break in [major event on TV]. If you're making tea, do it now instead of in 10 minutes; time, and get a 50p discount on your next bill").

Disaggregated data: identifying devices This level (3) display doesn't require any ability to know what devices a consumer has, or to be able to disaggregate electricity use by device. It can make general suggestions that, if not relevant, a consumer can ignore.

But what about actually disaggregating the data for particular devices? Surely this must be an aim for a really 'smart' meter display. Since [4, p.52] notes - in the context of discussing privacy - that “information from smart meters could... make it possible...to determine...to a degree, the types of technology that were being used in a property,” this information should clearly be offered to consumers themselves, if the electricity suppliers are going to do the analysis (I've done a bit of a possible mockup, using a more analogue dashboard style).

Disaggregated data dashboard

Whether the data are processed in the meter itself, or upstream at the supplier and then sent back down to individual displays, and whether the devices are identified from some kind of signature in their energy use patterns, or individual tags or extra plugs of some kind, are interesting technology questions, but from a consumer's point of view (so long as privacy is respected), the mechanism perhaps doesn't matter so much. Having the ability to see what device is using what amount of electricity, from a single display, would be very useful indeed. It removes the guesswork element.

Now, Sentec's Coracle technology [16] is presumably ready for mainstream use, with an agreement signed with Onzo [17], and ISE's signal-processing algorithms can identify devices down to the level of makes and models [18], so it's quite likely that this kind of technology will be available for smart meters for consumers fairly soon. But the question is whether it will be something that all customers get - i.e. as a recommendation of the outcome of the DECC consultation - or an expensive 'upgrade'. The fact that the consultation doesn't mention disaggregation very much worries me slightly.

If disaggregated data by device were to be available for the mass-distributed displays, clearly this would significantly affect the interface design used: combining this with, say a level (2) type social proof display could - even if via a website rather than on the display itself - let a consumer compare how efficient particular models of electrical goods are in use, by using the information from other customers of the supplier.

In summary, for Q13 - and I'm aware I haven't addressed the "energy use, money, CO2 etc" aspect directly - there are people much better qualified to do that - I feel that the more ability any display has to provide information of different kinds to consumers, the more opportunities there will be to do interesting and useful things with that information (and the data format and API must be open enough to allow this). In the absence of more definitive information about what kind of feedback has the most behaviour-influencing effect on what kind of consumer, in what context, and so on, it's important that the display be as adaptable as possible.

Q14 Do you have comments regarding the accessibility of meters/display units for particular consumers (e.g. vulnerable consumers such as the disabled, partially sighted/blind)?

The inclusive design aspects of the meters and displays could be addressed through an exclusion audit, applying something such as the University of Cambridge's Exclusion Calculator [19] to any proposed designs. Many solutions which would benefit particular consumers with special needs would also potentially be useful for the population as a whole - e.g. a buzzer or alarm signalling that a device has been left on overnight which isn't normally, or (with disaggregation capability) notifying the consumer that, say, the fridge has been left open, would be pretty useful for everyone, not just the visually impaired or people with poor memory.

It seems clear that having open data formats and interfaces for any device will allow a wider range of things to be done with the data, many of which could be very useful for vulnerable users. Still, fundamental physical design questions about the device - how long the batteries last for, how easy they are to replace for someone with poor eyesight or arthritis, how heavy the unit is, whether it will break if dropped from hand height - will all have an impact on its overall accessibility (and usefulness).

Thinking of 'particular consumers' more generally, as the question asks, suggests a few other issues which need to be addressed:

- A website-only version of the display data (as suggested at points in the consultation document) would exclude a lot of consumers who are without internet access, without computer understanding, with only dial-up (metered) internet, or simply not motivated or interested enough to check - i.e., it would be significantly exclusionary.

- Time-of-Use (ToU) pricing will rely heavily on consumers actually understanding it, and what the implications are, and changing their behaviour in accordance. Simply charging consumers more automatically, without them having good enough feedback to understand what's going on, only benefits electricity suppliers. If demand- or ToU-related pricing is introduced – “the potential for customer confusion... as a result of the greater range of energy tariffs and energy related information” [4, p. 49] is going to be significant. The design of the interface, and how the pricing structure works, is going to be extremely important here, and even so may still exclude a great many consumers who do not or cannot understand the structure.

- The ability to disable supply remotely [4, p. 12, p.20] will no doubt provoke significant reaction from consumers, quite apart from the terrible impact it will have on the most vulnerable consumers (the elderly, the very poor, and people for whom a reliable electricity supply is essential for medical reasons), regardless of whether they are at fault (i.e. non-payment) or not. There WILL inevitably be errors: there is no reason to suppose that they will not occur. Imagine the newspaper headlines when an elderly person dies from hypothermia. Disconnection may only occur in “certain well-defined circumstances” [3, p. 28] but these will need to be made very explicit.

- “Smart metering potentially offers scope for remote intervention... [which] could involve direct supplier or distribution company interface with equipment, such as refrigerators, within a property, overriding the control of the householder” [4, p. 52] - this simply offers further fuel for consumer distrust of the meter programme (rightly so, to be honest). As Darby [9] notes, "the prospect of ceding control over consumption does not appeal to all customers". Again, this remote intervention, however well-regulated it might be supposed to be if actually implemented, will not be free from error. “Creating consumer confidence and awareness will be a key element of successfully delivering smart meters” [4, p.50] does not sit well with the realities of installing this kind of channel for remote disconnection or manipulation in consumers' homes, and attempting to bury these issues by presenting the whole thing as entirely beneficial for consumers will be seen through by intelligent people very quickly indeed.

- Many consumers will simply not trust such new meters with any extra remote disconnection ability – it completely removes the human, the compassion, the potential to reason with a real person. Especially if the predicted energy saving to consumers is as low as 2.8% [4, p.18], many consumers will (perhaps rightly) conclude that the smart meter is being installed primarily for the benefit of the electricity company, and simply refuse to allow the contractors into their homes. Whether this will lead to a niche for a supplier which does not mandate installation of a meter - and whether this would be legal - are interesting questions.

Dan Lockton, Researcher, Design for Sustainable Behaviour Cleaner Electronics Research Group, Brunel Design, Brunel University, London, June 2009

[1] Meadows, D. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. Sustainability Institute, 1999.

[2] DECC. Impact Assessment of smart / advanced meters roll out to small and medium businesses, May 2009.

[3] DECC. A Consultation on Smart Metering for Electricity and Gas, May 2009.

[4] DECC. Impact Assessment of a GB-wide smart meter roll out for the domestic sector, May 2009.

[5] Fischer, J. and Kestner, J. 'Watt Watchers', 2008.

[6] DOTT / live|work studio. 'Low Carb Lane', 2007.

[7] BERR. Impact Assessment of Smart Metering Roll Out for Domestic Consumers and for Small Businesses, April 2008.

[8] O'Leary, N. and Reynolds, R. 'Current Cost: Observations and Thoughts from Interested Hackers'. Presentation at OpenTech 2008, London. July 2008.

[9] Darby S. The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption. A review for DEFRA of the literature on metering, billing and direct displays. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. April 2006.

[10] Kingston University, CHARM Project. 2009

[11] Socolow, R.H. Saving Energy in the Home: Princeton's Experiments at Twin Rivers. Ballinger Publishing, Cambridge MA, 1978

[12] Winett, R.A., Neale, M.S., Williams, K.R., Yokley, J. and Kauder, H., 1979 'The effects of individual and group feedback on residential electricity consumption: three replications'. Journal of Environmental Systems, 8, p. 217-233.

[13] Schultz, P.W., Nolan, J.M., Cialdini, R.B., Goldstein, N.J. and Griskevicius, V., 2007. 'The Constructive, Destructive and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms'. Psychological Science, 18 (5), p. 429-434.

[14] Djajadiningrat, T., Overbeeke, K. and Wensveen, S., 2002. 'But how, Donald, tell us how?: on the creation of meaning in interaction design through feedforward and inherent feedback'. Proceedings of the 4th conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques. ACM Press, New York, p. 285-291.

[15] Business of Software discussion community (part of 'Joel on Software'), '"Tip of the Day" on startup, value to the customer', August 2006

[16] Sentec. 'Coracle: a new level of information on energy consumption', undated.

[17] Sentec. 'Sentec and Onzo agree UK deal for home energy displays', 28th April 2008

[18] ISE Intelligent Sustainable Energy, 'Technology', undated

[19] Engineering Design Centre, University of Cambridge. Inclusive Design Toolkit: Exclusion Calculator, 2007-8

Two events next week by Dan

Next Wednesday evening, 27th May, I'll be giving a presentation about Design with Intent at SkillSwap Brighton's 'Skillswap Goes Behavioural' alongside Ben Maxwell from Onzo (pioneers of some of the most interesting home energy behaviour change design work going on at present). I hope I'll be able to give a thought-provoking talk with plenty of ideas and examples that can be practically applied in interaction, service design and user experience. Thanks to James Box of Clearleft for organising this. Walkway

Then on Thursday 28th, I'm honoured to be talking as part of a symposium in Loughborough University's Radar Arts Programme's 'Architectures of Control' themed events exploring how our lives are impacted by social and environmental controls.

