As we may understand: A constructionist approach to ‘behaviour change’ and the Internet of Things by Dan

Find Alternative Route, Old Street In a world of increasingly complex systems, we could enable social and environmental behaviour change by using IoT-type technologies for practical co-creation and constructionist public engagement.

[This article is cross-posted to Medium, where there are some very useful notes attached by readers]

We’re heading into a world of increasingly complex engineered systems in everyday life, from smart cities, smart electricity grids and networked infrastructure on the one hand, to ourselves, personally, being always connected to each other: it’s not going to be just an Internet of Things, but very much an Internet of Things and People, and Communities, too.

Yet there is a disconnect between the potential quality of life benefits for society, and people’s understanding of these — often invisible — systems around us. How do they work? Who runs them? What can they help me do? How can they help my community?

IoT technology and the ecosystems around it could enable behaviour change for social and environmental sustainability in a wide range of areas, from energy use to civic engagement and empowerment. But the systems need to be intelligible, for people to be engaged and make the most of the opportunities and possibilities for innovation and progress.

They need to be designed with people at the heart of the process, and that means designing with people themselves: practical co-creation, and constructionist public engagement where people can explore these systems and learn how they work in the context of everyday life rather than solely in the abstract visions of city planners and technology companies.

View Source

Understanding things

The internet, particularly the world-wide web, has done many things, but something it has done particularly well is to enable us to understand the world around us better. From having the sum of human knowledge in our pockets, to generating conversation and empathy between people who would never otherwise have met, to being able to look up how to fix the washing machine, this connectedness, this interactivity, this understanding, has—quickly—led to changes in everyday life, in social practices, habits, routines, decision processes, behaviour, in huge ways, not always predictably.

It’s surfaced information which existed, but which was difficult to find or see, and—most importantly—links between ideas (as Vannevar Bush, and later Ted Nelson, envisaged), at multiple levels of abstraction, in a way which makes discovery more immediate. And it’s linked people in the process, indeed turned them into creators and curators on a vast scale, of photos, videos, games and writing (short-form and longer). It may not all be hand-coding HTML, but perhaps much of it followed, ultimately, from the ability to ‘View Source’, GeoCities, Xoom, et al, and the inspiration to create, adapt and experiment.

But how do things fit into this? How can the Internet of Things, ambient intelligence and ubiquitous, pervasive computing, help people understand the world better? Could they enable more than just clever home automation-via-apps, more-precisely-targeted behavioural advertising, and remote infrastructure monitoring, and actually help people understand and engage with the complex systems around them — the systems we’re part of, that affect what we do and can do, and are in turn affected by what we do? Even as the networks become ever more complex, can the Internet of Things — together with the wider internet — help people realise what they can do, creating opportunities for new forms of civic engagement and empowerment, of social innovation, of sustainability?

In this article, I’m going to meander a bit back and forth between themes and areas. Please bear with me. And this is very much a draft—a rambling, unfocused draft—on which I really do welcome your comments and suggestions.

Light switch panel, RCA

Design and behaviour change

For the last few years, I’ve been working in the field of what’s come to be known as design for behaviour change, mostly, more specifically, design for sustainable behaviour. This is all about using the design of systems—interfaces, products, services, environments—to enable, motivate, constrain or otherwise influence people to do things in different ways. The overall intention is social and environmental benefit through ‘behaviour change’, which is, I hope, less baldly top-down and individualist than it may sound. I am much more comfortable at the ‘enable’ end of the spectrum than the ‘constrain’. The more I type the phrase ‘behaviour change’, the less I like it, but it’s politically fashionable and has kept a roof over my head for a few years.

As part of my PhD research, I collected together insights and examples from lots of different disciplines that were relevant, and put them into a ‘design pattern’ form, the Design with Intent toolkit, which lots of people seem to have found useful. All of the patterns exemplify particular models of human behaviour—assumptions about ‘what people are like’, what motivates them, how homogeneous they are in their actions and thoughts, and so on—often conflicting, sometimes optimistic about people, sometimes less so. Each design pattern is essentially an argument about human nature. Some of them are nice, some of them are not.

However, in applying some of the (nicer!) ideas in practice, particularly towards influencing more sustainable behaviour at work and at home, around issues such as office occupancy and food choices, as well as energy use, it became clear that the models of people inherent in many kinds of ‘intervention’ are simply not nuanced enough to address the complexity and diversity of real people, making situated decisions in real-life contexts, embedded in the complex webs of social practices that everyday life entails. (This is, I feel, something also lacking in many current behavioural economics-inspired treatments of complex social issues.)

Milton Keynes Station

Many of the issues with the ‘behaviour change’ phenomenon can be characterised as deficiencies in inclusion: the extent to which people who are the ‘targets’ of the behaviour change are included in the design process for those ‘interventions’ (this terminology itself is inappropriate), and the extent to which the diversity and complexity of real people’s lives is reflected and accommodated in the measures proposed and implemented. This suggests that a more participatory process, one in which people co-create whatever it is that is intended to help them change behaviour, is preferable to a top-down approach. Designing with people, rather than for people.

Another issue, noted by Carl DiSalvo, Phoebe Sengers and Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir in 2010, is the distinction between modelling “users as the problem” in the first place, and “solving users’ problems” in approaches to design for behaviour change. The common approach assumes that differences in outcome will result from changes to people—‘if only we can make people more motivated’; ‘if only we can persuade people to do this’; ‘if only people would stop doing that’—overcoming cognitive biases, being more attentive, caring about things, being more thoughtful, and so on.

But considering questions of attitude, beliefs or motivations in isolation rather than in context—the person and the social or environmental situation in which someone acts (following Kurt Lewin and Herbert Simon)—can lead to what is known as the fundamental attribution error. Here, for example, some behaviour exhibited by other people—e.g. driving a short distance from office to library—is attributed to ‘incorrect’ attitudes, laziness, lack of motivation, or ignorance, rather than considering the contextual factors which one might use to explain one’s own behaviour in a similar situation—e.g. needing to carry lots of books (this example courtesy of Deborah Du Nann Winter and Susan M. Koger).

So, framing behaviour change as helping people do things better, rather than trying to ‘overcome irrationality’ as if it were something that exists independently of context, offers a much more positive perspective: solving people’s problems—with them—as a way of enacting behaviour change, from the initial viewpoint of trying to understand, in context, the problems that people are trying to solve or overcome in everyday life, rather than adopting a model of defects in people’s attitudes or motivation which need to be ‘fixed’.

Lord Stand By Me

Something that has arisen, for me, during ethnographic research and other contextual enquiry around things like interaction with heating systems, energy (electricity and gas) use more widely — and even seemingly unrelated issues such as neighbourhood planning, or a community group’s use of DropBox — is the importance of people’s understanding and perceptions of the systems around them. Questions about perceived agency, mental models of how things work, assumptions about what affects what, conflating one concept or entity with another, and so on, feed into our decision processes, and the differences in understanding can cause conflict or undesired outcomes for different actors within the system.

As Dan Hill puts it, if we can “connect [people’s] behaviour to the performance of the wider systems they exist within” we can help them “begin to understand the relationships between individuals, communities, environments and systems in more detail”.

'Pig Ears' outside the Said Business School, Oxford

But it seems as though most approaches to design for behaviour change—and it’s a rapidly growing field under different labels—either ignore questions around understanding entirely, or try to find out about how users (mis)understand things, and then attempt to change users’ understanding to make it ‘correct’. Many, in fact, start straight out to try to change understanding without trying to find anything out about users’ current understanding. A few (but not enough, perhaps) try to adjust the way a system works so that it matches users’ understanding. (This is a development of something I explored in a London IA talk a few years ago.)

Also, I must emphasise at this point that ‘behaviour change’ is not really a thing at all. ‘People doing something differently’ covers so much, across so many fields and contexts, that it’s silly to think it can be assessed properly in a simple way.

If anyone is really an ‘expert’ in ‘behaviour change’, it is parents and teachers and wise elderly raconteurs of lives well lived, children with youthful clarity of insight, people who strike up conversations with strangers on the bus, or talk down people about to jump off bridges: optimistic, experienced (or not) human students of human nature, not someone who sees ‘the public’ as a separate category to him- or herself, ripe for ‘intervention’.

Not for Public Use, Class 172 London Overground train

The Internet of Things as an innovation space

One of the nicest things about the Internet of Things phenomenon—and indeed the Quantified Self movement—as opposed to that other, related, topic of our time, the top-down ‘Smart City’, is the extent to which it crosses over with the bottom-up, almost democratic, Maker movement mentality. I’m using ‘the IoT’ here as a broad category for the potential to involve objects and sensors and networks in areas or situations that previously didn’t have them.

The Internet of Things, through initiatives such as Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino’s IoT meetups and others—while undoubtedly boosted commercially by Gartner Hype Cycle-baiting corporate buzzword PowerPoints—has been to no small extent driven by people doing this stuff for themselves. And helping each other to do it better. The peer support for anyone interested in getting into this area is immense and impressive: you can bet that someone out there will offer assistance, suggest ways round a problem, and share their experience. The barriers to entry are relatively low, and there are organisations and projects springing up whose rationale is based around lowering those barriers further.

The IoT is a huge von Hippel user innovation space, and it involves not just innovation by users, but innovation that is about building things. Its very sustenance is people building things to try out hypotheses, addressing and reframing their own problems responding to their own everyday contexts, modifying and iterating and joining and forking and evolving what they’re doing, putting the output from one project into the input of another, often someone else’s. And yet it is still quite a small community in a global sense, overrepresented in the echo-chamber of the sorts of people likely to be reading this article.

Home Energy Hackday, Dana Centre

Constructionism and co-creation

I suspect there is something about the open structure of many IoT technologies (and those which have enabled it) which has made this kind of distributed, collaborative community of builders and testers and people with ideas more likely to happen. It may just be the openness, but I think it’s more than that. There are three other elements which might be important:

  • Linking the real world to a virtual, abstract, invisible one. Even if an IoT project is about translating one physical phenomenon into another, this action comes about through links to an invisible world. I don’t know for certain why that might be important, but I think it may be that it triggers thinking about how the system works, in a way that is still somewhat outside our everyday experience. This kind of action-at-a-distance retains some magic, in the process calling new mental models or simulations into existence…
  • …which are then tested and iterated, because nothing ever works first time. This means people learn through doing things, through coming up with ideas about how things work, and testing those hypotheses by their own hand, often understanding things at quite different levels of abstraction (but that still being just fine). It’s not a field that’s particularly suited to learning from a book (despite some excellent contributions)…
  • …and indeed the boundaries of what the IoT is for are so fluid and expansive in a ‘What use is a baby?’ sense that the goal is one of exploration rather than ‘mastery’ of the subject. There is no right or wrong way to do a lot of this stuff, nor limits imposed by any kind of central authority.

I’m no scholar of educational theory, but it seems that these kinds of characteristics are similar to what Seymour Papert, father of LOGO and student of Jean Piaget, termed constructionism—in the words of the One Laptop Per Child project,

“a philosophy of education in which children learn by doing and making in a public, guided, collaborative process including feedback from peers, not just from teachers. They explore and discover instead of being force fed information”.

Story Machine workshop at The Mill, Walthamstow Constructionist learning (whether with children or adults) is not a ‘leave them to it’ approach: it involves a significant degree of facilitation, including designing the tools (like LOGO, or Scratch) that enable people to create tools for themselves. Returning to the design context, this is a central issue in discussions of participatory design, co-design and co-creation—to what extent, and how, designers are most usefully involved in the process. What are the boundaries of co-creation? How do they differ in different contexts? Is the progression from design for people to design with people to design by people an inevitability? Whither the designer in the end case?

Setting aside this kind of debate for the moment, I am going to say that for the purposes of this article:

  • involving people (‘users’, though they are more than that) in a design process…
  • to address problems which are meaningful for them, in their life contexts…
  • in which they participate through making, testing and modifying systems or parts of systems…
  • partly facilitated or supported by designers or ‘experts’…
  • in a way which improves people’s understanding of the systems they’re engaging with, and issues surrounding them…

meets a definition of ‘constructionist co-creation’.

Education City, Doha

Behaviour change through constructionist co-creation

Now, let’s go back to behaviour change. I mentioned earlier my contention that much of what’s wrong with the ‘behaviour change’ phenomenon is about deficiencies in inclusion. People (‘the public’) are so often seen as targets to have behaviour change ‘done to them’, rather than being included in the design process. This means that the design ‘interventions’ developed end up being designed for a stereotyped, fictional model of the public rather than the nuanced reality.

Every discipline which deals with people, however tangentially, has its own models of human behaviour—assumptions about how people will act, what people are ‘like’, and how to get them to do something different (as Susan Weinschenk notes). As Adam Greenfield puts it:

“Every technology and every ensemble of technologies encodes a hypothesis about human behaviour”.

Phone box, Isleworth

All design is about modelling situations, as Hugh Dubberly and Paul Pangaro and before them, Christopher Alexander remind us. Even design which does not explicitly consider a ‘user’ inevitably models human behaviour in some way, even if by omitting to consider people. Modelling inescapably has limitations—Chris Argyris and Donald Schön suggested that “an interventionist is a man struggling to make his model of man come true”—but of course, although “all models are wrong…, some are useful.”

In design for behaviour change, we need to recognise the limitations of our models, and be much clearer about the assumptions we are making about behaviour. We also need to recognise the diversity and heterogeneity of people, across cultures, across different levels of need and ability, but also across situations. This approach is something like attempting to engage with the complexity of real life rather than simplifying it away—in Steve Portigal’s words:

“rather than create distancing caricatures, tell stories… Look for ways to represent what you’ve learned in a way that maintains the messiness of actual human beings.”

What’s a way to do this? Co-creation, co-production—in a behaviour change context—enables us to include a more diverse set of people, leading to a more nuanced treatment of everyday life. This, in itself, represents an advance in inclusion terms over much work in this field. Flora Bowden and I have tried to take this approach as part of our work on the European SusLab energy project.

But going further, constructionist co-creation for behaviour change would enable people actually to create, test, iterate and refine tools for understanding, and influencing, their own behaviour. Just look at Lifehacker or LifeProTips, GetMotivated or even the venerable 43 Folders. People enjoy exploring ways to change their own behaviour, through experimenting, through discussion with others, and through developing their own tools and adapting others’, to help understand themselves and other people, and the systems of everyday life which affect what we do. Behaviour change could be direct—or it could be, perhaps more interestingly, directed towards exploring and improving our understanding of the systems around us.