The symposium is interspersed with the performance of Mark Titchner's 'Debating Society and Run', which sounds intriguing. In the symposium I'll be talking alongside Professor David Canter, who seems to have had an incredible career ranging from environmental to offender profiling (inspiration for Cracker, etc) and Alexa Hepburn, senior lecturer in Social Psychology at Loughborough. Again, I hope my presentation does justice to the event and other participants! Thanks to Nick Slater for inviting me.

The week after (4th June) I'll be giving a presentation at UFI in Sheffield, best known for its Learndirect courses. I'm hoping to be able to run a bit of a very rapid idea-generation workshop as part of this talk, something of an ultra-quick trial of the DwI toolkit...

Anti-teenager "pink lights to show up acne" by Dan

Pink lights in Mansfield. Photo from BBC In a similar vein to the Mosquito, intentionally shallow steps (and, superficially at least--though not really--blue lighting in toilets, which Raph d'Amico dissects well here), we now have residents' associations installing pink lighting to highlight teenagers' acne and so drive them away from an area:

Residents of a Nottinghamshire housing estate have installed pink lights which show up teenagers' spots in a bid to stop them gathering in the area.

Members of Layton Burroughs Residents' Association, Mansfield say they have bought the lights in a bid to curb anti-social behaviour. The lights are said to have a calming influence, but they also highlight skin blemishes.

The National Youth Agency said it would just move the problem somewhere else. Peta Halls, development officer for the NYA, said: "Anything that aims to embarrass people out of an area is not on. "The pink lights are indiscriminate in that they will impact on all young people and older people who do not, perhaps, have perfect skin.

I had heard about this before (thanks, Ed!) but overlooked posting it on the blog - other places the pink lights have been used include Preston and Scunthorpe, to which this quote refers (note the youths=yobs equation):

Yobs are being shamed out of anti-social behaviour by bright pink lights which show up their acne.

The lights are so strong they highlight skin blemishes and have been successful in moving on youths from troublespots who view pink as being "uncool." ... Manager Dave Hey said: "With the fluorescent pink light we are trying to embarass young people out of the area. "The pink is not seen as particularly macho among young men and apparently it highlights acne and blemishes in the skin. ... A North Lincolnshire Council spokesman said: "[...]"On the face of it this sounds barmy. But do young people really want to hang around in an area with a pink glow that makes any spots they have on their face stand out?"

With the Mansfield example making the news, it's good to see that there is, at least, quite a lot of comment pointing out the idiocy of the hard-of-thinking who believe that this sort of measure will actually 'solve the problem of young people', whatever that might mean, as well as the deeply discriminatory nature of the plan. For example, this rather dim (if perhaps tongue-in-cheek) light in the Nottingham Evening Post has been comprehensively rebutted by a commenter:

Trying to use someone's personal looks against them simply because they meet up with friends and have a social life...

If this is the case then I would personally love to see adults banned from meeting up in pubs, parties and generally getting drunk. I would also love to see something making fun of their elderlyness and wrinkle problems.

I don't understand why Britain hates its young people so much. But I can see it storing up a great deal of problems for the future.

Photo from this BBC story

The Convention on Modern Liberty by Dan

Barricades, London Britain's supposedly on the verge of a summer of rage, and while like Mary Riddell I am of course reminded of Ballard, it's not quite the same. I don't think this represents the 'middle class' ennui of Chelsea Marina.

Instead I think we may have reached a tipping point where more people than not, are, frankly, fed up (and scared) about what's happening, whether it's the economic situation, the greed of the feckless, the intransigent myopia of those who were supposed to 'oversee' what's going on, the use of fear to intimidate away basic freedoms, or a home secretary who treats the entire country like the naughty schoolchildren she left behind. In short: we're basically losing our liberty very rapidly indeed. This PDF, compiled by UCL Student Human Rights Programme, provides a withering summary. As many have repeated, 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual. But, as Cardinal Wolsey warned, "be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again".

The Convention on Modern Liberty, taking place across the UK this Saturday 28th February, aims to demonstrate the dissatisfaction with what's happening, and hopefully raise awareness of just what's going on right under our noses. It features an interesting cross-section of speakers, and the speeches will be streamed on the site (tickets for the London session sold out very quickly).

I'm a normal person, trying my best to advance the progress of humanity, yet I feel that the government has contempt for me as a member of the public in general, on an everyday basis. Everywhere we go, we are watched, monitored, surveilled, threatened, considered guilty. We shouldn't have to live like this.

P.S. I apologise for the lack of posts over the last week: my laptop's graphics card finally gave in - it had been kind-of usable at a low resolution by connecting the output to another monitor for a while, but that too has now failed. Thanks to everyone who's e-mailed and sent things: I will get round to them as soon as I can.

Designed environments as learning systems by Dan

West London from Richmond Park - Trellick Tower in the centre How much of designing an environment is consciously about influencing how people use it? And how much of that influence is down to users learning what the environment affords them, and acting accordingly?

The first question's central what this blog's been about over the last four years (with 'products', 'systems', 'interfaces' and so on variously standing in for 'environment'), but many of the examples I've used, from anti-sit features to bathrooms and cafés designed to speed up user throughput, only reveal the architect's (presumed) behaviour-influencing intent in hindsight, i.e. by reviewing them and trying to understand, if it isn't obvious, what the motivation is behind a particular design feature. While there are examples where the intent is explicitly acknowledged, such as crime prevention through environmental design, and traffic management, it can still cause surprise when a behaviour-influencing agenda is revealed.

Investigating what environmental and ecological psychology have to say about this, a few months ago I came across The Organization of Spatial Stimuli, an article by Raymond G. Studer, published in 1970 [1] - it's one of the few explicit calls for a theory of designing environments to influence user behaviour, and it raises some interesting issues:

"The nature of the environmental designer's problem is this: A behavioral system has been specified (within the constraints imposed by the particular human participants and by the goals of the organization of which they are members.) The participants are not presently emitting the specified behaviors, otherwise there would be no problem. It is necessary that they do emit these behaviors if their individual and collective goals are to be realized. The problem then is to bring about the acquisition or modification of behaviors towards the specified states (without in any way jeopardizing their general well-being in the process). Such a change in state we call learning. Designed environments are basically learning systems, arranged to bring about and maintain specified behavioral topologies. Viewed as such, stimulus organization becomes a more clearly directed task. The question then becomes not how can stimuli be arranged to stimulate, but how can stimuli be arranged to bring about a requisite state of behavioral affairs. ... [E]vents which have traditionally been regarded as the ends in the design process, e.g. pleasant, exciting, stimulating, comfortable, the participant's likes and dislikes, should be reclassified. They are not ends at all, but valuable means which should be skilfully ordered to direct a more appropriate over-all behavioral texture. They are members of a class of (designed environmental) reinforcers. These aspects must be identified before behavioral effects of the designed environment can be fully understood."

Now, I think it's probably rare nowadays for architects or designers to talk of design features as 'stimuli', even if they are intended to influence behaviour. Operant conditioning and B.F. Skinner's behaviourism are less fashionable than they once were. But the "designed environments are learning systems" point Studer makes can well be applied beyond simply 'reinforcing' particular behaviours.

Think how powerful social norms and even framing can be at influencing our behaviour in environments - the sober environment of a law court gives (most of) us a different range of perceived affordances to our own living room (social norms, mediated by architecture) - and that's surely something we learn. Frank Lloyd Wright intentionally designed dark, narrow corridors leading to large, bright open rooms (e.g. in the Yamamura House) so that the contrast - and people's experience - was heightened (framing, of a sort) - but this effect would probably be lessened by repeated exposure. It still influenced user behaviour though, even if only the first few times, but the memory of the effect that such a room had those first few times probably lasted a lifetime. Clearly, the process of forming a mental model about how to use a product, or how to behave in an environment, or how to behave socially, is about learning, and the design of the systems around us does educate us, in one way or another.

Stewart Brand's classic How Buildings Learn (watch the series too) perhaps suggests (among other insights) an extension of the concept: if, when we learn what our environment affords us, this no longer suits our needs, the best architecture may be that which we can adapt, rather than being constrained by the behavioural assumptions designed into our environments by history.

I'm not an architect, though, or a planner, and - as I've mentioned a few times on the blog - it would be very interesting to know, from people who are: to what extent are notions of influencing behaviour taught as part of architectural training? This series of discussion board posts suggests that the issue is definitely there for architecture students, but is it framed as a conscious, positive process (e.g. "funnel pedestrians past the shops"), a reactionary one (e.g. "use pebbled paving to make it painful for hippies to congregate"), one of educating users through architectural features (as in Studer's suggestion), or as something else entirely?

[1] Studer, R.G. 'The Organization of Spatial Stimuli.' In Pastalan, L.A. and Carson, D.H. (eds.), Spatial Behavior of Older People. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1970.

Dan Lockton

Stuff that matters: Unpicking the pyramid by Dan

Most things are unnecessary. Most products, most consumption, most politics, most writing, most research, most jobs, most beliefs even, just aren't useful, for some scope of 'useful'. I'm sure I'm not the first person to point this out, but most of our civilisation seems to rely on the idea that "someone else will sort it out", whether that's providing us with food or energy or money or justice or a sense of pride or a world for our grandchildren to live in. We pay the politicians who are best at lying to us because we don't want to have to think about problems. We bail out banks in one enormous spasm of cognitive dissonance. We pay 'those scientists' to solve things for us and them hate them when they tell us we need to change what we're doing. We pay for new things because we can't fix the old ones and then our children pay for the waste.

Economically, ecologically, ethically, we have mortgaged the planet. We've mortgaged our future in order to get what we have now, but the debt doesn't die with us. On this model, the future is one vast pyramid scheme stretching out of sight. We've outsourced functions we don't even realise we don't need to people and organisations of whom we have no understanding. Worse, we've outsourced the functions we do need too, and we can't tell the difference.

Maybe that's just being human. But so is learning and tool-making. We must be able to do better than we are. John R. Ehrenfeld's Sustainability by Design, which I'm reading at present, explores the idea that reducing unsustainability will not create sustainability, which ought to be pretty fundamental to how we think about these issues: going more slowly towards the cliff edge does not mean changing direction.

I'm especially inspired by Tim O'Reilly's "Work on stuff that matters" advice. If we go back to the 'most things are unnecessary' idea, the plan must be to work on things that are really useful, that will really advance things. There is little excuse for not trying to do something useful. It sounds ruthless, and it does have the risk of immediately putting us on the defensive ("I am doing something that matters...").

The idea I can't get out of my head is that if we took more responsibility for things (i.e. progressively stopped outsourcing everything to others as in paragraphs 2 and 3 above, and actively learned how to do them ourselves), this would make a massive difference in the long run. We'd be independent from those future generations we're currently recruiting into our pyramid scheme before they even know about it. We'd all of us be empowered to understand and participate and create and make and generate a world where we have perspicacity, where we can perceive the affordances that different options will give us in future and make useful decisions based on an appreciation of the longer term impacts.

An large part of it is being able to understand consequences and implications of our actions and how we are affected, and in turn affect, the situations we're in - people around us, the environment, the wider world. Where does this water I'm wasting come from? Where does it go? How much does Google know about me? Why? How does a bank make its money? How can I influence a new law? What do all those civil servants do? How was my food produced? Why is public transport so expensive? Would I be able to survive if X or Y happened? Why not? What things that I do everyday are wasteful of my time and money? How much is the purchase of item Z going to cost me over the next year? What will happen when it breaks? Can I fix it? Why not? And so on.

You might think we need more transparency of the power structures and infrastructures around us - and we do - but I prefer to think of the solution as being tooling us up in parallel: we need to have the ability to understand what we can see inside, and focus on what's actually useful/necessary and what isn't. Our attention is valuable and we mustn't waste it.

How can all that be taught?

I remember writing down as a teenager, in some lesson or other, "What we need is a school subject called How and why things are, and how they operate." Now, that's broad enough that probably all existing academic subjects would lay claim to part of it. So maybe I'm really calling for a higher overall standard of education.

But the devices and systems we encounter in everyday life, the structures around us, can also help, by being designed to show us (and each other) what they're doing, whether that's 'good' or 'bad' (or perhaps 'useful' or not), and what we can do to improve their performance. And by influencing the way we use them, whether nudging, persuading or preventing us getting it wrong in the first place, we can learn as we use. Everyday life can be a constructionist learning process.

This all feeds into the idea of 'Design for Independence':

Reducing society’s resource dependence Reducing vulnerable users’ dependence on other people Reducing users’ dependence on ‘experts’ to understand and modify the technology they own.

One day I'll develop this further as an idea - it's along the lines of Victor Papanek and Buckminster Fuller - but there's a lot of other work to do first. I hope it's stuff that matters.

Dan Lockton

On 'Design and Behaviour' this week: Do you own your stuff? And a strange council-run 'Virtual World for young people' by Dan

GPS-aided repo and product-service systems

GPS tracking - image by cmpalmer

Ryan Calo of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society brought up the new phenomenon of GPS-aided car repossession and the implications for the concepts of property and privacy:

A group of car dealers in Oregon apparently attached GPS devices to cars sold to customers with poor credit so as to be able to track them down more easily in the event of repossession.

...this practice also relates to an emerging phenomenon wherein sold property remains oddly connected to the seller as though it were merely leased. Whereas once we purchased an album and did with it as we please, today we need to register (up to five) devices in order to play our songs.

...and Kingston University's Rosie Hornbuckle linked this to the concept of product-service systems:

This puts a whole new slant on product-service-systems, a current (and popular) sustainability methodology whereby people are weaned off the concept of owning products, instead they lease them off the manufacturer who is then responsible for take-back, repair, recycling or disposal. So in that scenario it's quite likely that a manufacturer will want to keep tabs on their equipment/material, will this bring up privacy issues or is it simply the case that if it's done overtly (and not in the negative frame of potential repossession), the customer knows about it and agrees, it's ok? Or will it be a long time before people can overcome the perceived encroachment on their liberty that not owning might bring?

It reminds me of something Bill Thompson suggested to me once, that (paraphrasing) the idea that we 'own' the technology we use might well turn out to be a short phase in overall human history. That could perhaps be 'good' in contexts where sharing/renting/pooling things allows much greater efficiency and brings benefits for users. Nevertheless, as the repossession example (and DRM, etc, in general) show, the tendency in practice is often to use these methods to exert increasing dominance over users, erode assumed rights, and extract more value from people who no longer have control of the things they use.

See the whole thread so far (and join in!)

Above image of GPS trails (unrelated to the story, but a cool picture) from cmpalmer's Flickr

The Mosquito, and plans for an odd 'walk-in virtual world'

McDonald's Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Rosie discussed the Mosquito (above image: an example outside a McDonald's opposite Windsor Castle*) and asked "could we use our design skills and knowledge to influence these sorts of behaviours with a less aggressive and longer-term approach?" while Adrian Short summed up the issue pretty well:

There are a lot of problems in principle and in practice with these devices, but the core problem for me is that they tend to be directed at users rather than uses (i.e. people by identity, not behaviour) and are entirely arbitrary. The street outside a shop is public space and the shop owners have no more right than anyone else to dictate who goes there.

In as much as these things work (which is highly disputed), they are never going to encourage a meaningful debate about norms of behaviour among users of a space. This approach is not so much negotiation as warfare.

Sutton's Rosehill steps (which Adrian let me know about originally) were also discussed and Adrian brought us the story of something very odd: a 'virtual world to teach good behaviour to young people':

Half a mile away, the same council is proposing to spend at least £4 million on a facility that will include a high-tech virtual street environment, a "street simulator" if you like, to teach safety and good behaviour to some of the same young people. ... "Part movie-set, part theme park, the learning complex will be the first of its kind in the UK and will also house an indoor street with shop fronts, pavements and a road. The idea is to give young people the confidence to make the best of their lives and have a positive impact on their peers and their local community."

I don't really know what to make of that. I actually woke up this morning thinking about it assuming that it was a dream I'd been having, then realised where I'd read about it. It sounds like a mish-mash of Scaramanga's Fun House from The Man With The Golden Gun and the Ludovico Centre** from A Clockwork Orange.

Scaramanga's FunhouseLudovico Centre

See the whole thread here.

*This particular McDonald's, with the Mosquito going every evening and clearly audible to me and my girlfriend (both mid-20s) also features a vicious array of anti-sit spikes (below) which rather negate the 'welcoming' efforts made with the flowerbed.

**I actually gave a talk about my research to Environmentally Sensitive Design students in this building a couple of weeks ago: it's Brunel's main Lecture Centre.

McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Placebo buttons, false affordances and habit-forming by Dan

Elevator graph This is a great graph from GraphJam, by 'Bloobeard'. It raises the question, of course, whether the 'door close' buttons on lifts/elevators really do actually do anything, or are simply there to 'manage expectations' or act as a placebo.

The Straight Dope has quite a detailed answer from 1986:

The grim truth is that a significant percentage of the close-door buttons [CDB] in this world, for reasons that we will discuss anon, don't do anything at all. ... In the meantime, having consulted with various elevator repairmen, I would say that apparent CDB nonfunctionality may be explained by one of the following:

(1) The button really does work, it's just set on time delay. Suppose the elevator is set so that the doors close automatically after five seconds. The close-door button can be set to close the doors after two or three seconds. The button may be operating properly when you push it, but because there's still a delay, you don't realize it.

(2) The button is broken. Since a broken close-door button will not render the elevator inoperable and thus does not necessitate an emergency service call, it may remain unrepaired for weeks.

(3) The button has been disconnected, usually because the building owner received too many complaints from passengers who had somebody slam the doors on them.

(4) The button was never wired up in the first place. One repair type alleges that this accounts for the majority of cases.

Gizmodo, more recently, contends that:

...the Door Close button is there mostly to give passengers the illusion of control. In elevators built since the early '90s. The button is only enabled in emergency situations with a key held by an authority.

Door close button

This is clearly not always true; I've just tested the button in the lift down the corridor here at Brunel (installed around a year ago) and it works fine. So it would seem that enabling the functionality (or not) or modifying it (e.g. time delays) is a decision that can be made for each installation, along the lines of the Straight Dope information.

If there's a likelihood (e.g. in a busy location) that people running towards a lift will become antagonised by those already inside pressing the button (deliberately or otherwise) and closing the door on them, maybe it's sensible to disable it, or introduce a delay. If the installation's in a sparsely populated corner of a building where there's only likely to be one lift user at a time, it makes sense for the button to be functional. Or maybe for the doors to close more quickly, automatically.

But thinking about this more generally: how often are deceptive buttons/controls/options - deliberate false affordances - used strategically in interaction design? What other examples are there? Can it work when a majority of users 'know' that the affordance is false, or don't believe it any more? Do people just give up believing after a while - the product has "cried Wolf" too many times?