Vodafone tower, on a car park roof in central London

Invisible infrastructures and the Internet of Things: avoiding the demon-haunted smart fridge

The thing is, the systems around us are complex and becoming more so, and often invisible—or “distressingly opaque”—in the process, which makes them more difficult to understand and engage with. This includes everything from ‘the Cloud’ (which, as Dan Hon notes, is coming to the fore with news stories such as celebrity photo hacking) to Facebook (as danah boyd puts it, “as the public, we can only guess what the black box is doing”) to CCTV and other urban sensor networks.

You are now entering a Bluetooth Zone (Right: An interesting infrastructure ‘business model’ from the Public Safety Charitable Trust—see

Timo Arnall, in his PhD thesis, introduces this issue using the example of smartphones, “perhaps the most visible aspect of contemporary, digitally-mediated, everyday-life. Yet the complex networks of systems and infrastructures that allow a smartphone to operate remain largely invisible and unknown.”

He goes on to explore, via some beautiful projects, another invisible infrastructure—RFID and near-field communication— and the possibilities of making this visible, tangible and legible.

Most diagrams or infographics aiming to illustrate the Internet of Things show visible lines connecting objects to each other, or to central hubs of some kind. But whatever forms the IoT takes, most of these are going to be ‘invisible by default’, in Mayo Nissen’s words (specifically referring to urban sensors). Invisibility might seem attractive, and magic (and we’ll get onto seamlessness in a bit) but by its very nature it conceals the links between things, between organisations, between people and purpose:

“Some sensing technologies capture our imagination and attract our constant attention. Yet many go unnoticed, their insides packed with unknowable electronic components, ceaselessly counting, measuring, and transmitting. For what purpose, or to whose gain, is often unclear… there is seldom any information to explain what these barnacles of our urban landscape are or what they are doing.”

Black Boxes & Mental Models Black Boxes & Mental Models Black Boxes & Mental Models

(Above and below: Black boxes and mental models: an exercise at dConstruct 2011. Some photos by Sadhna Jain.)

Back in 2011 I ran a workshop at dConstruct including an exercise where groups each received a ‘black box’, an unknown electronic device with an unlabelled interface of buttons, ‘volume’ controls and LEDs, housed in a Poundland lunchbox and badly assembled one evening while watching a Bill Hicks documentary and drinking whisky.

Black Boxes & Mental ModelsInternally  — and so secretly — each box also contained a wireless transmitter, receiver, sound chip and speaker (basically, a wireless doorbell), and in one box, an extra klaxon. The aim was to work out what was going on — what did the controls do? — and record your group’s understanding, or mental model, or even an algorithm of how the system worked in some form that could explain it to a new user who hadn’t been able to experiment with the device.

As people realised that the boxes ‘interacted’ with each other, by setting off sounds in response to particular button-presses, the groups’ explanations became more complex.

Each group used slightly different methods to investigate and illustrate the model, with unexpected behaviour or coincidences (one group’s box setting off the doorbell in another, but coinciding with a button being pressed or a volume control being turned) leading to some rapidly escalating complex algorithms.

We are now creating an even more complex world of black boxes, networked black boxes with their own algorithms, real and assumed, and those that depend on algorithms out of our hands, remote, changeable, strategic, life-changing which we may not have any easy way of investigating. And which model us, the public, in particular ways.

Algorithm is going from black box code to black box language. Everything is being explained away as “algorithm”. No surprise really

(“Algorithm is going from black box code to black box language. Everything is being explained away as “algorithm”. No surprise really.” Scott Smith, 6 July 2014 —

As James Bridle puts it, “comprehension is impossible without visibility”:

“the intangibility of contemporary networks conceals the true extent of their operation… This invisibility extends through physical, virtual, and legal spaces.”

Bridle is talking about a policing context, but invisibility, or rather lack of transparency, is of course also a hallmark of crime and corruption, often intentionally complex systems. Dieter Zinnbauer’s concept of ambient accountability is very relevant here: systems can only be accountable if people can understand them, whether that’s windows in building-site hoardings or politicians’ expenses.

Or as Louise Downe has said:

“We can only trust something if we think we know how it works… When we don’t know how a thing works we make it up.”

What new superstitions are going to arise from smart homes, smart meters, smart cities? What will people make up? Are my fridge and Fitbit collaborating with Tesco and BUPA to increase my health insurance premiums? What assumptions are the systems in my daily life going to be making about me? How will I know? What are the urban legends going to be? How will this understanding affect people’s lives? How can we make use of what the IoT enables to help us understand things, rather than making things less understandable?

Cables, Downing College Cambridge, 2004

An opportunity

The opportunity exists, then, for more work which uses a constructionist approach to enable us—the public—to investigate and understand the complex hidden systems in the world around us, in the process potentially changing our mental models, behaviour and practice. Tools based around IoT technology, developed and applied practically through a process of co-creation with the public, could enable this particularly well. In general, co-creation offers lots of opportunities for designing behaviour change support systems that actually respond to the real contexts of everyday life. But the IoT, in particular, can enable technological participation in this.

We would have to start with particular domains where public understanding of a complex, invisible system in everyday life potentially has effects on behaviour or social practices, and where changing that understanding would improve quality of life and/or provide social or environmental benefit.

Ghosts, Old Street LT

Introducing ‘knopen’

I want to propose some examples of projects (or rather areas of practical research) that could be done in this vein, but before that—because I can—I am going to coin a new word for this. Knopen, a fairly obvious portmanteau of know and open, can be a verb (to knopen something) or an adjective (e.g. a knopen tool). Let’s say ‘to knopen’ conjugates like ‘to open’. We knopen, we knopened, we are knopening. Maybe it will usually be more useful as a transitive verb: We knopened the office heating system. The app helped us knopen the local council’s consultation process. Help me knopen the sewage system. Maybe it’s useful as a gerund: knopening as a concept in itself. Knopening the intricacies of the railway ticketing system has saved our family lots of money.

Tools for understanding

What does knopen mean, though? I’m envisaging it being the kind of word that’s used as description of what a tool does. We have tools for opening things—prying, prising, unscrewing, jimmying, breaking, and so on. We also have tools that help us know more about things, and potentially understand them—a magnifying glass, a compass, Wikipedia—but just as with any tool, they are better matched to some jobs than to others.

If I just use a screwdriver to unscrew or pry open the casing on my smart energy meter, and look at the circuitboard with a magnifying glass, unless I already have lots of experience, I don’t know much more about how it works, or what data it sends (and receives), and why, or what the consequences are of that. I don’t necessarily have a better understanding of the system, or the assumptions and models inscribed in it. I have opened the smart meter, but I haven’t knopened it. To knopen it would need a different kind of tool. In this case, it might be a tool that interrogates the meter, and translates the data, and the contexts of how it’s used and why, into a form I understand. That doesn’t necessarily just mean a visual display.

Meter cupboard

This, then, would be knopening: opening a system or part of a system (metaphorically or physically) with tools which enable you to know and understand more about how it works, what it does, or the wider context of its use and existence: why things are as they are. Knopening could include ‘knopening thyself’—understanding and reflecting on why and how you make decisions.

Knopening isn’t as involved as grokking. To grok something is at a much deeper level. Nevertheless, knopening could be transformative. Going back to the earlier discussion, knopening is basically a label for a process by which we can investigate and understand the complex hidden systems in the world around us, which could certainly change our mental models, behaviour and practice. Knopening is about understanding why.

Maybe knopen is a daft conceit, a ‘fetch’ that isn’t going to happen. But it’s worth a try. And I see that it also means ‘to button’ or ‘to knot’ in Dutch, but that’s not too awful. As my wife put it, “that’s quite sweet.” Probably ontknopen, unbuttoning or untying, would be closer in meaning to what I mean. Urban Dictionary tells us that knopen can also mean “the act of knocking on and opening a closed door simultaneously”, which is not inappropriate, I think.

Some areas of research for knopen

These are all about people making and using tools to understand—to knopen—the systems around them, in particular the whys behind how things work. They all have the potential to integrate the quantitative data from networked objects and sensors with qualitative insights from people themselves, in co-created useful and meaningful ways.

Please Don't Turn Me Off, I'm The Fridge :)

DIY for the home of the future

In the UK, “at least 60% of the houses we’ll be living in by 2050 have already been built” (and that quote’s from 2010). That means that whatever IoT technologies come to our homes, they will largely be retrofitted. The ‘smart home’ in practice is going to be piecemeal for most people, the Discman-to-cassette-adaptor-to-car-radio rather than a glossy integrated vision.

CC licensed by Toyohara (Photo by Toyohara, used under a Creative Commons licence)

That’s something to bear in mind in itself, but even with this piecemeal nature, there’s still going to be plenty of invisibility—quite apart from whatever it is our fridges are going to be making decisions about, what will DIY look like?

What are people going to be able to choose to fit themselves? What systems will people be able to connect together? What’s the equivalent of a buried cable detector for data flows? What will Saturday afternoons be like with the IoT? Is it an electrician we need or a ‘data plumber’? What will happen when parts need to be replaced? When smart grids come along, for example, what is interaction with them going to look like? Can DIY work in that context? What happens if microgeneration becomes popular?

Could we use this DIY context strategically — as a way of engaging people in behaviour change, through active participation in experimenting and changing their own homes and everyday practices, using IoT technologies? How do we domesticate the IoT?

House of Coates Haunted Coates House

(Tom Coates’ House of Coates, and the Haunted Coates House)

Something in this space could be the core of the knopen concept: tools that enable us to understand and investigate the invisible systems around us, and the links between them, at home (or at work). Really basically, we could think of it as in-context system diagrams on everythingnot just static, but explorable explanations in Bret Victor’s terminology, maybe even some kind of data traces. And those explanations don’t have to be physical diagrams — they can be ambient, responsive, exploring both the backstories and possible future states of systems.

Networked devices and sensors, inputs and outputs, everything the IoT provides, could show us explicitly how systems work both in and beyond our immediate home context — including our own actions, past, present and future (hence enabling us to change our behaviour), and those of other people. We would learn what a system assumes/knows about us, and how it makes decisions that affect us and others; how do we fit into these systems that pervade our homes?

Pipes in disabled toilet at RCA Battersea

Seams, streams and new metaphors

The idea of seamful design  — in contrast to the seamlessness which so often seems to be goal of advances in human-computer interaction—is useful here. We are used to systems being promoted as invisible, seamless, frictionless as if this is necessarily always a good thing, from contactless payment to Facebook Connect. There’s no doubt that seamlessness can be convenient, but there’s a cost.

Matthew Chalmers, who has developed the ideas that Mark Weiser (father of calm technology, ubiquitous computing, etc) had around seamlessness and seamfulness, suggests that: “Seamfully integrated tools would maintain the unique characteristics of each tool, through transformations that retained their individual characteristics.”

Going slightly further than that, perhaps, by enabling people to experience the joins between systems, and the discontinuities, the texture of technologies — even making the seams not just ‘beautiful’ but tangible— we could help them understand better what’s going on, and interact with systems in a different way. As Karin Andersson says:

“The seams that are the most important are the ones that can improve a system’s functionality and when they are understood and figured out how they can become a resource for interaction by the user. If designers know how certain seams affect interactions, they can then incorporate them into an application and direct their effects into useful features of the system. This way, seamful design allows users to use seams, accommodate them and even exploit them to their own advantage”

Knopen is perhaps an attempt to enable people to make tools to make seams visible, or tangible, for themselves, where currently they are not. It is trying to turn seamlessness into seamfulness, then into understanding and empowerment, through enabling, facilitating, investigation of those systems: brass rubbing for the systems of the home, perhaps.

Detail of Juliana, wife of Thomas de Cruwe, 1411, CC licensed by Amanda Slater

(Detail of Juliana, wife of Thomas de Cruwe, 1411. CC licensed by Amanda Slater)

Seams are important to mental models. In the 1990s, Neville Moray — drawing on a approach taken by cybernetician (and ‘requisite variety’ originator) Ross Ashby — explored how one way of modelling what a mental model really is, is a lattice-like network of nodes that are super- or subordinate to other nodes (not necessarily in the sense of power relations, but rather in terms of parts or categories). By this interpretation, different mental models of the same situation or system come down to things like:

  • two people’s models containing different sets of nodes
  • or, more specifically, conflating particular nodes or introducing distinctions between nodes where others treat them as the same thing
  • two people’s models connecting the same nodes in different ways

Seams are, perhaps, the links or gaps between nodes or groups of nodes. Intentional seamlessness is an attempt to hide these links or gaps by actually conflating particular nodes or groups of nodes from the user’s perspective. Seamlessness is saying, “This is one system, and these nodes are the same”. In doing this, it inherently removes the ability to see or inspect or question or understand these relations.

Ethernet cable looped back, Quality Hotel Panorama, Gothenburg

We are — and will shortly be even more so — surrounded by systems, in our homes and elsewhere, that are collecting, sending, receiving and storing data all the time, about us, our actions and our environments. And yet we are generally not privy to what’s going on, what decisions are being made, where the data come from and where they go.

It might not seem a major issue at present to most people — even in the light of Snowden’s revelations and all that’s come since  — but once, for example, smart meters are dynamically adjusting pricing for electricity and gas on a large scale, a greater number of people are going to want to understand where those prices are coming from, and how these systems work. Compare the — often amusing — reactions when people explore what Google Ads or Facebook thinks it knows about them. Many people seem to enjoy this kind of exploration — all the more reason for a constructionist approach.

AC will not work when door is open, Four Seasons, Doha

We need a narrative context for the streams in our daily lives: what is the story of the sensors? What is the meaning of what’s going on? Even a Dyson-style ‘transparent container’ metaphor for data, showing us what’s being collected, or colour-coded statuses on devices, would give us some more understanding. This is something like ambient accountability in Dieter Zinnbauer’s terminology, but involving us, the public, the ‘end user’, much more explicitly.

Metaphors could play an important role here, or perhaps new metaphors. Representing a new, unfamiliar system in terms of more familiar ones is maybe obvious, and has its limitations (except in Borges, the map is never the territory), but as with our discussion of new superstitions earlier, it’s almost inevitable that new metaphors will arise for parts of these invisible systems in the home and elsewhere, as part of mental models and in people’s explanations to others of how they work. Metaphors are very commonly used in design for behaviour change, from gardens to sarcastic overlords.

What does energy look like?

(What does energy look like? From the V&A Digital Design Weekend 2014. Photo by V&A Digital.)

We can learn quite a lot from exploring people’s understanding and mental imagery around invisible systems. A project Flora Bowden and I have been doing over the last couple of years involves asking people to draw ‘what energy looks like’; we’ve also tried it with concepts such as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’, and there are large scale projects such as Can You Draw the Internet? There are insights for the design of new kinds of interfaces, of course, but also something more fundamental about how people perceive and relate to intangible things. Almost by definition, people use metaphors (or metonyms) of one kind or another to visualise abstract or unseen concepts — what would they look like for invisible systems in our homes?