Matt Webb (Mind Hacks, Schulze & Webb) has an extremely interesting discussion of the extinction burst in conditioning, which seems relevant here:

There's a nice example I read, I don't recall where, about elevators. Imagine you live on the 10th floor and you take the elevator up there. One day it stops working, but for a couple of weeks you enter the elevator, hit the button, wait a minute, and only then take the stairs. After a while, you'll stop bothering to check whether the elevator's working again--you'll go straight for the stairs. That's called extinction.

Here's the thing. Just before you give up entirely, you'll go through an extinction burst. You'll walk into the elevator and mash all the buttons, hold them down, press them harder or repeatedly, just anything to see whether it works. If it doesn't work, hey, you're not going to try the elevator again.

But if it does work! If it does work then bang, you're conditioned for life. That behaviour is burnt in.

I think this effect has a lot more importance in everyday interaction with products/systems/environments than we might realise at first - a kind of mild Cargo Cult effect - and designers ought to be aware of it. (There's a lot more I'd like to investigate about this effect, and how it might be applied intentionally...)

We've looked before at the thermostat wars and the illusion of control in this kind of context. It's related to the illusion of control psychological effect studied by Ellen Langer and others, where people are shown to believe they have some control over things they clearly don't: in most cases, a button does afford us control, and we would rationally expect it to: an expectation does, presumably, build up that similar buttons will do similar things in all lifts we step into, and if we're used to it not doing anything, we either no longer bother pressing it, or we still press it every time "on the off-chance that one of these days it'll work".

How those habits form can have a large effect on how the products are, ultimately, used, since they often shake out into something binary (you either do something or you don't): if you got a bad result the first time you used the 30 degree 'eco' mode on your washing machine, you may not bother ever trying it again, on that machine or on any others. If pressing the door close button seems to work, that behaviour gets transferred to all lifts you use (and it takes some conscious 'extinction' to change it).

There's no real conclusion to this post, other than that it's worth investigating this subject further.

Donella Meadows' Leverage Points by Dan

Scott Wilson first pointed me in the direction of Donella Meadows' 'Leverage Points - Places to Intervene in a System' [PDF, 93 kB], and it's been very useful in thinking about the 'Design with Intent' idea at a system level rather than just the myopic preoccupation with armrests on park benches and interface design which it could have become.

One of the main points in my IJSE article Making users more efficient: Design for sustainable behaviour is that Design with Intent, viewed as 'design to change user behaviour', pretty much resolves into manipulation of actual and perceived affordances & constraints, persuasion through information and feedback, or a combination of both - a context-based approach "where affordances, constraints or persuasive elements are selectively enabled or displayed depending on users’ behaviour at the time." (This categorisation also parallels Debra Lilley's and Renee Wever et al's to a large extent - which is a good sign, I think.)

Really, all of this is about designing into systems (products, services, environments, choice architectures): - real affordances which allow, make it easier or more difficult, or prevent certain actions or decisions occurring; or perceived affordances which suggest/give users feedforward on the consequences of decisions or actions - information mechanisms which give feedback on previous or current decisions or actions - the ability to connect one to the other, i.e. a system choosing which affordances or perceived affordances to present, based on information.

Looking at Donella Meadows' work, it seems that the three Design with Intent approaches map reasonably closely to three of her leverage points, or at least subsets of them:

Persuasion through information and feedback:

6. The structure of information flows

There was this subdivision of identical houses, the story goes, except that for some reason the electric meter in some of the houses was installed in the basement and in others it was installed in the front hall, where the residents could see it constantly, going round faster or slower as they used more or less electricity. With no other change, with identical prices, electricity consumption was 30 percent lower in the houses where the meter was in the front hall.

We systems-heads love that story because it’s an example of a high leverage point in the information structure of the system. It’s not a parameter adjustment, not a strengthening or weakening of an existing loop. It’s a new loop, delivering information to a place where it wasn’t going before and therefore causing people to behave differently. ... Missing feedback is one of the most common causes of system malfunction. Adding or restoring information can be a powerful intervention, usually much easier and cheaper than rebuilding physical infrastructure.

Manipulation of actual and perceived affordances & constraints:

5. The rules of the system [or, as originally outlined, 'The rules of the system (incentives, punishments, constraints)']

The rules of the system define its scope, its boundaries, its degrees of freedom... As we try to imagine restructured rules...and what our behavior would be under them, we come to understand the power of rules. They are high leverage points. Power over the rules is real power.

Affordances, constraints or persuasive elements selectively enabled or displayed depending on users’ behaviour at the time:

4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

...these rules basically govern how, where, and what the system can add onto or subtract from itself under what conditions.

(As an aside, the PDF on the Sustainability Institute's website, linked above, is 'SECURED' in an attempt to prevent people copying text from it, as I've done above. This constraint is an example of Meadows' Leverage point 5, of course. But thanks to the rebalance of information flow (Leverage point 6) afforded by the internet, it took me less than 30 seconds to find something to strip the protection from the PDF and let me copy the text to the clipboard.)

Designing Safe Living by Dan

New Sciences of Protection logo Lancaster University's interdisciplinary Institute for Advanced Studies (no, not that one) has been running a research programme, New Sciences of Protection, culminating in a conference, Designing Safe Living, on 10-12 July, "investigat[ing] ‘protection’ at the intersections of security, sciences, technologies, markets and design." The keynote speakers include the RCA's Fiona Raby, Yahoo!'s Benjamin Bratton and Virginia Tech's Timothy Luke, and the conference programme [PDF, 134 kB] includes some intriguing sessions on subjects such as 'The Art/Design/Politics of Public Engagement', 'Designing Safe Citizens', 'Images of Safety' and even 'Aboriginal Terraformation (performance panel)'.

I'll be giving a presentation called 'Design with Intent: Behaviour-Shaping through Design' on the morning of Saturday 12 July in a session called 'Control, Design and Resistance'. There isn't a paper to accompany the presentation, but here's the abstract I sent in response to being invited by Mark Lacy:

Design with Intent: Behaviour-Shaping through Design Dan Lockton, Brunel Design, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH

"Design can be used to shape user behaviour. Examples from a range of fields - including product design, architecture, software and manufacturing engineering - show a diverse set of approaches to shaping, guiding and forcing users' behaviour, often for intended socially beneficial reasons of 'protection' (protecting users from their own errors, protecting society from 'undesirable' behaviour, and so on). Artefacts can have politics. Commercial benefit - finding new ways to extract value from users - is also a significant motivation behind many behaviour-shaping strategies in design; social and commercial benefit are not mutually exclusive, and techniques developed in one context may be applied usefully in others, all the while treading the ethical line of persuasion-vs-coercion.

Overall, a field of 'Design with Intent' can be identified, synthesising approaches from different fields and mapping them to a range of intended target user behaviours. My research involves developing a 'suggestion tool' for designers working on social behaviour-shaping, and testing it by application to sustainable/ecodesign product use problems in particular, balancing the solutions' effectiveness at protecting the environment, with the ability to cope with emergent behaviours."

The programme's rapporteur, Jessica Charlesworth, has been keeping a very interesting blog, Safe Living throughout the year.

I'm not sure what my position on the idea of 'designing safe living' is, really - whether that's the right question to ask, or whether 'we' should be trying to protect 'them', whoever they are. But it strikes me that any behaviour, accidental or deliberate, however it's classified, can be treated/defined as an 'error' by someone, and design can be used to respond accordingly, whether viewed through an explicit mistake-proofing lens or simply designing choice architecture to suggest the 'right' actions over the 'wrong' ones.

User intent and emergence by Dan

Something which came out of the seminar at Brunel earlier this week (thanks to everyone who came along) was the idea that any method of selecting ways to design products that aim to shape or guide users' behaviour really must incorporate some evaluation of users' actual goals in using the product - users' intent - alongside that of the designer/planner. This seems obvious, but I hadn't explicitly thought of it before as a prerequisite for the actual selection method (instead, I'd assumed these kinds of issues could be shaken out during the design process, based on designers' experience and judgement, and then in user testing). In retrospect it really does need to be considered much earlier in the process, while actually choosing which approaches are going to be explored. (Given how long I've spent reading about bad design and poor usability, you'd think I'd have twigged this earlier.) Seminar at Brunel

As longer-term readers may remember, back in 2005, I initially approached this whole subject from a very anti-control point of view. Products, systems, environments which seek to control or coerce the user into particular behaviours are, ultimately, not desirable, and the user mentality which seeks to avoid that control, or circumvent it, is something to be applauded, and very much necessary for the advance of society. Designing 'for' emergence is difficult; but emergent behaviour - at the very least, weak emergence - will emerge anyway.

Now, I still very much hold the anti-control belief - the proliferation of fundamentally anti-user artefacts in public space (as we see every couple of weeks on the blog) still astonishes me - but the major insight that led to taking on the PhD and the direction since the end of 2007, has been that, applied in a different context, some of the same techniques can actually help the user, improving efficiency and helping society at the same time. All design is persuasive, perhaps: any design technique can be used for 'good' or 'evil', just like any other tool. Guiding/persuasion/coercion may all be part of a continuum, depending on your point of view, but if something is (transparently) helping you to achieve something which benefits you, you're less likely to try and find a way round it.