Could we use new metaphors strategically, to help people understand new systems? What should they be? How do they link to behaviour change in this context? Bringing it back to DIY, what metaphors are going to be used to get people interested in fitting these systems to their homes in the first place?

Ham Island, Old Windsor

You’re not alone

Moving away from the home, this next group of ideas would use IoT technologies to enable ‘peer support’ for decision making: connecting people to others facing similar situations, and enabling people to understand each other’s thinking and what worked for them (or not). The aim of this knopening of situations would be empathy, but also practical advice and support.

Understanding—and reflecting on—how you think, and how other people approach the same kinds of situation, can help change mental models, support behaviour change in the context of everyday practices (learning from others what worked for them, and why), and tackle attribution errors, as mentioned earlier, by bridging the gaps between our own thinking and our assumptions about others’ behaviour.

The contexts and domains where this could be useful range from physical and mental health, to route planning, to home improvement, to financial decisions, to any situation where a combination of networked objects and/or sensors, combined with qualitative insights from people who are part of the system, could help.

Some specific ways of implementing You’re not alone might include:

Windows XP Event Viewer (Windows XP Event Viewer — image from

The Shared ‘Why?’

  • This would be a tool for annotating situations with ‘what your thinking is’ as you do things (that may be logged automatically anyway) — a kind of ‘Why?’ column in the event logs of everyday life.
  • The question might be prompted automatically by certain situations being recognised (through sensor data) or could also be something you choose to record. These ‘Whys’ would then be available to your future self, and others (as you choose) when similar situations arise.
  • My thinking here is that (as Tricia Wang points out), the vast quantities of Big Data generated and logged by devices, sensors and homes and infrastructure, are largely devoid of human contexts—the ‘Why?’, the ‘thick’ data—that would give them meaning. There’s a great opportunity for introducing a system which makes this easier to capture. It could be an academic or design practitioner research tool, but my main priority is that it be actually useful to the people using it.

Annotating household objects to understand thermal comfort

(Annotating household objects to understand thermal comfort. From a study by Sara Renström and Ulrike Rahe at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.)

  • Asking people to annotate real-life situations with simple paper labels or arrows has worked well as a research method for eliciting people’s stories, meanings and thought processes around interaction with particular devices, and the sequences they go through. Similarly, even simple laddering or 5 Whys-type methods can be used to uncover people’s heuristics around everyday activities. But how could these kinds of methods be made more useful for those doing the annotation or answering the questions—and for others too?
  • While there exist research methods such as experience sampling and sentiment mapping, with plenty of location- or other trigger-based mobile apps, these largely focus on mood and feelings, rather than the potentially richer question of ‘Why?’. Yet Facebook and Twitter have shown us that short-form status updates, with actual content (mostly!), are something people enjoy producing and sharing with others. When I worked on the CarbonCulture at DECC project, one of the most successful features (in terms of engagement) of the OK Commuter travel logging app was a question prompting users to describe that morning’s commute with a single word, which often turned out to be witty, insightful and revealing of intra-office dynamics around topics such as provision of facilities for cyclists.
  • Clearly there are lots of questions here about validity and privacy. Would people only log ‘Whys’ that they wanted others to know? Who would have access to my ‘Whys’? Would they ‘work’ better in terms of empathy or behaviour change if linked to real names or avatars than anonymously? We would have to find ways of addressing and accommodating these issues.

There are some parallels with explicitly social projects such as the RSA’s Social Mirror Community Prescriptions, but also with work in naturalistic decision making. For example, there are projects exploring how Gary Klein’s recognition-primed decision model of how experts make decisions (based on a mixture of situational pattern recognition and rapid mental simulation) can be ‘taught’ to non-experts. A constructionist approach seems very appropriate here.

The wall of a fish restaurant in Gothenburg

Helpful ghosts: ambient peer support

  • What this would involve is essentially being able to create helpful ‘ghosts’ for other people, which would appear when certain situations or circumstances, or conjunctions of conditions, were detected, through IoT capabilities. You could record advice, explanations, warnings, suggestions, motivational messages, how-to guides, photos, videos, audio, text, sets of rules, anything you like, which would be triggered by the system detecting someone encountering the particular conditions you specified. That could be location-based, but it could also be any other condition. It’s almost like a nice version of leaving a note for your successor, or anyone who faces a similar situation.

The wall of a fish restaurant in Gothenburg (The Stone Tape (BBC, 1972). Image from

  • The ghosts wouldn’t be scary, or at least I hope not. Maybe ghost is the wrong word. The idea obviously has parallels with Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—and the feedforward / scenario planning / design futures of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come—but what directly inspired me was Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape (probably in turn inspired by archaeologist and parapsychologist Tom Lethbridge’s work), in which ghosts are explained as a form of recording somehow left behind in the fabric of buildings or locations where strong emotions have been felt. Kevin Slavin’s talk at dConstruct 2011, and Tom Armitage’s ghostcar, are also inspirations here. And I have recently also come across Joe Reinsel’s work on Sound Cairns, which has some very clever elements to it.
  • Maybe it’s better to think of this like If This Then That (see below), but allowing you to create rules that trigger events for other people instead of just for you.
  • How would it be different to Clippy? (thanks to Justin Pickard for making this connection). We should aim to learn from the late Clifford Nass’s work at Stanford on why Clippy was so disliked, and how to make him more loveable. It would also be important that the helpful ghosts did not just become a form of ‘pop-up window for real life’. Advertisers should not be able to get hold of it. It should always be opt-in, and the emphasis should be on participation (creating your own ghosts in response) and understanding. It is meant to be at least a dialogue, a collaborative approach to learning more about, and understanding—knopening—a situation, and then passing on that understanding to others.

Pigeon deciding whether to take the District Line or North London Line from Richmond station

A Collective If This Then That

  • This is probably already possible to achieve with clever use of If This Then That together with some other linked services, but the basic idea would be a system where multiple people’s inputs—which could be a combination of quantitative sensor data and qualitative comments or expressions of sentiment or opinion—together can trigger particular outputs. These might also be collective, or might apply only in a single location or context.
  • There are obvious top-down examples around things like adaptive traffic management, but it would more interesting to see what ‘recipes’ emerge from people’s—and communities’—own needs. There could also be multiple outputs to different systems. They could work within a family or household or on a much bigger scale—connecting families who are often apart, for example.
  • The knopen element comes with being able to understand—right from the start—how to make action happen, and collaboratively create recipes which address a community’s needs, for example. The system might be complex but would be not only visible, but fully accessible since the participants would be involved in creating and iterating it.
  • It could involve ‘voting’ somehow, but it would also be interesting to see effects emerge from unconscious action or a combination of physical effects read by sensors and social or psychological effects from people themselves.
  • I’m inspired here particularly by Brian Boyer and Dan Hill’s Brickstarter—in which the collective desire/need/interest of the crowdfunding model is applied to urban infrastructure—but also by the academic research (and workshop at Interaction 12) I did exploring ‘if…then’-type rules of thumb and heuristics that people use for themselves, often implicitly, around things like heating systems, and how different people’s heuristics differ.
  • There’s some really interesting academic research going on at the moment by teams at Brown and Carnegie Mellon—e.g. see this paper by Blase Ur et al from CHI 2014—on using IFTTT-like ‘practical action-trigger programming’ in smart homes as a way to enable a more easily programmable world, and it would be great to explore the potential of this approach for improving understanding and engagement with the systems around us. As Michael Littman puts it:

“We live in a world now that’s populated by machines that are supposed to make our lives easier, but we can’t talk to them. Everybody out there should be able to tell their machines what to do.” (Professor Michael Littman, Brown University)

Trackbed at St Margaret's (London)

Storytelling for systems: Five whys for public life

Five whys’ is a method for what’s called root cause analysis, used in fields as diverse as quality management and healthcare process reform. It’s similar to the interview technique of laddering, which has seen some application in user experience design. The basic principle is that there is never only one ‘correct’ reason ‘Why?’ something happens: there are always multiple levels of abstraction, multiple levels of explanation, multiple contexts—and each explanation may be completely valid within the particular context of analysis. In ‘solving’ the problem, the repeated asking ‘Why?’ enables reframing the problem at further levels up (or down) this abstraction hierarchy, as well as giving us the ‘backstory’ of the current state (which is often considered to be a problem, hence the analysis).

It’s a practical instantiation, in a way, of Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s tenet of trying to design for the “next largest context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, environment in a city plan”. In some previous work, I tried exploring (not particularly clearly), the notion that this kind of approach, in reframing the problem at multiple levels, could essentially provide us with multiple suggested ‘solutions’ by inverting problem statements at each level of abstraction.

Construction work, Doha

Planning notice, Kensington, LondonSo what do we do with this? How can IoT technology be useful? Imagine being able to ‘ask’ the physical and societal infrastructure around you—the street lamps, the building site, the park fountain, but also the local council, the voting booth, the tax office, your children’s primary school’s board of governors, the bus timetable, Starbucks, the numberplate recognition camera, the drain cover, the air quality sensors in the park, the National Rail Conditions of Carriage—Why?

Why are they set up the way they are? Who came up with the idea? (not for blame, but for empathy). What’s the story behind the systems? What influenced how they’re operating, how the decisions were made, how they came to be?

What data do they collect, and what do they do with the data? What’s the revision history for this government policy? What were the reasons given for that cycle path being routed that way? What’s the history of planning applications for buildings on this site? What were the debates that led to the current situation?

And for each of those, the answers would be explained at multiple levels—maybe not exactly five ‘whys’, but more than one simplistic reason, devoid of context.

SEEB Cables Cross Here, Twickenham

This isn’t just Freedom of Information—although it intersects with that. It’s more about understanding the decision process, the constraints and priorities others have had to contend with along the way. Kind of autobiographies for systems (including public objects, perhaps, but also institutions—maybe even Dan Hill’s ‘Dark Matter’). Or a cross between blue plaques (or rather, Open Plaques), ‘For the want of a nail’, WhatDoTheyKnow, City-Insights, FixMyStreet, Dieter Zinnbauer’s Ambient Accountability, TheyWorkForYou, Historypin, Wikipedia’s revision history, Mayo Nissen’s ‘Unseen Sensors’ and a sort of transparent reverse IFTTT where you can see what led to what.

Cables, Berkeley

From a technology point of view, you could do it very simply with smartphones and QR codes or NFC tags stuck on bits of street furniture (for example), but it would be possible to do much more when systems have a networked capability and presence—when data are being collected or received, or transmitted, or when one piece of infrastructure is informing another.

Of course, it could be seen as quite antagonistic to authority: this kind of transparent storytelling could reveal how inept some institutions—and potentially some individuals—are at making decisions, although it could also help generate empathy for people facing tough decisions, in the sense of revealing the trade-offs they have to make, and so increase public engagement with these systems by showing both their complexity (potentially) and their human side. Peerveillance, sousveillance, equiveillance, yes—but preferably framed as storytelling.

The challenge would be finding positive stories to lead with (thanks to Duncan Wilson for this point). Suggestions are very welcome.

Asset mapping, Kentish Town

Conclusion: what next?

This has been a long, rambling and poorly focused article. It tangles together a lot of ideas that have been on my mind, and others’ minds, for a while, and I’m not sure the tangle itself is very legible. But I welcome your comments.

My basic thesis is that IoT technology can be a tool for behaviour change for social and environmental benefit, through involving people in making systems which address problems that are meaningful for them, and which improve understanding of the wider systems they’re engaging with.

I think we can do this, but, as always, doing something is worth more than talking about it. As an academic, I ought to be in a position to find funding and partners to do something interesting here. So I am going to try: if you’re interested, please do get in touch.

The End, College Hall, Cooper's Hill, 2004

Tools for ideation and problem solving: Part 1 by Dan

Brainstorming  brainstorming Back in the darkest days of my PhD, I started blogging extracts from the thesis as it was being written, particularly the literature review. It helped keep me motivated when I was at a very low point, and seemed to be of interest to readers who were unlikely to read the whole 300-page PDF or indeed the publications. Possibly because of the amount of useful terms in the text making them very Google-able, these remain extremely popular posts on this blog. So I thought I would continue, not quite where I left off, but with a few extracts that might actually be of practical use to people working on design, new ideas, and understanding people's behaviour.

The first article (to be split over two parts) is about toolkits (and similar things, starting with an exploration of idea generation methods), prompted by much recent interest in the subject via projects such as Lucy Kimbell, Guy Julier, Jocelyn Bailey and Leah Armstrong's Mapping Social Design Research & Practice and Nesta's Development Impact & You toolkit, and some of our discussions at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for the Creative Citizens project about different formats for summarising information effectively. (On this last point, I should mention the Sustainable Cultures Engagement Toolkit developed in 2012-13 by my colleagues Catherine Greene and Lottie Crumbleholme, with Johnson Controls, which is now available online (12.5MB PDF).)

The article below is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the field, but was focused specifically on aspects which I felt were relevant for a 'design for behaviour change' toolkit, which became Design with Intent. I should also note that since the below was written, mostly in 2010-11, a number of very useful articles have collected together toolkits, card decks and similar things. I recommend: Venessa Miemis's 21 Card Decks, Hanna Zoon's Depository of Design Toolboxes, Joanna Choukeir's Design Methods Resources, Stephen Anderson's answer on this Quora thread, Ola Möller's 40 Decks of Method Cards for Creativity, and Public Policy Lab's list of Toolkits for Public Service Design. I'm sure there are others.

Problem-solving and problem-framing

"Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artefacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state." Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969 (p.129 of 1981 MIT press 2nd edition)

Designers solve problems, but they are by no means alone in that. As Jack Schulze of BERG comments, "so do dentists" (Kicker Studio, 2009). Design is not, then, identical to problem-solving, but it certainly involves addressing issues that are seen (by someone) as problems and developing new or changed products, services or environments (seen by someone as solutions) in response. This review is not going to fall into the 'What is design?' rabbit-hole, since that has been more than adequately explored by other authors, but it is important to understand how design processes can work, in order to identify the most useful characteristics for the proposed toolkit. [which became Design with Intent]

The view of design as being entirely about 'problem-solving'—which, at its most mechanistic, is "basically a form of means-ends analysis that aims at discovering a process description of the path that leads to a desired goal"—as espoused by Simon (1969/1981, p.223, and to some extent in the above quote), has become unfashionable in design research, and not just because of the implied lack of creativity in the process.[1] In particular, the reaction against the 'problem-solving' view follows Schön's (1983) concept of The Reflective Practitioner, whose "inquiry is not limited to a deliberation about means which depends on a prior agreement about ends. He does not keep means and ends separate, but defines them interactively as he frames a problematic situation" (p.68).