Rest assured, then, I will attempt to include recognition of this in the method that's being developed, even if it's a simple step that asks the designer to consider that the particular technique under consideration "has been shown to provoke user resistance/hostility/reaction" and hence maybe isn't ideal. We're all users, even designers: even supercilious councillors were kids once, and we mustn't lose sight of that.

Heading north-east I'm going to be away for a few days in Finland presenting at Persuasive 2008 (in fact, should be there already as this post appears on the blog), so the posts might get a bit slower/briefer for a while: apologies if I haven't/don't reply to your emails or comments (yet), but I hope to do so as soon as I can. It'd be great to do a bit of Jan Chipchase-style blogging while I'm experiencing these liminal spaces of departure lounges and interstitial connexions: I'll see what I can do.

Cyclepathology by Dan

A lot of architectures of control / design with intent examples are trying to enforce what I've termed 'access, use or occupation based on user characteristics'. Not all designs are especially successful at achieving that target behaviour: users will not always be persuaded, or will find ways to avoid being coerced. Mud, footpath, cycles and kissing gate

Bicycles can churn up the surface of footpaths...

Mud, footpath, cycles and kissing gate

...You can put up signs to tell cyclists not to do it...

Mud, footpath, cycles and kissing gate

...or you can put in gates (kissing gates as they're known in the UK) to try to stop them (along with livestock)...

Mud, footpath, cycles and kissing gate

...but it doesn't mean anyone will take any notice!

Digital control round-up by Dan Lockton

An 'Apple' dongle Mac as a giant dongle

At Coding Horror, Jeff Atwood makes an interesting point about Apple's lock-in business model:

It's almost first party only-- about as close as you can get to a console platform and still call yourself a computer... when you buy a new Mac, you're buying a giant hardware dongle that allows you to run OS X software. ... There's nothing harder to copy than an entire MacBook. When the dongle -- or, if you prefer, the "Apple Mac" -- is present, OS X and Apple software runs. It's a remarkably pretty, well-designed machine, to be sure. But let's not kid ourselves: it's also one hell of a dongle.

If the above sounds disapproving in tone, perhaps it is. There's something distasteful to me about dongles, no matter how cool they may be.

Of course, as with other dongles, there are plenty of people who've got round the Mac hardware 'dongle' requirement. Is it true to say (à la John Gilmore) that technical people interpret lock-ins (/other constraints) as damage and route around them?

Screenshot of Mukurtu archive website

Social status-based DRM

The BBC has a story about the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive, a digital photo archive developed by/for the Warumungu community in Australia's Northern Territory. Because of cultural constraints, social status, gender and community background have been used to determine whether or not users can search for and view certain images:

It asks every person who logs in for their name, age, sex and standing within their community. This information then restricts what they can search for in the archive, offering a new take on DRM. ... For example, men cannot view women's rituals, and people from one community cannot view material from another without first seeking permission. Meanwhile images of the deceased cannot be viewed by their families.

It's not completely clear whether it's intended to help users perform self-censorship (i.e. they 'know' they 'shouldn't' look at certain images, and the restrictions are helping them achieve that) or whether it's intended to stop users seeing things they 'shouldn't', even if they want to. I think it's probably the former, since there's nothing to stop someone putting in false details (but that does assume that the idea of putting in false details would be obvious to someone not experienced with computer login procedures; it may not).

While from my western point of view, this kind of social status-based discrimination DRM seems complete anathema - an entirely arbitrary restriction on knowledge dissemination - I can see that it offers something aside from our common understanding of censorship, and if that's 'appropriate' in this context, then I guess it's up to them. It's certainly interesting.

Neverthless, imagining for a moment that there were a Warumungu community living in the EU, would DRM (or any other kind of access restriction) based on a) gender or b) social status not be illegal under European Human Rights legislation?

Disabled buttonsDisabling buttons

From Clientcopia:

Client: We don't want the visitor to leave our site. Please leave the navigation buttons, but remove the links so that they don't go anywhere if you click them.

It's funny because the suggestion is such a crude way of implementing it, but it's not actually that unlikely - a 2005 patent by Brian Shuster details a "program [that] interacts with the browser software to modify or control one or more of the browser functions, such that the user computer is further directed to a predesignated site or page... instead of accessing the site or page typically associated with the selected browser function" - and we've looked before at websites deliberately designed to break in certain browers and disabling right-click menus for arbitrary purposes.

Full, tilt by Dan Lockton

Balancing bowls. Image from Royal VKB websiteJan Hoekstra's Balancing Bowls for Royal VKB (via Boing Boing) are an interesting 'portion control/guidance' solution - as Cory Doctorow puts it:

The tilt is tiny, all of 3 degrees, and the net effect is very satisfying -- you gradually add snacks to the "light" side until it makes a soft and very definite *click* as it falls.

This kind of 'very mild persuasion' example is a great demonstration of how a simple physical property can be used to inform the user - the conventional modern solution in this area might be to monitor users' behaviour, e.g. by weighing the amount of food put into the bowl, and then display it electronically, with an indication of whether a pre-set portion size has been exceeded. But these bowls simply tilt, with no electronics or moving parts (other than the bowl itself) necessary. It's an elegant poka-yoke style solution.

Portion perception (and unit bias) is a fascinating area - we've looked briefly at it a few times - but I hope to explore it in more detail in due course, along with a review of Dr Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating - in a post about how cognitive biases could be used in designing behavioural change.

Do you really need to print that? by Dan Lockton

Do you really need to print that?
Do you really need to print that?
This is not difficult to do, once you know how. Of course, it's not terribly useful, since a) most people don't read the display on a printer unless an error occurs, or b) you're only likely to see it once you've already sent something to print.

Is this kind of very, very weak persuasion - actually worthwhile? From a user's point of view, it's less intrusive than, say, a dialogue box that asks "Are you sure you want to print that? Think of the environment" every time you try to print something (which would become deeply irritating for many users), but when applied thoughtfully, as (in a different area of paper consumption) in Pete Kazanjy's These Come From Trees initiative, or even in various e-mail footers* (below), there may actually be some worthwhile influence on user behaviour. It's not 'micropersuasion' in Steve Rubel's sense, exactly, but there is some commonality.

Please consider the environment

I'm thinking that addressing the choices users make when they decide to print (or not print) a document or email could be an interesting specific example to investigate as part of my research, once I get to the stage of user trials. How effective are the different strategies in actually reducing paper/energy/toner/fuser/ink consumption and waste generation? Would better use of 'Printer-friendly' style sheets for webpages save a lot of unnecessary reprints due to cut-off words and broken layouts? Should, say, two pages per sheet become the default when a dicument goes above a certain number of pages? Should users be warned if widows (not so much orphans) are going to increase the number of sheets needed, or should the leading be automatically adjusted (by default) to prevent this? What happens if we make it easier to avoid printing banner ads and other junk? What happens if we make the paper tray smaller so the user is reminded of just how much paper he/she is getting through? What happens if we include a display showing the cost (financially) of the toner/ink, paper and electricity so far each day, or for each user? What happens if we ration paper for each user and allow him or her to 'trade' with other users? What happens if we give users a 'reward' for reaching targets of reducing printer usage, month-on-month? And so on. (The HP MOPy Fish - cited in B J Fogg's Persuasive Technology - is an example of the opposite intention: a system designed to encourage users to print more, by rewarding them.)

Printing is an interesting area, since it allows the possibility of testing out both software and hardware tactics for causing behaviour change, which I'm keen to do.

Review: Architecture as Crime Control by Neal Katyal by Dan Lockton

Concrete Review: Katyal, N. K. "Architecture as Crime Control", Yale Law Journal, March 2002, Vol 111, Issue 5.

Professor Neal Kumar Katyal of Georgetown University Law School, best-known for being (successful) lead counsel in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees, has also done some important work on the use of design as a method of law enforcement in both the digital and built environments.

This article, 'Architecture as Crime Control', specifically addresses itself to a legal and social policy-maker audience in terms of the areas of focus and the arguments used, but is also very relevant to architects and designers open to being enlightened about the strategic value of their work. Specifically with regard to 'architectures of control' and 'design for behaviour change', as one might expect, there are many useful examples and a great deal of interesting analysis. In this review, I will try to concentrate on examples and design techniques given in the article, along with some of the thinking behind them - the most useful aspects from the point of view of my own research - rather than attempting to analyse the legal and sociological framework into which all of this fits.

Katyal starts by acknowledging how the "emerging field of cyberlaw, associated most directly with Lawrence Lessig" has brought the idea of 'code' constraining behaviour to a level of greater awareness, but suggests that the greater permanence and endurance of architectural changes in the real world - the built environment - may actually give greater potential for behaviour control, as opposed to the "infinitely malleable" architecture of cyberspace:

It is time to reverse-engineer cyberlaw's insights, and to assess methodically whether changes to the architecture of our streets and buildings can reduce criminal activity.

A theme to which Katyal returns throughout the article is that the policy response to James Wilson and George Kelling's influential 'Broken Windows' - "an architectural problem in crime control" - has largely been a law enforcement one ("prosecution of minor offenses like vandalism in an attempt to deter these 'gateway crimes'") instead of actual architectural responses, which, Katyal argues, could have a significant and useful role in this field.