Thus, design is seen as being as much about problem-framing as problem-solving, an exploration and co-evolution of both the problem and solution 'spaces' (Maher et al, 1996), questioning and refining the problem, changing focus and the boundaries of the problem as part of the process of generating solutions. [2] Dutch trains  Dutch trains

Dorst and Cross (2001) give the example of a workshop participant asked to redesign in-train litter bins for Dutch Railways (NS) who asks whether simply making a hole in the floor for litter to be dropped through (or combining it with the toilet flush which works in a similar way) is valid within the scope of the brief. They use Cross's (1997) idea of the formation of 'bridges' between problem and solution as the 'creative leap' which pairs one representation of the problem with a solution, suggesting that "creative design involves a period of exploration in which problem and solution spaces are evolving and are unstable until (temporarily) fixed by an emergent bridge which identifies a problem-solution pairing. problem-solution pair A creative event occurs as the moment of insight at which a problem-solution pair is framed" (Dorst and Cross, 2001).

Pragmatically—and dependent on the semantic preferences of those involved—it is arguable that problem-framing is part of problem-solving. The process of interrogating a brief, stretching and testing the boundaries of what is being asked and what will count as a solution, is an integral part of addressing the problem, rather than being a distinct activity. Paul Rand said that "[i]deas may also grow out of the problem itself, which in turn becomes part of the solution" (Heller et al, 1998), and this is a proposition also found within TRIZ (see below), 'systems thinking' in general, and specifically within Edward de Bono's work.

A kettleChristopher Alexander (1964, p.17), using the (re)design of a kettle as an example, notes the fluidity of the boundaries of design problems: 

If I say that the kettle is the wrong way to heat domestic drinking water anyway, I can quickly be involved in the redesign of the entire house, and thereby push the context back to those things outside the house which influence the house's form. Alternatively I may claim that it is not the kettle which needs to be redesigned, but the method of heating kettles. In this case the kettle becomes part of the context, while the stove perhaps is form.

Many more human-related design problems (including those relating to behaviour change) may be characterised as `wicked problems' (Buchanan, 1992; Rittel and Webber, 1973), perhaps particularly exhibiting the characteristic expressed by Conklin (2009) in his re-statement of some of Rittel and Webber's principles: "You don't understand the problem until you have developed a solution. Every solution that is offered exposes new aspects of the problem, requiring further adjustments to the potential solutions. There is no definitive statement of `the problem': these problems are ill-structured and feature an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints."

Generating ideas

Both within and without `design', a variety of `creative thinking' techniques are commonly used to generate novel ideas as part of problem-solving processes, often in group workshops, but also individually. While this review cannot hope to do more than scratch the surface, some which potentially offer relevant insights to the subject at hand will be discussed.

Brainstorming The field comprises a mixture of academic and popular literature, and many techniques have become generally familiar, and evolved through use, without their `authorship' remaining clear. As Gray et al (2010, p.xvi) put it, "[t]he practices live in a mostly oral culture, passed along from person to person by word of mouth. For example, a consultant uses an approach with a client, and the client begins to employ that approach internally. Over time... it evolves into something quite different, and... the source of the original idea or approach may be lost".

One of the most comprehensive online resources on the subject, Jack Martin Leith's Compendium of idea generation methods, is no longer available, but a version of the site (Leith, 2005) retained on the Internet Archive, contains over a hundred categorised methods. Most of the methods considered relevant to this thesis are what Leith calls `springboards' (drawing on the use of the term in Synectics)—those which involve the use of an external stimulus to trigger new thinking.

Lateral thinking

Over more than forty years, Edward de Bono has produced a series of popular books and training courses on creative thinking and innovation methods. The full range of his work cannot be covered here, but some concepts relevant to design and idea generation can be extracted. `Lateral thinking', which de Bono (1993, p.52) explains via the maxim "You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper", contrasting it with linear `vertical thinking', comprises four principles (de Bono, 1971, p.68): "1. Recognition of dominant polarizing ideas; 2. The search for different ways of looking at things; 3. A relaxation of the rigid control of vertical thinking; 4. The use of chance."

Australian phonebox. Photo by Halans on FlickrIt is noteworthy that a number of the lateral thinking examples de Bono gives across his books are specifically concerned with influencing people's behaviour and addressing a wide range of societal issues. For example, influencing behaviour for commercial benefit is embodied in the the anecdote (de Bono, 1993, p.6) about an Australian payphone operator which needed to offer fixed-cost local calls to remain competitive with rival operators, but wanted callers to spend less time on those calls so that the telephones were made available for other customers; so the story goes, the operator decided to increase the weight of the telephone handsets so that longer calls became tiring (subconsciously or otherwise), limiting the length of calls made.

Corporate behaviour change for environmental benefit is also included, for example with the idea (e.g. de Bono, 1976, p.146) that a factory taking in river water and discharging (dirty) water back into the river "should be downstream of itself", i.e. planners should force the water intake pipe to be downstream of the water outlet pipe, thus making it in the factory's best interests not to discharge polluted water.

Among the methods de Bono suggests for lateral thinking, including particularly those suited for finding "different ways of looking at things" are: simple focus, a deliberate effort to pick out a new focus point for a problem (de Bono, 1993, p.92); the creative challenge, a forced questioning of the current way things are done; and the concept fan, a method of repeatedly `pulling back', abstracting the problem implied by a search for alternative solutions, such that the need for a ladder is restated as the need to be raised above the ground, in turn restated as the need to reduce the distance between the person and the ceiling, and so on, with each abstraction suggesting a greater range of possible solutions (de Bono, 1993, p.129).

Straker and Rawlinson (2002, p.4) call a similar approach `chunking up', asking "What is the real problem here?" at each level; it also recalls aspects of Alexander's (1964) functional decomposition and the abstraction hierarchies used in cognitive ergonomics and ecological interface design (e.g. Rasmussen, 1985). [see also the kind of 'abstraction' method applied in our later work on behavioural heuristics]


Many of de Bono's techniques centre on the idea of provocation, in particular, finding ways of intentionally provoking new ideas through methods ranging from the simple random input (juxtaposing two seemingly unconnected concepts [3] to trigger new ideas as a connection emerges—this is an expression of `the use of chance' as mentioned above (de Bono, 1993))—to more structured methods such as using reversal, exaggeration and distortion of ideas as part of a stepping-stone process to examine and alter the given problem. The concept of PO (de Bono, 1972) was introduced as a marker to signify that a deliberately provocative (perhaps superficially absurd) suggestion follows, not necessarily to be adopted as a valid solution in itself, but as a trigger to help think of alternative solutions. For example, "PO, cars should have square wheels" leads to thinking about the possibilities of adaptive suspension systems (de Bono, 1993).

This kind of prompt potentially has application in helping designers shift problem frames (see above) implied by a brief: "[e]ven if an idea is wrong in itself it can serve as a starting point for a new line of thought or as a stepping-stone to get from one idea to a new one" (de Bono, 1976, p.146). In some circumstances, it is easy to imagine that it could suggest behaviour change (rather than solely technology change) as an approach in the first place, by introducing the idea that people should change rather than a product changing (or vice versa).

Six Thinking Hats

One of the most structured creativity techniques applicable to idea generation described by de Bono is Six Thinking Hats (de Bono, 1990 [4]). The idea here is to put members of a group—as part of a meeting or workshop—into a role-playing context, where the coloured hats (put on literally or figuratively) each enable the group's attention to be directed to different points of view and aspects of the problems and ideas under discussion, and to switch gears between ways of thinking about a problem (`parallel thinking'). The role-playing context also allows participants to say things they might otherwise not feel comfortable expressing---“[w]earing the clown costume gives you full permission to play the clown” (de Bono, 1990, p.29) [5]---including asking others to consider changing their point of view, since “[y]ou can ask someone to `take off the black hat for a moment' more easily than you can ask that person to stop being so negative” (p.33). The table below summarises very briefly the characteristics of each hat.

Six Thinking Hats

The details of the different perspectives triggered by the hats are general enough to apply to a wide range of meetings, workshops, idea generation and decision-making situations. Independently, though, the concept of introducing a deliberate `prop' to encourage taking different perspectives on a problem could be valuable for idea generation, particularly where there are issues which ought to be debated but which might not otherwise be raised. For example, an `ethical' hat might be of value when considering behaviour change interventions. It might also be feasible for hats to represent the points of view of different stakeholders---a particular hat being put on to represent the `voice of the user', a different one to represent the `voice of the shareholders' and so on. For Baron (1994, p.72), an additional advantage of deliberately taking multiple viewpoints on a problem is that “it is more likely to remind you of the critical information that you need to solve it”, i.e. that multiple views also help ensure that relevant information is not missed.

Perhaps one of the most useful implications of the concept for an idea generation process which seeks to generate a large quantity of ideas (see below) is that switching hats (of whatever form) could re-start the inspiration process when it starts to dry up, explicitly introducing alternative sets of ideas or viewpoints. The Design with Intent `lenses' follow this approach.

SCAMPER and Rosenman and Gero's processes

SCAMPERMoving more specifically towards product design, two verb-based idea generation techniques are particularly relevant. While arising from different contexts, they overlap in content.

SCAMPER (Eberle, 1971) was developed as a simplified form of some of Osborn's (1953) brainstorming recommendations, intended originally for classroom use. It comprises seven verbs (see table below) describing operations which could be carried out on a product or concept (potentially including even people themselves) to generate new variants or improvements. [6]


Rosenman and Gero (1993) and Gero (2000) arrive at a partially similar list of processes (table below), but from the perspective of examining idea generation behaviour by designers and extracting descriptions of the processes (also presented as applicable in an artificial intelligence context), rather than offering them explicitly as inspirational triggers. Gero's (2000) definition of analogy is somewhat similar to what I have identified with Design with Intent as transposition of design principles between disciplines.

The active provocations offered by Eberle's approach are more immediately suited to triggering idea generation, but formal descriptions of principles as given by Rosenman and Gero have value in providing a reference of techniques which could be consulted as a reflective part of the idea generation process, in a similar way to Alexander et al's patterns (see part 2 of this post). Hence, both of these possible approaches are worth considering as relevant directions for Design with Intent. Aside from the form of the processes, the content itself may have direct relevance to the behavioural context. If “people's behaviours” rather than a product's features are considered as the focus of each SCAMPER verb, what sorts of ideas might be suggested? Can you design a product which `substitutes' an undesired behaviour with a desired one? One which combines behaviours to avoid an unwanted harm? One which adapts a behaviour which a person expresses in another context to the context for which you are designing?

Rosenman & Gero's creative design processes

Geoff Mulgan's Social Design Tools[2014 note: Geoff Mulgan of Nesta has recently published a list of 'Social Design Tools' similar in form to SCAMPER and Rosenman & Gero's processes, adapted to fit social enterprises and the public sector.]

Do you know a related problem? Analogies and metaphors

“We can scarcely imagine a problem absolutely new, unlike and unrelated to any formerly solved problem; but, if such a problem could exist, it would be insoluble. In fact, when solving a problem, we always profit from previously solved problems, using their result, or their method, or the experience we acquired solving them. And, of course, the problems from which we profit must be in some way related to our present problem. Hence the question: Do you know a related problem?”

George Pólya, How to Solve It, Princeton University Press, 1945 (p.98 of 2nd edition, 1971)

Pólya's How to Solve It (1945) is a guidebook for addressing mathematical problems, best known for popularising the term heuristic in the sense of a `rule of thumb' in problem-solving. The `Short Dictionary of Heuristic', comprising the main part of the book, offers 67 entries on aspects of, and approaches to, solving problems. The use of questions---“Do you know...? Could you imagine...?” and so on---is reminiscent of some of the provocation techniques mentioned earlier.

Extract from Polya 1945A theme which recurs in a number of Pólya's heuristic approaches relates to the use of analogies, including solving a “simpler analogous problem”, and finding related problems which have been solved in other contexts. As Baron (1994, p.73) puts it, “[h]euristic methods allow us to search our memories for possibilities and evidence that are already there”. [7]

While Pólya's work deals explicitly with mathematical problem-solving rather than creative design, the use of analogies, similes and metaphors is widely recommended as a method in idea generation for design (as well as a design technique itself). Saffer (2005, p.6) highlights the role of metaphors in cross-domain, interdisciplinary mapping for designers---“[t]he way we understand new things is to conceive of them in terms of things we already know. Metaphors become natural models that allow us to take familiar, concrete objects and experiences and re-cast them onto unknown or abstract concepts or things, giving them structure and meaning.” [8]

Seelig (2009, p.129) recommends the use of similes and metaphors to trigger new perspectives on a problem, using an exercise where teams are asked to come up with multiple versions of a statement in the form, “[concept under discussion] IS LIKE [an unrelated concept, usually a concrete noun] BECAUSE [of some characteristic of the second concept] THEREFORE [implications for the first concept]”. For example, “Ideas are like babies because everyone thinks theirs is cute, therefore be objective when judging your own ideas.”

Saffer (2005, p.10) sees metaphor use in idea generation as being about juxtaposition: “this is probably the easiest and one of the most fruitful way for designers to embrace metaphor use. All metaphors are, in a sense, juxtapositions in that two different things are put together to form a construct that highlights (and hides) different characteristics of each. Finding any inherent metaphors in the problem space is therefore probably a useful activity.” This last point about helping to define and structure the problem space is echoed by Leclercq & Heylighen (2002, p.287), who suggest that drawing analogies “can bring forth valuable knowledge from a known situation… to the ill-defined design situation at hand”.

Learning from biomimetics

“[W]e often find quite different inner environments accomplishing identical or similar goals in identical or similar outer environments---airplanes and birds, dolphins and tunafish, weight-driven clocks and spring-driven clocks, electrical relays and transistors.”

Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969 (p.7 of 1981 MIT press 2nd edition)

Volstad & Boks' Biomimicry Card DeckOne design approach where analogical transfer is commonly applied in idea generation and problem-solving is biomimetics or biomimicry---making use of biological systems as models and inspiration for technology. Combining biomimetics with TRIZ (see below) to produce BioTRIZ offers a structured way of generating possible biologically inspired solutions for problems (Vincent and Mann, 2002; Craig et al, 2008), but there are also other idea generation methods based on applying biomimetics, such as Volstad and Boks' (2008) `Biomimicry Card Deck’, intended to help packaging designers generate ideas for novel packaging concepts drawing on biological principles.

It is conceivable, if a somewhat romantic vision, that the biomimetic approach to design---learning from a vast reservoir of solutions to problems, and finding ways to apply them in other contexts---could be seen as a model for how to develop `design for sustainable behaviour' as a field, treating human history and culture as a reservoir of behavioural insight to adapt and transpose to a design context.

It does, however, seem reasonable to suggest that “idea creation by analogical transfer” (Stacey et al 2009, p.362; Tseng et al 2008) might be most effective where the examples used make it easy for designers to see how the principles can be applied elsewhere---in a similar way to biomimetics---enabling “the ability mentally to stand back from the specifics of the accumulated examples, and form more abstract conceptualizations pertinent to their domain of expertise” (Cross, 2004, p.432).

As part of Design with Intent, an emphasis on example implementations of principles—“previous instances of design elements in a variety of different situations” (Eckert & Stacey, 2000, p.527)—rather than simply descriptions of the principles themselves, should allow designers to explore the ideas and relate them to the problem at hand, even where the terminology is unfamiliar. Thus, if the guide is to help designers make use of metaphor and analogy, these need to be clearly illustrated through examples which are quickly understandable.


Divergent production and brainstorming

A key concept in idea generation is the notion of divergent production, which Guilford (1967, p.213) defines as “generation of information from given information, where the emphasis is upon variety and quantity of output from the same source; likely to involve transfer,” as opposed to convergent production which would involve reaching a single `right' solution to a problem.

While the `output from the same source' criterion might be interpreted in a number of ways, the approach of trying to generate as many different ideas as possible is familiar from the process of brainstorming. Osborn (1953)---a co-founder of advertising agency BBDO---introduced the process as “a formal and systematized approach to a fuller utilization of the creative imagination” (p. vii), offering a set of rules and recommendations for how to `ideate' in group conferences or workshops which have been widely adopted (and mutated) since, to the extent that `brainstorming' has become a generic term for many different kinds of idea generation, both in groups and individually.

A significant part of the appeal of Osborn's work must be his optimism and confidence that everyone can be creative: the book (Applied Imagination) makes the “universality of imaginative talent” clear and exhorts everyone to develop his or her creativity via exercises, games and puzzles. The book is somewhat reminiscent of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People (see a discussion of its relevance to design for behaviour change) in its mixture of anecdotes, positive encouragement and rules to follow.

Those rules and recommendations will not be covered here in detail, but the “four basics” for “idea-producing conferences” in groups are:

  1. Judicial judgment is ruled out. Criticism of ideas must be withheld until later.
  2. `Free-wheeling' is welcomed. The wilder the idea, the better; it is easier to tame down than to think up.
  3. Quantity is wanted. The greater the number of ideas, the more the likelihood of winners.
  4. Combination and improvement are sought. In addition to contributing ideas of their own, participants should suggest how ideas of others can be turned into better ideas, or how two or more ideas can be joined into still another idea” (Osborn, 1953, p.300-1).

IDEO Rules of Brainstorming as displayed at IDEO London, December 2009As Baron (1994, p.120) notes, much of Osborn's approach centres on the argument that “a major impediment to creation is insufficient search for possibilities. If we are too self-critical during the phase of idea generation, it has been argued, we inhibit ourselves from thinking of our best ideas. We must overcome our inhibitions and ‘brainstorm’ before we criticize and select”.

In the design industry, the most high-profile proponent of the brainstorming approach has been IDEO, which has evolved and tuned Osborn's recommendations into its own set of `rules for brainstorming', prominently displayed in company meeting rooms.

It is difficult to assess formally how much use any idea generation method is, since most such methods are, in practice, used in contexts in which there can be no comparable control group. Few organisations are able to bring competing projects to fruition in parallel, and few of the ideas generated by any brainstorming process will ever be directly realised as a product or service, but as Sutton and Hargadon (1996) suggested in a major ethnographic study of IDEO’s brainstorming processes, the process provides the organisation with less quantifiable benefits, including providing skill variety for participants by exposing them to a diversity of ideas and approaches, and supporting the attitude of wisdom by providing a non-judgemental forum “for getting unstuck” through collaborative endeavour.

They suggest that attempts to assess effectiveness of idea generation in terms purely of quantity of ideas generated are too simplistic; nevertheless, IDEO’s rules of brainstorming are at least partly geared towards generating as many ideas as possible (including “Go for quantity (not quality): Set an outrageous goal and surpass it”)—drawing directly from Osborn’s recommendations. This implies that while not a direct proxy for effectiveness, quantity can be an important step on the way. Hence, comparison of the quantity of concepts generated using different methods can still be considered worth studying.

The academic literature on the `productivity' of brainstorming suggests that Osborn's focus on groups `outperforming' individuals may have been erroneous (Furnham, 2000). Interaction effects within differently constituted groups can be responsible for their collectively producing fewer ideas as a result of brainstorming than the individuals would have produced on their own. Phenomena such as production blocking (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987), and social loafing (Robbins, 1995) may lead to less productive sessions. It is also worth noting that recommendations for successful brainstorming (e.g. Wilson, 2006) often include the idea of a ‘warm-up exercise’ using a problem not directly related to the one intended for the main exercise, suggesting that participants may need some time to become `fluent' in their idea generation.

However, as Sutton and Hargadon imply, there are other benefits from group brainstorming that may be desirable for the situation at hand. Expertise may be transferred between participants with different specialisms (which may be particularly important in a design context where the designers are not necessarily subject matter experts on the domain they are addressing). Group activity may be a chance for other stakeholders' perspectives to be heard (and feel that they have been heard). For example, in urban planning, a design charrette refers to a session where multiple stakeholders (including members of the public) are brought together to address an issue (e.g. Condon 2008), including brainstorming. The implications of these issues for the development of the idea generation guide are probably that such a guide needs, ideally, to be usable either individually or in a group situation, and, again ideally, needs to be flexible enough to allow different groups of stakeholders to make use of it on an `equal footing' with each other, rather than being focused entirely on one group as the users.

Although Osborn recommended the use of questions to spur ideation as part of the brainstorming process (some of his example questions were developed into SCAMPER---see above), many brainstorming exercises, at least in the author's experience, do not use any explicit stimulus or provocation material beyond the problem itself and whatever background information is available. In this sense, an idea generation guide or toolkit is already enabling a slightly different form of brainstorming, although whether it would be more likely to increase the productivity of a session or restrict the ideas generated to only those derived from the guide is something that would need to be investigated.

Brainstorming  brainstorming


“We live in an `Era of Technical Revolution'. The main point is that this revolution lies not in the appearance of new machines---that has happened before. The method of developing new machines is changing. organised ways of thinking replace the old chaotic ones. Every step in the thinking process should be as accurate as the movements of a pilot flying an airplane.”

Genrich Altshuller, And Suddenly the Inventor Appeared (trans. Lev Shulyak), Technical Innovation Center, 1994, p.160

One of the most structured systems for idea generation and technological problem solving that is available to designers is TRIZ (teoriya resheniya izobretatelskikh zadatch: theory of inventive problem solving). Developed in the early post-war Soviet Union by Genrich Altshuller and colleagues---and publicised in the West mainly from the early 1990s onwards (e.g. Altshuller, 1994)---TRIZ comprises a family of tools which draw on a database of principles and relationships extracted through analysis of, initially, tens of thousands, and by now, “millions” of patents (Gadd, 2011, p.101). The idea is that “[s]omebody 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” (Barry et al, n.d.).

Jones (2003, p.140) provides a `Map of TRIZ', grouping a variety of TRIZ tools according to their function within the innovation process. She distinguishes between problem analysis (or situation analysis) tools (such as working out what kinds of contradictions are occurring) and solution tools (such as the Contradiction Matrix itself---see below).

Following the `Prism of TRIZ', the problem analysis tools are used to generalise the problem, abstracting it to a form to which TRIZ offers generic solutions---the 40 `Inventive Principles', such as SEGMENTATION, PERIODIC ACTION, PHASE TRANSITION and THE OTHER WAY ROUND, which are `suggested' by the contradiction matrix or table of `separation principles'. In this section, only a few elements of TRIZ will be covered which seem most directly relevant to the behaviour change context. [9]

The Prism of TRIZ

Prism of TRIZ One of the most fundamental ideas in TRIZ is what Gadd (2011) calls the `Prism of TRIZ' (see diagram), although it goes by a number of other names (e.g. Straker and Rawlinson, 2002, call it `Getting over the invention wall').

The diagram represents a process of translating a specific problem into a more abstract general problem for which general solutions are known, then re-translating that general solution into the context of your problem, resulting in a specific solution.

The specific problems may be disparate, but on some level they are instances of general, recurring problems which exist in the world, and which someone has solved. Straker and Rawlinson (2002, p.78) suggest that this is in fact “similar to how people normally approach many situations”, but the explicit step of abstracting a specific problem into a more general one is not necessarily a common way to think in everyday life. The first step is not simply Pólya's “Do you know a related problem?” (see above) but something more like “Can you describe the problem in an abstracted form?”---essentially a process of modelling a situation.


TRIZ has many principles and themes running through the family of tools, but one which dominates is the idea of contradictions. [10]

Altshuller's approach---which Craig (2008) suggests has much in common with Marxist dialectic---was to see all problems as arising from contradictions between desired states. In TRIZ these are classified as technical contradictions (where “[w]e think of a solution to improve something but something else gets worse”), for example making a structure stronger makes it heavier, and physical contradictions, where “[w]e want opposite solutions---for example, high and low” (Gadd, 2011, p.102-4), such as a blacksmith wanting a horseshoe to be hot enough for the metal to be worked, but cold enough to be able to hold and manipulate it (Straker and Rawlinson, 2002, p.82). Solving physical contradictions involves separating when and where each condition or solution is present---in time, space, scale or on particular conditions---and this is done via consulting a table of `separation principles' which suggests particular relevant Inventive Principles.

TRIZ Contradiction Matrix Part of the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix

Each technical contradiction is described in terms of two of 39 abstract `technical parameters', for example `strength' (no. 14) and `weight of stationary object' (no. 2)---as we make something stronger, it is becoming heavier, but we don't want this---and then the Contradiction Matrix, a 39 × 39 matrix is consulted. This suggests, for each intersecting cell, up to four Inventive Principles that are relevant. For improving strength without worsening the weight of a stationary object, the matrix suggests COMPOSITE MATERIALS, COPYING, CHEAP SHORT-LIVING OBJECTS and SEGMENTATION. Each of these principles can then be considered in more detail (with examples) to see how it might be applied to the specific problem.

The process of abstracting the problem to understand the contradiction(s) present, and hence selecting the parameters, can start in a number of different ways. For example, Jones and Harrison (2000) mapped TRIZ technical parameters to the five axes from Fussler and James' Eco-Compass (1996), a commonly used tool for mapping changes in environmental impact of new and existing products, to enable this to be used as a starting point for the process (as well as to uncover whether TRIZ could be usefully applied in this context).


As Craig (2008, p.40) puts it, in Altshuller's view “a trade-off was resolved not by optimizing between two conflicting features, but by changing or adapting the system in some way so that both features could improve. For instance, a device may be made stronger and lighter by applying the principle ‘composite materials’”.

In TRIZ, “[t]he Ideal describes the perfect state, a perfect result... Whatever problem we are tackling, if we begin by imagining the Ideal version of the thing we want... then we get quick understanding of the best possible outcomes” (Gadd, 2011, p.177). A word equation is used to explain the concept:


A solution tends towards ideality when the benefits achieved are greater than the `costs' and `harms' entailed in the solution; ultimately, the system disappears entirely, the benefits tending to infinity as the costs and harms tend to zero. This implies the functions being delivered without the system existing at all---there are parallels here with the idea of dematerialisation in product-service systems, where a product is replaced augmented by a service which provides the same benefits without needing the same physical form. Mann and Jones (2002) apply TRIZ tools to the example of portable generators in this context. More generally, “[i]nnovation following this law of ideality could contribute to sustainable development, through the delivery of the functions without the environmental impacts associated with current systems of production” (Jones and Harrison, 2000).

What can be usefully applied from TRIZ?

What useful insights from (or features of) TRIZ can be applied to the `design for behaviour change' guide?

• The notion of a method---systematic but not formulaic, to use a phrase applied by Sato (2009) to `design thinking' in general---which helps `prescribe' a range of possible solutions drawing on knowledge and experience with analogous situations, is an appealing one. • The specific--abstract--abstract--specific arc (the Prism of TRIZ) perhaps provides a more formal description of the kind of analogical transfer discussed in a number of other idea generation and problem solving processes. • The `lookup table' form of the contradiction matrix is interesting because it expressly suggests relevant Inventive Principles, building in a creative element, rather than stating unequivocally that there is a single right answer. • Craig (2008, p.45) notes that the Inventive Principles, being derived from analysis of patents across a number of technology domains, necessarily “resemble elements of the individual strategies used by expert designers in various disciplines.” This parallels the opportunity for an idea generation guide---that of a tool which can help designers learn from practice in other disciplines. Referencing Schön's concept of problem-framing (see above) and Bryan Lawson's concept of `gambits', Craig goes on to suggest that “[d]ialectical ‘contradiction-thinking’ can be seen as an explicit method for problem-framing, just as the Inventive Principles can be understood as a sophisticated set of ‘gambits’”. • On the other hand, the `certainty' that may be implied by the philosophy of TRIZ---that there are definitely solutions to all problems, and that those solutions do not need to involve any compromises---does not sit easily with the notion of wicked problems in design, which may make it an uncomfortable perspective to designers working on social problems.

Urinal flies at Schiphol airport, Amsterdam  BBC story on use of classical music

The TRIZ Inventive Principles are all technological, mostly based on physical sciences, although in many cases they can be seen as descriptions of system properties, at different levels (sub-systems, system and super-systems) so some at least could potentially be applied to systems involving human behaviour. Gadd (2011) includes a number of examples of solutions (many via the use of cartoons) illustrating TRIZ principles, which could be seen as `design for social behaviour change', including:

• a target painted on a urinal to “Give the messy devils something to aim at” (p.163) • a bakery deliberately piping its `fresh bread' aroma into the street to attract customers (p.183) • the use of a deceptive `Beware of the Bull' sign to scare away trespassers (p.204) • “Separate on condition with music for older people which repels young people”---playing Frank Sinatra's songs in a public square at night to discourage younger people from `hanging around' (p.125) • using scarcity to make misprinted football shirts appear valuable rather than wasting them (p.161) • a police officer giving drunken brawlers chocolate bars to stop them fighting rather than hitting them with a truncheon (p.47) • a group of mothers forming a group to use social pressure to deal with street violence (p.83)

While a number of these are familiar examples, not necessarily created using TRIZ, the implication is that they could have been, i.e. the method potentially provides for the creation of these kinds of solutions.