Design principles

Before tackling specific architectural strategies, Katyal discusses the general area of using "design principles" to "influence, in subtle ways, the paths by which we live and think" - a great summary of many of the techniques we've considered on this blog over the last couple of years, though not all have been subtle - and gives some good examples:

McDonald's seating, uncomfortable, Glasgow, from Headphonaught's Flickr stream

Fast food restaurants use hard chairs that quickly grow uncomfortable so that customers rapidly turn over

Image from Headphonaught's Flickr stream

Elevator (lift) numerals positioned to avoid eye contact

Elevator designers place the numerals and floor indicator lights over people's heads so that they avoid eye contact and feel less crowded

Supermarkets have narrow aisles so that customers cannot easily talk to each other and must focus on the products instead

(We've also seen the opposite effect cited, i.e. using wider aisles to cause customers to spend longer in a particular aisle - clearly, both effects could be employed in different product areas within the same supermarket, to suit whatever strategy the retailer has. There are plenty of other tricks too.)

And, in a footnote, Katyal cites Personal Space by Robert Sommer, which provides:

other examples, such as a café that hired an architect to design a chair that placed "disagreeable pressure on the spine if occupied for over a few minutes" and Conrad Hilton's decision to move couches out of hotel lobbies to minimise the number of lingering visitors.

(Sommer's work sounds interesting and relevant, and I look forward to investigating it*)

As Katyal puts it, "with strategies like these, private architects are currently engaging in social control."

Moving on to architectural strategies for crime control, Katyal expounds four 'mechanisms' identified in the field of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED):

Design should:

  • (1) Create opportunities for natrual surveillance by residents, neighbors and bystanders;
  • (2) Instill a sense of territoriality so that residents develop proprietary attitudes and outsiders feel deterred from entering a private space;
  • (3) Build communities and avoid social isolation;
  • (4) Protect targets of crime.
  • Before expanding on the practical and legal application of each of these mechanisms, Katyal makes the point that while they can often "work in synergy... natural surveillance is most effective when social isolation is minimized and when design delays the perpetration of crime," there can be conflicts and any strategy needs to be developed within the context of the community in which it is going to be applied:

    Security door propped open

    Effective design requires input by the community. Without such input, security features are likely to be resented, taken down or evaded (consider the 'security' doors propped open on campuses today.

    (This issue of 'resentment' or even 'inconvenience' is, I feel, going to be a significant factor in my own studies of environmentally beneficial behaviour-changing products; we shall see.)

    Natural surveillance

    The idea of natural surveillance is to create situations where areas are overlooked by neighbours, other residents and so on, with the effect being both a crime deterrent (if the criminal knows he is being watched, or might be watched, he may decide against the crime) and to improve the effectiveness of solving the crime afterwards (someone will have seen what happened). Katyal cites Jane Jacobs' argument that diversity of use can be an important way of bringing about natural surveillance - preferably with different activities occurring throughout the day, to ensure that there is always a population there to keep any eye on things. However, short of this kind of deliberate diversity planning, there are specific techniques that can be used on individual buildings and their surroundings to increase natrual surveillance; Katyal suggests the addition of windows facing onto public spaces, ensuring sight lines down corridors and alleyways, positioning windows so that neighbours can watch each other's houses, bringing parking areas in front of stores rather than out of sight behind them, and making sure hallways and lobbies are clearly visible to passers-by. He gives the example of redesigning the layout of a school's grounds to increase the opportunity for natural surveillance:

    School before improvement
    School after improvement
    Images from Katyal, N. K. "Architecture as Crime Control", Yale Law Journal, March 2002, Vol 111, Issue 5.

    [In the first image] the informal areas are blocked form sight and far from school grounds. Because no central place for congregation exists, students are spread over the grounds, and there is insufficient density for monitoring. The four open entrances and exits facilitate access to the school and escape. ... [In the second image,] through the designation of formal gathering areas, other places become subtly off-limits to students. Indeed, those who are present in such areas are likely to attract suspicion.... the formal gathering areas are naturally surveilled by building users... [and] are long and thin, running alongside the school windows, and two hedges prevent students from going fuarther away. Moreover, the west entrance, which had the least potential for surveillance, has been closed...

    Lighting can also be a major method of increasing natural surveillance:

    First, it helps anyone viewing a situation to see it more clearly and thereby deters some crimes by increasing the powers of perception of those watching. Second, it encourages people to be in the area in the first place because the greater visibility creates a sense of security. The more eyes on the street, the more visibility constrains crime.

    (Incidentally, Katyal comments - having interviewed an architect - that the use of yellow street lighting "can increase the crime rate by making streets (and individuals on them) look menacing", hence a tendency for some urban developers to move to white lighting instead.)

    Territoriality

    Territoriality - also much of the focus of defensible space (which I'll discuss in a later post) - "both provides an incentive for residents to take care of and monitor an area and subtly deters offenders by warning them that they are about to enter a private space." Some of Katyal's examples are wonderfully simple:

  • "An entrance raised by a few inches" is "a successful symbolic barrier... people are aware of minor graduations of elevation and may refrain from entry if they sense a gradual incline". (Elevation can also lead to reverence/respect, either directly - e.g. steps leading up to a courthouse - or indirectly, causing a visitor to bow his/her head on approach)
  • Monuments and markers can also demarcate the transition from public space into private space... A study of burglaries in Salt Lake City... revealed that houses with nameplates had lower rates of intrusion than those without them.

  • One rather simple way is to place two buildings in an 'L' formation with a fence that completes the triangle. Children can play in the open space, and adults can look out of their windows at their children.

  • Katyal also includes these diagrams from "a group of British architects":

    In the first, a series of buildings lacks a common entrance, and pedestrians cut through the property. The addition of a simple overhead arch, however, creates a sense of private space:

    Addition of archway to discourage use as through-route

    Images originally from Stollard, P. Crime Prevention Through Housing Design and included in Katyal's article.

  • Building community

    The third main mechanism, building community, is also heavily interlinked with the idea of defensible space. The aim here is to encourage a sense of community, by creating spaces which cause people to interact, or even reducing the number of dwellings in each individual set so that people are more likely to recognise and come to know their neighbours - something many architects have instinctively tried to do anyway over the past 20 years or so, though not always explicitly with crime reduction in mind:

    ...even the placement of seats and benches can bring people together or divide them, creating what architects call, respectively, sociopetal and sociofugal spaces. Some architects self-consciously create sociofugal spaces by, for example, designing chairs in airports that make it difficult for people to talk to each other.

    Practically, 'building community' would necessarily appear to be slightly more nebulous than some of the other mechanisms, but even techniques such as encouraging people to spend more time in communal areas such as a laundry (and hence potentially interact more) can be important here.

    Strengthening targets

    There are a number of simple examples of target hardening or strengthening given:

  • Placing deadbolts lower on door frames

    (presumably to make kicking them open more difficult)

  • Having doors in vulnerable locations swing outward

  • Raising fire escapes to put them out of easy reach

  • Reducing the size of letter-box openings

  • If a robber can stand on top of a trash bin and reach a second-floor window, the bin should be placed far from the window

  • Prickly shrubs placed outside of windows can also deter crime

  • A duct that spews hot air can be placed near a ground-floor window to deter entry

  • Smells can also be strategically harnessed either to induce people to come outside or keep them away

  • The FBI building is built on stilts to minimize damage in the event of a bomb detonation at street level

  • To decrease the likelihood of presidential assassination, a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was barricaded and closed to car traffic

  • Interestingly, Katyal makes the point that where potential crime targets can be strengthened without making it overly obvious that this has been done, the benefits may be greater:

    Modern technology permits targets to be hardened in ways that are not obvious to the public. Strong plastics, graffiti-resistant paint, and doors with steel cores are a few examples. These allow architects to disguise their efforts at strengthening targets and thus avoid sending a message that crime is rampant. ... Some forms of target hardening are suboptimal in that visibility evinces a fear of crime that can cause damage to the fabric of a community and even increase crime rates.

    He again later returns to this point:

    Subtle architecture that gently reinfoces law-abiding norms and prevents a degree of intrusion is to be preferred to explicit and awkward physical barricades that reflect the feeling that a community is under siege. Cheap wire fences do not express a belief in the power of law or norms; rather, they reflect the opposite. The same can be said for ugly iron bars on windows, which express the terror of crime as powerfully as does any sign or published crime statistic. ... A whole host of architectural strategies - such as the placement of doors and windows, creation of semipublic congregation spaces, street layout alterations, park redesign, and many more - sidestep creating an architecture dominated by the expression of fear. Indeed, cheap barricades often substitute for these subtler measures. Viewed this way, gated communities are a byproduct of public disregard of architecture, not a sustainable solution to crime.[my emphasis]

    (This last point is especially interesting to me - I must admit I am fascinated by the phenomenon of gated communities and what effect they have on their inhabitants as well as on the surrounding area, both in a Ballardian sense (Running Wild, Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes) and, more prosaically, in terms of what this voluntary separation does to the community outside the gates. See also the quote from architect John Thompson in my forthcoming post reporting what's happening at the former Brunel Runnymede Campus)

    Other aspects

    One point to which Katyal repeatedly returns is - a corollary of the above - the concept of architectural solutions as entities which subtly reinforce or embody norms (desirable ones, from the point of view of law enforcement) rather than necessarily enforce them in totality:

    Even the best social codes are quite useless if it is impossible to observe whether people comply with them. Architecture, by facilitating interaction and monitoring by members of a community, permits social norms to have greater impact. In this way, the power of architecture to influence social norms can even eclipse that of law, for law faces obvious difficulties when it attempts to regulate social interaction directly.