However, people, and the different ways that people think and act, are not included explicitly in mainstream TRIZ. There is certainly the opportunity for a 'BehaviourTRIZ' to be developed, but we are to some extent lacking the body of formally recorded knowledge about behaviour equivalent to the patents that informed the development of TRIZ. We have no `patent database' of human behaviour and the `solutions' for influencing it. Human history, literature, politics---indeed, the entire sum of all cultures---is the resource we have, but it is not formalised through the use of claims as patents are, and is thus difficult to interrogate in this way.

Equally, and perhaps most importantly, the heterogeneity and diversity of people's lives and culture, and responses to social and contextual factors, do not sit easily with attempts to formalise people's behaviour into a 'lookup table'.

A vast meta-analysis of meta-analyses, drawing together everything learned from human history that could be extracted as a `principle' would be a significantly larger project than a PhD. Extracting insights from a limited number of mainly psychological disciplines, that have direct relevance to design (as it is intended that this series of working papers has done), is probably the most that can be hoped for, at least initially, together with limited use of some of the features of the TRIZ method identified above, where they are appropriate.

In part 2 (coming soon): Design patterns, card decks, and other forms of guide

Image credits

All photos and diagrams by author except: Phonebox photo by Halans on Flickr, CC-licensed; Square-wheel trike by Stan Wagon; Social Design Tools table by Nesta; Screenshot from Polya's How to Solve It; Screenshot from Nina Volstad and Casper Boks's 'On the Use of Biomimicry...'; Screenshot from TRIZ 40; Screenshot from BBC News. The tables are screenshots from Design with intent: A design pattern toolkit for environmental and social behaviour change by Dan Lockton.


[1] Developed in detail in the context of artificial intelligence research by Newell and Simon (1972). Hey (2008, p.15) makes an additional criticism, referencing on the frequent use of rule-based games such as chess by researchers such as Simon as contexts for understanding problem solving: "an ideation session for an NPD [new product development] project can never claim to have exhausted every possible option, in contrast to, for example, determining what next moves are possible in a game of chess (a classic problem solving challenge)." [2] 'Exploring problem-framing through behavioural heuristics' explores some of the implications of this viewpoint for designers involved in behaviour change. Hey (2008) explores designers' framing in detail in his PhD thesis, in the context of new product development, in particular how design teams negotiate a common frame for their design situation, and how this is matched to the needs of their potential users. [3] One is usually related to the problem under consideration, but the other is randomly drawn, e.g. from a dictionary. Straker and Rawlinson (2002) recount that King Gillette used an `Alphabet System' where he listed every product he could think of beginning with each letter, as a way of triggering new ideas about improving them. Eno and Schmidt's Oblique Strategies (1975) are considered in Part 2 of this post. [4] See also Hewitt-Gleason (2008) for a statement on the origins of the concept, the sole authorship of which is disputed [5] There are some parallels with Goffman (1959): see this paper for a discussion of relevance to design for behaviour change. [6] Another more general method, Morphological Analysis (Zwicky, 1969; Ritchey, 1998) may be relevant here. It “is a method for identifying and investigating the total set of possible relationships or `configurations' contained in a given problem complex” (Ritchey, 1998, p.3), dividing a problem into “major parameters, components or problem dimensions and then systematically allow[ing] the user to identify all the combinations possible with those elements... [and] find all the theoretically conceivable solutions to a problem” (Jones 2003, p.130). Elias (2009) used a Morphological Chart to generate concepts for redesigned refrigerators. Straker and Rawlinson (2002) suggest a range of other verbs which could be used to extend the process, similar to the (longer) lists used in methods such as Synectics (e.g. Nolan, 2003). [7] An additional aspect is Simon's (1969/1981) suggestion that “[i]n problem solving, a partial result that represents recognizable progress towards the goal plays the role of stable subassembly” (p.206), and that “[o]ne way to solve a complex problem is to reduce it to a problem previously solved---to show what steps lead from the earlier solution to a solution of the new problem” (p.226). Hence, perhaps, the joke: “A mathematician wants to read a book, but the room he is in is dark, and the light is off. In order to read, he turns on the light. The next day, the mathematician wants to read a book, and the light is on in the room. He first turns off the light, reducing the problem to the one he solved the previous day”. [8] Hey and Agogino (2007) studied the use of metaphor across the entire design process, including extracting and coding designers' use of terms such as “bounc[ing] ideas off each other”. In particular, one of their codings has some parallels with the scamper methodology discussed above---the idea that “Problems Are Objects: They can be assembled, viewed from a different angle, divided, decomposed, be hard, big, well-structured or ill-structured, transformed, patterned, complex, broken down into sub-problems, refined, clarified, broken into parts, and stable” (p.6). [9] Of the 40 TRIZ Inventive Principles, a number which could potentially be more easily applied to behaviour have---indirectly---inspired or influenced patterns in the Design with Intent toolkit. In particular, by the stage of DwI v.1.0, SEGMENTATION, ASYMMETRY, PARTIAL OR EXCESSIVE ACTION and FEEDBACK are all represented in some form, though usually not described in quite the same way as in TRIZ. [10] Pickering (2010, p.176) links Gregory Bateson's concept of the double bind (see here for its design for behaviour change context) to the idea of the Zen koan, an apparently self-contradictory, paradoxical or unresolvable question or statement. It is intriguing to consider the possible parallels with contradictions in TRIZ.


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Making it easy by Dan

I have a blog post up at Guardian Sustainable Business, looking essentially at what's been referred to here previously as 'enabling' behaviour change, specifically in the context of sustainability. It's only a short article, and barely scratches the surface of the subject, but I hope it adds a useful contribution to the Guardian's sustainable living strand, much of which seems to focus on 'selling sustainability to consumers' rather than actually trying to understand the nuances of why people use energy and create waste in the ways that they do in everyday life. Hence, you'd be right to surmise that I'm not entirely comfortable with the " behaviour..." bit of the title: it introduces particular connotations that are not really what the article is about.

The article was commissioned by Autodesk, whose Sustainability Workshop team offer some excellent resources for designers and students -- e.g. these videos on life-cycle perspectives and other concepts relevant to product designers. Last year the team ran a Design with Intent workshop.

Designers, literature, abstracts and Concretes by Dan

Trinity College Dublin Library, by A little coffee with my cream and sugar on Flickr Last week, I put a quick survey online asking how actual designers make use of academic literature.

It provoked some interesting discussion on Twitter as well as two great blog posts from Dr Nicola Combe and Clearleft's Andy Budd exploring different aspects of the question: ways to get access to academic research, and the frustrations of the relationship between design practice and academia. Comments on Andy's article from Vicky Teinaki and Sebastian Deterding helped draw out some of the issues in more detail (and highlighted some of the differences between fields). Kevin Couling has also blogged from the perspective of an engineer, drawing on Nicola's post. Steven Shorrock pointed to his work with Amy Chung and Ann Williamson addressing similar issues, much more rigorously, within human factors and ergonomics [PDF]. Someone also reminded me that I'd already blogged about related issues back in 2007.

As of now, about 50 people have filled in the survey, a mixture of digital, physical and service design practitioners: thank you everyone, and thanks too to people who emailed comments in addition.

Here's the full spreadsheet of survey responses (Google Docs) so far. I've had some good suggestions for other places to publicise it, so I'll do this in due course to get a wider scope of practitioners' opinions.

So, what did people say?

With such a small, informal survey, I wasn't looking for numbers, really, but rather insights and anecdotes from people's experiences. For example, while three-quarters of respondents said they had made use of academic literature as part of their job, I suspect that is much, much higher than the rate among the designer population generally. The numbers are not going to mean that much in this context: it's the comments which are most interesting.

The automatically generated Google Docs results hide the text comments, so I've extracted them (minus any personally identifiable information) at the end of this post. But in summary, the issues that emerged centred on:

Barriers due to cost / paywall / subscription requirements

Paywall This is the most high-profile barrier, as amply covered elsewhere. One-off costs for individual articles are "usually high enough that I don't want to pay out of pocket and it's a pain to expense it or get clients to buy it", and journal subscription models seem "geared toward academic institutions". One respondent notes that "small businesses need access too and are willing to pay for it. We just need a subscription model that fits our needs."

Numerically (see graph below), while a sizeable minority of respondents gained access through paying directly or via a company subscription, a lot of people also rely on 'unofficial' channels such as using someone else's login or simply finding open versions of papers online (some of which may be in open access journals of course, but much of which will be self-archived 'green' open access versions or simply copies put online otherwise (usually against publishers' terms and conditions). The use of abstracts (freely available) rather than reading full articles is also an interesting phenomenon. The 'Other' category included 'piracy', and getting access through university libraries as a part-time student or academic (which will often -- strictly -- have limits on access for commercial purposes).

Access methods

Barriers due to poor search provision / overwhelmingness / not knowing where to start

Paywall Some respondents' comments suggested a frustration with finding relevant academic research: the search tools available are not seen as being as effective as they could be; the time taken to find relevant research or the answers to questions was seen as too long; the mass of material seemed daunting; and with the addtional paywall barrier for most results, research papers cannot easily be browsed in the same way as open webpages. Automatic topic alerts were suggested as a possible answer. Much of the 'not knowing where to start' problem may be related to the next barrier:

Barriers due to inacessible language / jargon / presentation

Rooter Lots of respondents mentioned this, in different ways. Abstracts (often what people without access to papers have to go on) are not seen as always being written in the clearest way; papers themselves, even when people do have access, are "wordy, written in complex or academic jargon-y language" which has to be translated before they can be used. Improvements here might be about "bridging the semantic gap", as Mia Ridge put it: "It seems absurd to say "if you're interested in that, the secret code to unlock articles is 'ludic' or 'CSCW'"." Visuals were also mentioned: something considered particularly valuable in the design field, but which is often poorly served in academic publishing, either because journals don't adapt their standard format to a discipline with a greater reliance on images, or because academic researchers don't produce graphics which are up to being used directly in design processes.

Barriers due to lack of practical relevance

Lab sign by brotherM on Flickr, CC-licensed Some respondents commented that perceived lack of applicability to practice was a barrier to using academic research, sometimes from experience. It was noted that lab-based studies (e.g. in human-computer interaction) often lack ecological validity: they simply do not describe real-life interaction situations, and so their practical relevance has to be interpreted and considered in view of this. Some comments suggested that academic design research was not grounded in what industry needs: "It's not tailored to a design-making audience, it seems like" -- often because it is (perceived as being) slow, or even out of date before being published, covering areas which industry is already addressing. (Though one could, I'm sure, make the opposite point: that lots of academic research is covering technologies too far ahead of consumer use.) Andy's point about design academics blogging more about their work could go some way to bridging this. The debate about whether academic research should have practical applications, or whether it should be about 'pure' knowledge, was touched upon on Twitter. I can see both points of view, but with design research in particular, as I've argued, the majority of it has some kind of practical focus driving it in one way or another.

Other aspects

Now, some of these are problems and barriers perhaps specific to design (as an industry and an academic field), but others are more generally applicable across disciplines. It's also important to recognise that these are perceived barriers: it's easy to argue that (for example) academic research shouldn't have to produce visuals suitable for presentation to a commercial client, but if this is a barrier perceived by a potential user of the research, it's effectively a real barrier for that person's company.

Of course, even with all these barriers highlighted, for designers who have made use of academic research, many have found it useful; the barriers in many cases seem to reflect designers' frustration with making better use of research which they believe would be good to use. The lack of '5' ratings is interesting; no fence-sitting here:

How useful have you found academic research?

So what can be done? Introducing Concretes

I'd like to think that the tide is turning irrevocably towards open access for the outputs of academic research, but it will be some years before there's a consistent approach which actually overcomes the barriers, perceived or otherwise, outlined above. The research might be free to access, but if practitioners find it difficult to search, and difficult to understand or apply, then the battle still isn't won. Some design and design-related academic publications are open access already: for example the International Journal of Design -- which explicitly asks authors to highlight the "Relevance to Design Practice" of articles -- and Ergonomics Australia Journal (thanks to Steven Shorrock for letting me know about this).

I also suspect that as the open access movement accelerates, tools such as Google Scholar (or any number of new services) will be able to incorporate better systems for extracting relevant content from papers, aggregating relevant insights, establishing links between them, and enabling better personalised search and automatic suggestion systems.

In the meantime, what I suggest, based on insights from the survey, is that academics working in design should:

• Ensure that as many of your papers as possible are available in an open-access format, either in an institutional repository, or on your own website, and make sure that links are published enabling Google Scholar and similar services to associate the PDF / HTML version with the record it has for the publication.

• In future, when deciding on venues for publication, give more thought to publishers' access policies, in terms of choosing open-access journals and conference proceedings wherever possible. Your department may care directly about impact factors, but having something with the potential to be more widely read will demonstrate commitment to actual real-world impact.

• Write a summary, maybe half a page, including (clear) images where appropriate, outlining the potential practical implications of every paper you produce. How would you explain it to a designer? What could a designer do with your insights? Or maybe make a video. Either way, put it in practical language. Don't assume that everyone reading is familiar with everything you are. This is not a conventional abstract, but something designed to be useful to a practitioner. Let's call them Concretes. See them as an integral part of writing a paper in the same way as writing the abstract. If you think your work doesn't have practical implications, think harder. How could your theory be useful to someone actually working in design?

Publish the Concretes, in an easy access format with automatic feed generation, every time you get a paper accepted (not when it's actually published: do it as soon as you can, before it becomes out of date). And put a citation that people can copy and paste, at the end of the Concrete.

Let people know about what you're doing. You might not want to have an actual blog, use Twitter, etc, but even a blog which solely consists of the Concretes, automatically tweeted, enables so many things to be built on it. Your department could produce one which aggregates everyone's Concretes. Go to industry conferences. Speak at them. You'll have practice in summarising the implications of your work from producing the Concretes.

This won't solve all of the problems, of course. And it does all depend on design academics believing that engagement with actual designers is valuable, useful, and something to aim for. It assumes that academics want people to be able to do things with their research, and place enough of a priority on that actually to take some action to make it easier. It might not be part of the metrics used by universities to assess research 'quality', currently, but -- particularly in a subject such as design -- practical impact in the real world really ought to be a goal at some level.

I'll eat my own dog food with this, and produce a set of Concretes for my own publications -- and maybe start some kind of collaborative template to enable making it easier? -- over the next few weeks. It'll be a process of matching practitioners' needs with academics' ability to summarise, to create a kind of loose specification for the format.