    ...

    Architecture can prevent crimes even when criminals believe the probability of enforcement is low... one feature of social norms strategies is that they are often self-enforcing.

    I think this is a crucial point, and is applicable in other 'architectures of control' techniques outside of the built environment and the specific issues of crime. Norms can be extremely powerful influencers of behaviour, and - to take my current research on changing user behaviour to reduce environmental impact - the ability to design a desirable norm into a product or system, without taking away the user's sense of ownership of, and confidence in, the product, may well turn out to be the crux of the matter.

    As (I hope) will be clear, much of Katyal's analysis seems applicable to other areas of 'Design for/against X' where human factors are involved - not just design against crime. So, for example, here Katyal is touching on something close to the concepts of perceived affordances (and disaffordances) in interaction design:

    Psychological evidence shows that criminals decode environmental 'cues' to assess the likelihood of success of a given criminal act... the design of a meeting table influences who will speak and when, and who is perceived to have a positionof authority. It is therefore no great shock that the eight months of negotiation that preceded the 1969 Paris Peace Talks largely centred on what the physical space of the negotiating table would be. It is said that Machiavelli designed a political meeting chamber with a ceiling that looked asif it were about to collapse, reasoning that it would induce politicians to vote quickly and leave. ... Winston Churchill... went so far as to claim that the shape of the House [of Commons] was essential to the two-party system and that its small size was critical for 'free debate': ... "The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of chamber... the act of crossing the floor is one which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice."

    Significant points are also made is about displacement (or "geographic substitution") of crime: do architectual measures (especially target hardening and obvious surveillance, we might assume) not simply move crime elsewhere? (We've discussed this before when looking at blue lighting in public toilets.) Katyal argues that, while some displacement will, of course, occur, this is not always direct substitution. Locally-based criminals may not have knowledge of other areas (i.e. the certainty that these will not be hardened or surveilled targets), or indeed, where crime is opportunistic, the "costs" imposed by travelling elsewhere to commit it are too high. Equally:

    Many devices, such as steel-reinforced doors, strong plastics, and the like are not discernible until a criminal has invested some energy and time. These forms of precaution will thus increase expected perpetration cost and deter offenders without risking substantial displacement.

    Also, the fact that increased police presence (for example) in a crime 'hot-spot' may also lead to crime displacement, is generally not seen as a reason for not increasing that presence: some targets simply are more desirable to protect than others, and where architectural measures allow police to concentrate elsewhere, this may even be an advantage.

    More specific examples

    Aside from the analysis, there are a great many architectures of control and persuasion examples dotted throughout Katyal's article, and while they are somewhat disparate in how I present them here, they are all worth noting from my point of view, and I hope interesting. Apart from those I've already quoted above, some of the other notable examples and observations are:

  • ...the feeling of being crowded correlates with aggression. Architects can alleviate the sensation of crowding by adding windows that allow for natural light, by using rectangular rooms (which are perceived to be larger than square ones), and by employing light-colored paints. When people perceive more space, they tend to become less hostile.

  • While the results should not be overemphasized, psychologists have found results showing that various colors affect behavior and emotions. The most consistent such finding is that red induces a higher level of arousal than do cool colors like green and blue. Another study indicated that people walked faster down a hallway painted red or orange than down one painted in cooler colors. After experimenting with hundreds of shade, Professor Schauss identified a certain shade of pink, Baker-Miller, as the most successful color to mediate aggression... prisoners in Baker-Miller pink cells were found to be les abusive than those in magnolia-colored cells.

    (See also discussion here)

  • Studies show that people who sit at right angles from each other at a table are six times more likely to engage in conversation than those who sit across from each other.

    (referencing Edward T Hall, The Hidden Dimension, 1966).

  • For some existing housing projects, the government could pass regulations requiring retrofitting to prevent crime. Small private or semiprivate lawns near entrances can encourage feelings of territoriality; strong lighting can enhnace visibility; staining and glazing can increase contrast; and buildings refaced with a diversity of pleasing finishes can reflect individuality and territoriality. Large open spaces can be subdivided to encourage natural surveillance.

  • Edward I enacted the Statute of Winchester, a code designed to prevent the concealment of robbers... [which included a] provision [which] directly regulated environmental design to reduce crime... highways had to be enlarged and bushes had to be cleared for 200 feet on either side of the highway.

  • ...certain buildings [being strategically placed in an area] such as churches, may reduce the crime rate because they create feelings of guilt or shame in potential perpetrators and because the absence of crime against such structures furthers visible social order.

  • Crimes that directly interfere with natural surveillance should... be singled out for special penalties. Destroying the lighting around a building is one obvious example. Another would be attempts by criminals to bring smoke-belching trucks onto a street before robbing an establishment.

  • Summary

    Ultimately, Katyal's aim seems to be to encourage policy-makers to see architectural measures as a potentially important aspect of crime reduction, given sensible analysis of each situation, and he suggests the use of Crime Impact Statements - possibly as a requirement for all new development - in a similar vein to Environmental Impact Statements, and leading to similar increases in awareness among architects and developers. Building codes and zoning policies could also be directed towards crime reduction through architectural strategies. Insurance companies, by understanding what measures 'work' and which don't, could use premiums to favour, promote and educate property owners, similarly to the way that widespread adoption of better design for fire protection and prevention was significantly driven by insurance companies.

    In this sense, a public (i.e. governmental) commitment to use of architectural strategies in this way would make the process much more transparent than individual private developers adopting ad hoc measures, and, with sensible analysis of each case, could assist local law enforcement and engage communities in reinforcing 'desirable' norms and 'designing away' some aspects of their problems - though Katyal makes it very clear that architecture alone cannot do this [my emphasis]:

    None of this should be mistaken for architectural determinism or its derivative belief that good buildings alone will end crime. These hopes of 'salvation by bricks' are illusory. But our rejection of this extreme should not lead us to the opposite extreme view, which holds that physical settings are irrelevant to human beliefs and action. Architecture influences behavior; it does not determine it.

    Tower A, Brunel University

    *Katyal also later cites Sommer's Social Design for the example of airports that "prevent crime by replacing bathroom entrance doors with right-angle entrances that permit the warning sounds of crime to travel more freely and that reduce the sense of isolation". I'd always assumed that (as with the toilet facilities in many motorway services here in the UK), this was to reduce the number of surfaces that a toilet user would have to touch - a similar strategy to having the entrance doors to public toilet areas pushable/elbowable/nudgable by users leaving the area, rather than forcing recently-washed hands to come into contact with a pull-handle which may not be especially clean. See also Sara Cantor's thoughts on encouraging handwashing.

    Some thoughts on classifications by Dan Lockton

    Over the last couple of years, this site has examined, mentioned, discussed or suggested around 250 examples of 'control' features or methods designed into products, systems and environments - many of which have come from readers' suggestions and comments on earlier posts. I'd resisted classifying them too much, since my original attempt wasn't entirely satisfactory, and it seemed as though it might be better to amass a large quantity of examples and then see what emerged, rather than try to fit every example into a pre-defined framework. As I start work on the PhD, though, it becomes more important to formalise, to some extent, the characteristics of the different examples, in order to identify trends and common intentions (and solutions) across different fields. My thinking is that while the specific strategy behind each example may be completely disparate, there are, on some levels, commonalities of intention.

    Abstracting to the general...

    For example, paving an area with pebbles to make it uncomfortable for barefoot protesters to congregate - U Texas, Austin and a system which curtails a targeted individual's mobility by remotely disabling a public transport pay-card have very different specific strategies, but the overall intention in both cases is to restrict access based on some characteristic of the user, whether it's bare feet or some data field in an ID system. In one case the intended 'strength' of the method is fairly weak (it's more about discouragement); in the other the intended strength is high: this individual's freedom must be curtailed, and attempted circumvention must be detected.

    In the case of the pebbles, we might describe the method as something like "Change of material or surface texture or characteristic", which would also apply to, for example, rumble strips on a road; the method of disabling the pay-card might be described as "Authentication-based function lockout", which could also describe, say, a padlock, at least on the level of keyholder authentication rather than actual identity verification. (Note, though, that the rumble strip example doesn't match the access-restriction intention, instead being about making users aware of their speed. Similar methods can be used to achieve different aims.)

    ...and back to the specific again

    Of course, this process of abstracting from the specific example (with a specific strategy) to a general principle (both intention, and method) can then be reversed, but with a different specific strategy in mind. The actual specific strategy is independent of the general principle. Readers familiar with TRIZ will recognise this approach - from this article on the TRIZ Journal website:

    TRIZ research began with the hypothesis that there are universal principles of creativity that are the basis for creative innovations that advance technology. If these principles could be identified and codified, they could be taught to people to make the process of creativity more predictable. The short version of this is:

    Somebody someplace has already solved this problem (or one very similar to it.) Creativity is now finding that solution and adapting it to this particular problem.

    ...

    Much of the practice of TRIZ consists of learning these repeating patterns of problems-solutions, patterns of technical evolution and methods of using scientific effects, and then applying the general TRIZ patterns to the specific situation that confronts the developer.

    So, following on from the above examples, where else is restricting access based on some characteristic of the user 'useful' to some agency or other? (Clearly there are many instances where most readers will probably feel that restricting access in this way is very undesirable, and I agree.) But let's say, from the point of view of encouraging / persuading / guiding / forcing users into more environmentally friendly behaviour (which is the focus of my PhD research), that it would be useful to use some characteristic of a user to restrict or allow access to something which might cause unnecessary environmental impact.