Your thoughts / suggestions / insights, readers, are very welcome.

Milton Keynes' Concrete Cows, by Diamond Geezer

Milton Keynes' Concrete Cows photo (above) by Diamond Geezer on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence. Lab photo by brotherM on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence. Trinity College Dublin Library photo by A Little Coffee with my Cream and Sugar on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments from the survey, in full

Designers who have made use of academic literature

• Would love to access other journals but the cost is prohibitive for a small design company. I have to get my friends who are academics to get me copies (shhhh!)

• I work in research and often look for resources around HCI topics. There are far too many search results and papers are often very close to the same topic, even citing each other. I wish there were some type of aggregator that would make it easier to get to the meat of the issue or the most relevant topic.

• I work with a ton of researchers with academic backgrounds. They are super helpful when I'm looking for literature related to my current project.

• Discussion guides or 1-page summaries (more detailed than abstracts but less intimidating than 12 pages and in more accessible language) might be helpful.

• I always want to use academic research because I feel we should be working together... but then the reality is that I usually don't know where to go and how to find the info I need quickly. On top of that, when I do find it, it frequently doesn't feel very relevant... Sigh! There needs to be a partnership of some kind I think to find the right balance.

• The most challenging barrier is not having access to the academic databases where academics are publishing. I have no idea how expensive subscriptions would be, but the per article price is usually high enough that I don't want to pay out of pocket and it's a pain to expense it or get clients to buy it. Another barrier is the fact that I have to translate the article or paper into something my client can understand. They are wordy, written in complex or academic jargon-y language, and don't usually have a lot of visuals. I can handle all that just fine but my clients can't. Especially the lack of visuals. Finally, I am someone who is interested in what the academic literature has to say, but I think there is a big contingent in design who is dismissive of anything academic. I think this is a symptom of art schools, to be honest, which sometimes leads people to adopt the old graphic artist philosophy that "if you can't do, you teach" and other such nonsense. I am actually leaving industry to go into academia, and I'm interested in this issue. I intend to go back to industry some way and be a person who can navigate both worlds... I think that there is a real need for those types of people, people who are willing to publish in academic journals and also on industry sites, for example.

• Experimental psychology is not at all practice-oriented and is hard to apply in research. Hardly anything from more 'applied' literature has proper psychological foundations... There's a large gap to be bridged and I don't know if academics are the ones to do this.

• We only have access to one database at work - which is very limiting. I do find copies of PDFs via google scholar posted in institutional repositories and by authors. It's getting much easier to access them... But I imagine only a fraction is available in this way. You should post this survey on the ux stack exchange boards. I'm quite interested in your findings.

• Paywalls and bad writing. Very little relevance to my daily work.

• Only ever found a fully available paper freely available once. The rest of the time, you have to go on abstracts, which more often than not are not enough.

• At university and my current employer I had a subscription. Many times papers are only available under subscription; some academics tend to keep copies of their papers elsewhere, which makes Google Scholar more useful.

• In my experience academic research helps illustrate, or provide background for a design rationale, stance or methodology. However it rarely drives or dictates design outcomes. In HCI, lab research is too decontextualised for insights to be of direct applicability to practice. In academic speak its ecological validity is somewhat dubious.

• The main barrier is the pace. Often research results are flying in to late, to be relevant. The internet world has moved in between. Additionally it would help to have better summaries. As a practitioner, I'm interested in the results first, then, if I doubt them, I want to understand the motivation of the researcher and/or the methodology. But even there, a summary is enough. Keep the details stored away - give me the core.

• I really should not be costing the draconian figures it is currently costing for journal subscriptions since the publishers don't have high costs at all, and they aren't exactly adding highly innovative value to the work of academics. Perhaps individual universities should come together and start hosting the works of their researchers instead, instead of paying those oh so hefty fees.

• They [ACM Interactions] recently made the site easier to use and also to find articles

• For two years i teached design (service design MA course at AHO oslo) 50% and freelanced 50%. Through this combination my work gained significant input from the academic material i teaches/researched. Now that i am full time hired in a design consultancy, i miss this connection and the impact i felt it had on my work.

• Easier access to free articles. Maybe also easier to find and share with peers.

• Most relevant papers are not free and carry a substantial amount of fee. So, I ended up just reading abstracts to gauge what the paper might have said. It feels like not only judging, but also reading a book by its cover!

• depends on the job.

• I would love better alerts when new (relevant) research is available, I would like better search tools to find answers to pertinent questions we face, I would like greater (cheaper) access to these resources.

• The barriers I've experienced, which may be true for many, is that I am generally unfamiliar with scientific concepts expressed as mathematical equations (and those concepts that have direct relation to them). The service that I would like to create to resolve this issue (hopefully) would be aesthetic and coherent visualizations/sonifications of the data and concepts. I am working on designing a network model to give academics, artists, and anyone who may be interested open source access to these images,sounds and accompanying texts with control enabled to selected groups of users to manipulate and add to the works.

• Practical knowledge lacks at times.

• Some academic research is incredibly useful: it's provided frameworks and insights that I've been able to build on in industry work. It doesn't have to be practical, good theory is just as useful. Some, from an industry perspective, is stating the bleeding obvious. I've been to CHI twice and Ubicomp once. CHI has nuggets, Ubicomp was a terrible circle jerk of the usual suspects. No-one was remotely interested in talking to my colleague and I because we weren't academics.

• Another thing is presentation. I'm comfortable reading academic HCI papers as I come from a social science background, but some are still terribly dry and poorly written. Many of my design-educated colleagues find this much more challenging (just as I find many things difficult which they do with ease). But academics need to reach this audience for their knowledge to be used. I'm not suggesting they dumb it down, but some of them really need to learn to write more clearly and many are terrible presenters. The standard academic presentation structure is a problem here as much as poor training and uncharismatic style and there's clearly pressure to conform; I overheard lots of moaning at Ubicomp about one presenter who'd done more than just read out bullet points presentation 'trying to be Steve Jobs'.

• Cost of access is a massive issue of course: I know where to look and still can't afford anything that's not on Google Scholar or ACM DLib. For many designers simply knowing where to look, and even thinking to look in the first place, are enormous barriers. If there was an expectation that they'd find something interesting and easily digestible, I'm sure more would look.

• In short, designers need to work a bit harder to look, but we need open access and more academics need to learn to do what you do, and make their research accessible to a broad audience.

• I chose very useful above but there's scarce amount of articles available. I do find it strange that in my little team we'll give a lot of weight to a blog post and not bother to unpick it or spend time verifying what it's saying. I really think time and accessibility would be two key things - and by time I mean at least write the summary in plain English.

• I have no idea how to get access to further academic research. Open access would be fantastic.

• I usually consult someone in the field and ask for articles. I occasionally pay for this as well and get a list of articles to review usually in the applied anthropology space. Key wording would be helpful, it is still hard to find things even in the age of google.

• There needs to be more of a connect between academic research and design practice. Academic theories are not practical and should be made relevant to practice - written in plain english

• It's extremely time-consuming to find relevant articles, and I just don't have enough time on most of my projects. Access is also a huge issue. I don't have a subscription at my current company (it's a small place), and very few articles are published for free online. I would pay for some if I knew they would be worthwhile, but it's often difficult to tell this strictly from their abstracts. I would love professionals to collate key academic articles somewhere so it's easy to find the most relevant papers when starting a new project. Anything that could save me time would be incredibly helpful.

• Places like JStor just need better and clearer subscription models. They seemed to be geared toward academic institutions. Small businesses need access too and are willing to pay for it. We just need a subscription model that fits our needs.

Designers who haven't made use of academic literature

• The industry regularly shares and publishes its findings for free in magazines, on blogs and at conferences. In contrast academics only publish in sanctioned journals read and accessable only to other academics purely because of the "academic credit" they receive rather than through a genuine desire to educate and share.

• Papers and similar are a waste of time. Academics should be blogging and getting interviewed in mainstream media / sites.

• I usually don't even go down the route of looking at academic research because I assume it won't be (a) as up to date as thinking I can find elsewhere and (b) it's not a regular resource I can ask my company to look into accessing. It's not tailored to a design-making audience, it seems like.

• Academicians and researchers do their studies to reflect a difference in the way we think, to radically look at the conditions. If the access gets easier, we would probably cut the chase, and test and implement ideas much more efficiently; in the benefit of the society.

• Industry doesn't know about research and even if it did a great deal of it is not directly relevant or applicable at the coal face

How do actual designers use academic literature? by Dan

The whole point of doing research is to extract reliable knowledge from either the natural or artificial world, and to make that knowledge available to others in re-usable form. Nigel Cross, 'Design Research: A Disciplined Conversation', Design Issues 15(2), 1999, p.9 [PDF link]

>>>Link to a very quick survey

It's incredibly sad that it took Aaron Swartz's death, but the issue of open access to academic literature has been dramatically brought to the fore again, coincident with interesting practical developments, some 'official' and some less so. The movement towards open access is not going to stop, and in some academic disciplines will leave the 'landscape' of journals and publication methods very different. One of the main arguments for open access is to make (often taxpayer-funded) research available to the public -- to people who might find it useful or valuable to apply, to enable use in education, to enable people to learn and explore and understand without the barriers of paying for publishers' astonishing profit margins. Others have discussed the nuances of the reasoning better than I can.

Design research and practice

What I want to talk about here is how this is relevant to design. 'Design', as an academic subject, covers a lot of ground from advertising to manufacturing engineering to art history to videogames, but the majority of academic design research is, in some way, rooted in design practice in some way.

It's about understanding how designers work, how they could do things differently (better), how to apply knowledge from other disciplines to the practical work of researching and designing and developing products, systems, services and environments, and how to apply methods from design practice to other fields. If we needed candidates for disciplines that ought to have a really close integration between practitioners and academic researchers, design would be high up the list (probably along with most forms of engineering and computer science, and -- one would hope -- educational research).

But how much do actual designers really make use of academic design research? I'm not sure there's as much interaction as there could be: over the last few years, I've gone to a lot of design events: industry conferences and academic conferences, and -- while maybe I haven't been asking the right questions -- it's fairly rare to find examples of direct practical applications of 'design' research (although HCI research is maybe more closely coupled to practice? Certainly much of it seems to be). If anything, where there is practical application, it's often of research from outside 'design' (something my own PhD was about, on some level).

Uncovering the barriers: the survey

There are lots of potential barriers I can see as to why this cross-fertilisation might not happen as much as it could do, and many are related to access issues. Others are almost certainly due to the way academic research is written and presented, which is -- being charitable -- often somewhat at odds with what is practically usable and immediately understandable.

But it seems as though it would be interesting to find out what designers actually say. So I've made a very quick survey, and would very much appreciate your input if you consider yourself a designer, of whatever kind. Please also pass this on to anyone else who you think would be interested.

Thanks to everyone who's answered so far (and reweeted my initial link to the survey). It's not a great survey, but should help build up a set of insights which enable some action around improving these connections between research and practice. I am sure there is 'proper' research on this, and probably whole research groups looking at it; I'm certainly not claiming the result of this survey to be anything other than a snapshot of a few anecdotal responses. If you just want to see the results without doing the survey, there's an automatically generated summary here.

>>>Link to a very quick survey

Edit: Here's an automatically generated summary of the results so far

Here's a very interesting blog post from Andy Budd discussing the relationship between design practitioners and academia -- don't miss the comments for some further discussion.

If... by Dan

(introducing behavioural heuristics)

Some heuristics extracted by workshop participants

EDIT (April 2013): An article based on the ideas in this post has now been published in the International Journal of Design - which is open-access, so it's free to read/share. The article refines some of the ideas in this post, using elements from CarbonCulture as examples, and linking it all to concepts from human factors, cybernetics and other fields.

There are lots of models of human behaviour, and as the design of systems becomes increasingly focused on people, modelling behaviour has become more important for designers. As Jon Froehlich, Leah Findlater and James Landay note, "even if it is not explicitly recognised, designers [necessarily] approach a problem with some model of human behaviour", and, of course, "all models are wrong, but some are useful". One of the points of the DwI toolkit (post-rationalised) was to try to give designers a few different models of human behaviour relevant to different situations, via pattern-like examples.

I'm not going to get into what models are 'best' / right / most predictive for designers' use here. There are people doing that more clearly than I can; also, there's more to say than I have time to do at present. What I am going to talk about is an approach which has emerged out of some of the ethnographic work I've been doing for the Empower project, working on CarbonCulture with More Associates, where asking users questions about how and why they behaved in certain ways with technology (in particular around energy-using systems) led to answers which were resolvable into something like rules: I'm talking about behavioural heuristics. If...

Behavioural heuristics

The term has some currency in game theory, other economic decision-making and even in games design, but all I really mean here is rules (of thumb) that people might follow when interacting with a system - things like:

▶ If someone I respect read this article, I should read it too

▶ If this email claiming to be from my bank uses language which makes me suspicious, I should ignore it

▶ If I've read something that makes me look intelligent, I should tell others

▶ If that Go Compare advert comes on, I should press 'mute'

▶ If the base of my coffee cup might be wet, I should put it on something rather than directly on the polished wooden table

▶ If, when asked which of two cities has a bigger population, I have only heard of one of them, I should choose that one

▶ If my friend posts that she has a new job, I should congratulate her

▶ If there's a puddle in front of me, I should walk round it

▶ If there's a puddle in front of me, I should jump in it

▶ If I'm short of time, I should choose the brand name I recognise

▶ If I have some rubbish, and there's a recycling bin nearby, I should recycle it

▶ If I have some rubbish, and there isn't a recycling bin nearby, I should put it in a normal bin

▶ If that bench is wet or dirty, I should sit somewhere else

▶ If lots of my friends are using this app, I should try it too

▶ If there are lots of pairs of seats empty on the train, I should sit in one of them rather than sitting next to someone already occupying one of a pair

▶ If I can't see the USB logo on the top of this connector, I should turn it over before trying to plug it in

▶ If I can't get the USB cable to plug in properly, I should force it

▶ If seats are positioned round a table, I should sit at the table

▶ If I'm trying to lose weight, I should try to choose food with less fat in it

▶ If this envelope has HM Revenue & Customs on the back, I should open it

▶ If this envelope is from BT and printed on shiny paper, I should shred it immediately without bothering to open it

▶ If this website asks me to fill in a survey, I should click cancel immediately

▶ That urinal spacing thing. You know what I mean.