    An in-car monitoring system could adjust the sensitivity (or the response curve) of the accelerator pedal so that a habitually heavy-footed driver's fuel use is reduced, whilst not affecting someone who usually drives economically anyway. (A persuasive, rather than controlling alternative would be a system which monitors driver behaviour over time and gives feedback on how to improve economy, such as the Foot-LITE being developed at Brunel by Dr Mark Young). Or perhaps a householder who throws away a lot of rubbish one week (which is recorded by the bin) is prevented from throwing away as much the next week - each taxpayer is given a certain allocation of rubbish per year, and this is enforced by an extension of the 'bin-top spy' already being introduced to prevent the bin being opened once the limit has been reached (OK, cue massive fly-tipping: it's not a good idea - but you can bet someone, somewhere, has thought of it).

    Both of the above 'control' examples strike me as technical overkill, unnecessarily intrusive and unnecessarily coercive, but thinking on a simpler level and extending the 'characteristic of the user' parameter to include characteristics of an object borne by the user (such as the key mentioned earlier), we might include everything from the circular slots and flaps on bottle banks (which make it more difficult to put other types of rubbish in - restricting access based on a characteristic of what the user's trying to put in it), to narrower parking spaces or physical width restrictions to prevent (or discourage) wider vehicles (such as 4x4s) from being used in city centres.

    At this stage, these thoughts are fairly undeveloped, and I'm sure the methods of classification will evolve and mature, but even writing a post such as this helps to clarify the ideas in my mind. The real test of any system such as this is whether it can be used to suggest or generate worthwhile new ideas, and so far I haven't reached this level.

    Learned down the gambling house by Dan Lockton

    Fruit machine reelsMichael Shanks' Ten Things class at Stanford - which looks like a brilliant application of anthropological and archaeological thinking to design and technology - generated a very interesting project by William Choi and Antoine Sindhu analysing the architectures of control (psychological and physical) designed into both slot machines, and casinos themselves. Slot machines

    From 'The psychology of the slot machine':

    [S]lot machines keep players engrossed through a psychological phenomenon known as operant conditioning. What psychologists call the “primary conditioning mechanism” is the inclusion of relatively small payouts in slot machine gameplay. These small payouts provide positive reinforcement to the player ... the positive reinforcement provided by the small payouts causes people to continue repeating the behavior. The frequency of payouts is precisely fine-tuned and optimized—a payout rate that is any higher than absolutely necessary cuts down on the casino’s profits.

    Slot machines do not stop with a single primary conditioning mechanism. Secondary mechanisms augment the excitement and incentive to continue playing. The most important of these is the inclusion of a system in the machine that yields a high frequency of “near misses,” or situations in which the player believes they have almost won. For example, the slot machine often displays two out of the three jackpot bars, a tremendously stimulating event which has greatly reinforced the player’s behavior at no cost to the casino.

    The article compares the positive reinforcement effect in humans to that shown by B F Skinner's classic experiments with rats, where pressing a lever caused pellets to be dispensed, and where the mechanism was very quickly learned. Skinner's work on behaviour shaping [PDF link] is of great relevance to my forthcoming PhD research, since it's effectively about 'teaching' (or 'guiding') the subject (which could be a rat, pigeon or end-user) towards a different set of behaviour, rather than actual coercion. This continuum between persuasion and outright control will, I suspect, be an important part of the research, although as a number of readers have pointed out in the comments here over the last couple of years, persuasion can be as much about control (in a psychological sense) as code or physical product or environmental architecture are in the world outside our minds.

    Casino design

    We've looked briefly before at casino layouts and tricks, inspired by a piece on Signal vs Noise, but Choi and Sindhu's 'Analysis of casino design' goes into fascinating detail:

    Casinos are generally designed so that patrons must walk through or at least around the periphery of several slot machine blocks to move around the casino, to maximize the customers’ exposure to the exciting sights and sounds of the slot machines, and especially of others winning on the machines ... Casino planners know that slot players love to see and hear other people winning on nearby machines, because players hold it as evidence that money can be made on the machines. Thus casinos are designed to have the loosest machines in prominent areas deep within the gambling floor. Areas such as the ends of long rows or near walkways or elevated sections are generally where loose machines are placed. As people walk through the gambling floor, the sights and sounds of people playing on these more liberal machines draw other customers deeper into the slot machine block, where the machines are tighter.

    ...

    In general, table players do not like the noise of slot machines because they find it distracting ... At the same time, however, spouses or partners of table players will often wile away time playing at a nearby slot machine. Thus casinos are planned such that there are slot machines lining walkways around tables. However, these slots are always tight. This cuts down on the noise and distraction to table players, and makes sense because the majority of players on these machines are playing spontaneously, with little expectation of winning. This demonstrates to what degree casino layouts are optimized—in this case, to the point that a complex system is implemented simply to clean up loose change from spontaneous players.

    In most Las Vegas casinos, there is a noticeable lack of natural light and of clocks. The gambling floor is always located away from the main entrance out onto the street to minimize the gamblers’ exposure to the outside world ... those who are simply walking around the casino are more inclined to start using a machine, because their perceptions of time are manipulated by the design of the casino.

    Other features of the casino, including the music, carpeting, and even the air conditioning system, are manipulated to the casino’s advantage. Studies have shown that carpeting is often purposefully jarring to the eyes, which draws customers’ gaze upwards toward the machines on the gambling floor. Music is usually mild and soothing, and plays on a continuous loop rather than individual songs, contributing to a trance-like feeling of warmth and comfort in the gamblers.

    Choi and Sindhu go on to discuss the use of coercive atmospherics (Douglas Rushkoff's term) - things such as extra oxygen or pheromones pumped into the air - tactics which clearly have been tried - and in retail environments as well as casinos. Although Hunter pointed out in a comment on the SvN post that extra oxygen is not / no longer widely used by the major casinos, the Commercaire website is no longer online (Wayback copy here - switch off images if you want to be able to read it!), and Commercaire's manufacturers claim to have withdrawn their 'controversial' product, if the results claimed [PDF link] - 42% increase in casino revenues - are real, then one might suspect the company has simply changed the way it markets the product (as the 'Spitting Image' blog suggests here).

    Smile, you're on Countermanded Camera by Dan Lockton

    IDPS : Miquel Mora
    Image from Miquel Mora's website We've looked before at a number of technologies and products aimed at 'preventing' photography and image recording in some way, from censoring photographs of 'copyrighted content' and banknotes, to Georgia Tech's CCD-flooding system.

    Usually these systems are about locking out the public, or removing freedoms in some way (a lot of organisations seem to fear photography), but a few 'fightback' devices have been produced, aiming to empower the individual against others (e.g. Hewlett-Packard's 'paparazzi-proof' camera) or against authority (e.g. the Backflash system intended to render a car number plate unreadable when photographed by a speed camera). The field of sousveillance - lots of interesting articles by Régine Debatty here - is also a 'fightback' in a parallel vein.

    Taking the fightback idea further, into the realms of everyware, Miquel Mora's IDentity Protection System, shown last month at the RCA's Great Exhibition (many thanks to Katrin Svabo Bech for the tip-off), aims to offer the individual a way to control how his or her image is recorded - again, Régine from We Make Money Not Art:

    With IDPS (IDentity Protection System), interaction designer Miquel Mora is proposing a new way to protect our visual identity from the invasion of ubiquitous surveillance cameras. He had a heap of green stickers that could stick to your jacket. Or anywhere else. The sticker blurred your image on the video screen.

    "With the IDPS project I wanted to sparkle [sic.] debate about all the issues related to identity privacy," explains Miquel. "Make people think about how our society has become a complete surveillance machine. Our identities have already been stored as data in many servers ready to be tracked. And our self image is our last resort. So we really need tools to protect our privacy. We need tools that can allow us to hide or reveal our visual image. We must have the control over it."

    "For example in one scenario a girl is wearing a tooth jewellery with IDPS technology embedded. So when she smiles she reveals it and it triggers the camera to protect her. With IDPS users can always feel comfortable, knowing that with a simple gesture like smiling, they are in control. The IDPS technology could be embedded in all kind of items, from simple badges to clothes or jewellery. For the working prototype I'm using Processing to track the stickers and pixelate the image around when it founds one."

    IDPS : Miquel Mora
    Image from Miquel Mora's website

    While the use of stickers or similar tags (why not RFID?) which can be embedded in items such as jewellery is a very neat idea aesthetically, I am not sure what economic/legal incentive would drive CCTV operators or manufacturers to include something such as IDPS in their systems and respect the wishes of users. CCTV operators generally do not want anyone to be able to exclude him or herself from being monitored and recorded, whether that's by wearing a hoodie or a smart black hat with maroon ribbon. Or indeed a veil of some kind.

    Something which actively fought back against unwanted CCTV or other surveillance intrusion, such as reversing the Georgia Tech system in some way (e.g. detecting the CCD of a digital security camera, and sending a laser to blind it temporarily, or perhaps some kind of UV strobe) would perhaps be more likely to 'succeed', although I'm not sure how legal it would be. Still, with RCA-quality interaction designers homing in on these kinds of issues, I think we're going to see some very interesting concepts and solutions in the years ahead...