These are a mixture of instinctive or automatic reactions (a kind of ifttt for people) and those with more deliberative processes behind them: the elephant and rider or Systems 1 and 2 or whatever you like. Some are more abstract than others; most involve some degree of prior learning, whether purely through conditioning or a conscious decision, but in practice can be applied quickly and without too much in-context deliberation (hence at least some are 'fast and frugal', in Dan Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer's terms). Some heuristics could lead to cognitive biases (or vice versa); some involve following plans, some are more like situated actions. And of course not all of them are true for everyone, and they would differ in different situations even for the same people, depending on a whole range of factors.

Just some chips with Tippexed faces on an old Dictaphone

Truth tables for people

Regardless of the backstory, though, each of these rules or heuristics potentially has effects in practice in terms of the actual behaviour that occurs. They are almost like atomic black boxes of action, transducers* which when connected together in specific configurations result in 'behaviour'.

We might construct 'behavioural personas' which put together compatible (whatever that means) heuristics into persona-like fictional users, described in terms of the rules they follow when interacting with things, and both (admittedly crudely) simulate** their behaviour in a situation, and, maybe more importantly, design systems which take account of the heuristics that users are employing.

If we know that our fictive user is following a "If someone I respect read this article, I should read it too" heuristic, then designing a system to show users that people they respect (however that's determined) read or recommended an article ought to be a fairly obvious way to influence the fictive user to read the article. If we know that he or she also follows related heuristics in other parts of life, e.g. the "If I've read something that makes me look intelligent, I should tell others" rule, then this action could also be incorporated into the process.

There are two main objections to this. One: it's obvious, and we do it anyway; and two: treating people like electronic components is horrible / grotesquely reductive / etc. I don't disagree with either, but am nevertheless interested in exploring the possibilities of using this kind of modelling, simple and lacking in nuance as it is, to provide a way of navigating and exploring the many different ways that design can influence behaviour. If we could do contextual user research with this kind of heuristic as a unit of analysis, uncovering how many users in our situation are likely to be following different heuristics, we could design systems which are not just segmented but tailored much more directly to the things which 'matter' to people in terms of how they behave.

Interaction 12 workshop Interaction 12 workshop

Trying it out: thank you, Dublin guinea-pigs

At Interaction 12 last week in Dublin, 41 wonderful people from organisations including Adaptive Path, Google and Chalmers University took part in a workshop exploring the idea of these heuristics and how they might be used in design for behaviour change.

What we did first was a kind of rapid functional decomposition (in the Christopher Alexander sense) on a few examples where systems have been designed expressly to try to influence user behaviour in multiple ways.

The example I worked through first though was a simple decomposition of Amazon's 'social proof' recommendation system: the point was to try to think through some of the 'assumptions' about behaviour that can be read into the design, and using a kind of laddering / Five Whys process, end up with statements of possible heuristics.

Amazon recommendations

So with the Amazon example here, what are the assumptions? Basically, what assumptions are present, that if true would explain how the system 'works' at influencing users' behaviour? What I have glibly classified as simply social proof contains a number of assumptions, including things like:

▶ People will do what they see other people doing

▶ People want to learn more about a subject

▶ People will buy multiple books at the same time

And many others, probably. But let's look in more detail at 'People will do what they see other people doing': Why? Why will people do what they see other people doing? If we break this down, asking 'Why?' a couple of times, we get to tease out some slightly different possible factors.

Decomposing 'People will do what they see other people doing' Decomposing 'People will do what they see other people doing'

After a couple of iterations it's possible to see some actual heuristics emerge:

Decomposing 'People will do what they see other people doing'

Of course there are many possible heuristics here, but for the five uncovered, it's not too difficult to think of design patterns or techniques which are directly relevant:

▶ If lots of people are doing it, do it

Show directly how many (or what proportion of) people are choosing an option

▶ If people like me are doing it, do it

Show the user that his or her peers, or people in a similar situation, make a particular choice

▶ If people that I aspire to be like are doing it, do it

Show the user that aspirational figures are making a particular choice

▶ If something worked before, do it again

Remind the user what worked last time

▶ If an expert recommends it, do it

Show the user that expert figures are making a particular choice

There's nothing there that isn't obvious, but I suppose my point is that each heuristic implies a specific design feature, and the process of unpicking what the actual decision-points might involve gives us a much more targeted set of design possibilities than simply saying 'put some social proof there'. Depending on the heuristics uncovered, it might be that simple majority preference (the Whiskas ad), irritating pseudo-authority-based messaging (Klout), friend-based recommendation (Facebook apps), peer voting (Reddit) or even celebrity/expert endorsement (John Stalker and Drummer endorsing awnings) could match individual users' heuristics better.

In tests, 8 out of 10 owners who expressed a preferences said their cats preferred it Klout: vermin of Twitter Facebook apps Reddit John Stalker and Drummer endorse these awnings

Sometimes a service will use more than one, to try to satisfy multiple heuristics, or perhaps because the designers are not sure which heuristics are really important to the user (e.g. the This Is My Jam example below). In some ways, this process is approaching the kind of 'persuasion profiling' being pioneered by Maurits Kaptein, Dean Eckles and Arjan Haring's Persuasion API, although from a different direction.

This is My Jam: Twitter recommendations This is My Jam: popular recommendations

In the workshop, groups did a similar decomposition on three examples: Codecademy, Opower and Foodprints, part of More Associates' CarbonCulture platform - the introductory material is reproduced below. [PDF of this material]

Codecademy Opower Foodprints

For each of these, groups extracted a handful of statements of possible heuristics - for example, for Opower, these included:

▶ If my neighbour can do it, I can do it

▶ If life's a competition, I want to win it

▶ If I set myself goals, I want to meet them

▶ I don't want to be the 'weak link', so I should do it

▶ I want to be 'normal', so I should do it

▶ [If I do it] I will be better than other people

▶ If I get apprecation from others, I will continue to do it

▶ If it stops me being the 'bad guy', I will do it

▶ If it stops me feeling guilty, I will do it

▶ [If I do it] I will improve myself

▶ If I don't do it, I won't fit in

▶ If I save money, I'll have it for other things

▶ [If I do it] I will be a 'good' person

▶ [If I don't do it] bad things will happen


We went on to swap some of the heuristics among groups, and build them up into relatively plausible (if completely fake) personas, ranging from a "goth who doesn't want to do what others do", to Fido, a guide dog intent on helping his partially-sighted owner Bob (as SVA's Lizzy Showman mentions here).

In turn, the groups then used the DwI cards as inspiration to generate some possible concepts in response to a brief about keeping that person (or dog) engaged and motivated as part of a behaviour change programme at work, around behaviours such as exercise, giving better feedback and so on. Finally, groups acted these out (photo below shows Fido and Bob!).

Guide dog

Where does all this fit into a design process?

What was the point of all this? The aim, really, is ultimately to provide a way of helping designers choose the most appropriate methods for influencing user behaviour in particular contexts, for particular people. This is what much design for behaviour change research is evolving towards, from Stanford's Behaviour Wizard to Johannes Zachrisson's development of a framework.

I would envisage that with user research framed and phrased in the right way, observation, interviews and actual behavioural data, it would be possible to extract heuristics in a form which are useful for selecting design patterns to apply. While in the workshop we 'decomposed' existing systems without doing any real user research, doing this alongside would enable the heuristics extracted to be compared and discrepancies investigated and resolved. The redesigned system could thus match much better the heuristics being followed by users, or, if necessary, help to shift those heuristics to more appropriate ones.

Ultimately, each design pattern in some future version of the DwI toolkit will be matched to relevant heuristics, so that there's at least a more reasoned (if not proven) process for doing design for behaviour change, using heuristics as a kind of common currency between user behaviour and design patterns: user research → extracting heuristics → matching heuristics to design patterns → redesigning system by applying patterns → testing → back to the start if needed

In the meantime, my next step with this is to do some more extraction of heuristics from actual behavioural data for some particular parts of CarbonCulture, and (as my job requires) put this process into a more formal write-up for an academic journal. I will try to make some properly theoretical bridges with the heuristics work of Gerd Gigerenzer, Dan Goldstein and (as always) Herbert Simon. But if you have any thoughts, suggestions, objections or otherwise, please do get in touch.

Thanks to everyone who came to the workshop, and thanks too to the Interaction 12 organisers for an impressively organised conference.

* In reality, the rules have to be able to degrade if the conditions are not met: people are maybe following nested IF...THEN...ELSE loops rather than individual IF...THEN rules. Or perhaps more likely (this thought occurred while talking to Sebastian Deterding on a bus from Dun Laoghaire last week) a kind of CASE statement - which would take us into pattern recognition and recognition-primed decision models... **Matt Jones suggests I should read Manuel deLanda's Philosophy and Simulation, which fills me with both excitement and fear...

Image sources: 'If...' movie poster; Whiskas ad; Nationwide awnings

Just some chips with Tippexed faces on an old Dictaphone gathered round to watch a display

Architecture, urbanism, design and behaviour: a brief review by Dan

by Dan Lockton Hollywood & Highland mall

Continuing the meta-auto-behaviour-change effort started here, I’m publishing a few extracts from my PhD thesis as I write it up (mostly from the literature review, and before any rigorous editing) as blog posts over the next few months. The idea of how architecture can be used to influence behaviour was central to this blog when it started, and so it's pleasing to revisit it, even if makes me realise how little I still know.

“There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” Winston Churchill, addressing the English Architectural Association, 1924

In designing and constructing environments in which people live and work, architects and planners are necessarily involved in influencing human behaviour. While Sommer (1969, p.3) asserted that the architect “in his training and practice, learns to look at buildings without people in them,” it is clear that from, for example, Howard's Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902), through Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine and La Ville radieuse, to the Smithsons' 'Streets in the sky', there has been a long-standing thread of recognition that the way people live their lives is directly linked to the designed environments in which they live. Whether the explicit intention to influence behaviour drives the design process—architectural determinism (Broady, 1966: see future blog post ‘POSIWID and determinism’)—or whether the behaviour consequences of design decisions are only revealed and considered as part of a post-occupancy evaluation (e.g. Zeisel, 2006) or by social scientists or psychologists studying the impact of a development, there are links between the design of the built environment and our behaviour, both individually and socially. Where there is an explicit intention to influence behaviour, the intended behaviours could relate (for example) to directing people for strategic reasons, or providing a particular ‘experience’, or for health and safety reasons, but they are often focused on influencing social interaction. Hillier et al (1987, p.233) find that “spatial layout in itself generates a field of probabilistic encounter, with structural properties that vary with the syntax of the layout.” Ittelson et al (1974, p.358) suggest that “All buildings imply at least some form of social activity stemming from both their intended function and the random encounters they may generate. The arrangement of partitions, rooms, doors, windows, and hallways serves to encourage or hinder communication and, to this extent, affects social interaction. This can occur at any number of levels and the designer is clearly in control to the degree that he plans the contact points and lanes of access where people come together. He might also, although with perhaps less assurance, decide on the desirability of such contact.”

“Designers often aspire to do more than simply create buildings that are new, functional and attractive—they promise that a new environment will change behaviours and attitudes” (Marmot, 2002, p.252). Where architects expressly announce their intentions and ability to influence behaviour, such as in Danish firm 3XN’s exhibition and book Mind Your Behaviour (3XN, 2010), the behaviours intended and techniques used can range from broad, high-level aspirational strategies such as communal areas “creating the potential for involvement, interaction and knowledge sharing” in a workplace (3XN, 2010) to specific tactics, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s occasional use of “very confining corridors” for people to walk along “so that when they entered an open space the openness and light would enhance their experience” (Ittelson et al, 1974, p.346). An appreciation of both broad strategies and specific tactics is valuable: from the perspective of a designer whose agency may only extend to redesign of certain elements of a space, product or interface, it is the specific tactical techniques which are likely to be the most immediately applicable, but the broader guiding strategies can help set the vision in the first place. For example, the ‘conditions for city diversity’ outlined by Jacobs (1961)—broad strategies for understanding aspects of urban behaviour—have influenced generations of urbanists.

Following the influence of Christopher Alexander (Alexander et al, 1975, 1977; Alexander, 1979), such strategies and tactics may be expressed architecturally in terms of patterns, which describe “a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice” (Alexander et al, 1977). The concept of patterns, and Alexander et al’s A Pattern Language (1977) will be examined in detail in a future thesis extract, for their form, philosophy and impact, but, as an example, it is worth drawing out a few of the patterns which actually address directly influencing behaviour architecturally (Table 1). Among others, Frederick (2007) and Day (2002) both also outline a range of architectural patterns, some with similarities to Alexander et al’s, including some specifically relating to influencing behaviour.

Chepstow, Monmouthshire Two examples of pattern 53? Chepstow, Monmouthshire (restored 1524) and Philips High Tech Campus, Eindhoven (c.2000) Gateway at Philips High Tech Campus, Eindhoven

Table 1. Summaries of a few of Alexander et al’s patterns (1977) which specifically address influencing behaviour, simplified into ‘ends’ and ‘means’.





Activity nodes

To “create concentrations of people in a community”

Facilities must be grouped densely round very small public squares which can function as nodes—with all pedestrian movement in the community organized to pass through these nodes”


Main gateways

To influence inhabitants of a part of a town to identify it as a distinct entity

Mark every boundary in the city which has important human meaning—the boundary of a building cluster, a neighborhood, a precinct—by great gateways where the major entering paths cross the boundary”


Connected play

To “support the formation of spontaneous play groups” for children

Lay out common land, paths, gardens and bridges so that groups of at least 64 households are connected by a swath of land that does not cross traffic. Establish this land as the connected play space for the children in these households”


Farmhouse kitchen

To help “all the members of the family… to accept, fully, the fact that taking care of themselves by cooking is as much a part of life as taking care of themselves by eating

Make the kitchen bigger than usual, big enough to include the ‘family room’ space, and place it near the center of the commons, not so far back in the house as an ordinary kitchen. Make it large enough to hold a good table and chairs, some soft and some hard, with counters and stove and sink around the edge of the room; and make it a bright and comfortable room”


Small meeting rooms

To encourage smaller group meetings, which encourage people to contribute and make their point of view heard

Make at least 70 per cent of all meeting rooms really small—for 12 people or less. Locate them in the most public parts of the building, evenly scattered among the workplaces”

Layout of physical elements

Practically, most architectural patterns for influencing behaviour involve, in one way or another, the physical arrangement of building elements—inside or outside—or a change in material properties. In each case, there is the possibility of changing people’s perceptions of what behaviour is possible or appropriate, and the possibility of actually forcing some behaviour to occur or not occur (see future article ‘Affordances, constraints and choice architecture’). These are not independent alternatives: the perception that some behaviour is possible or impossible can be a result of learning ‘the hard way’ in the past.

Barrier on the London Underground preventing running down stairs onto track Barrier on the London Underground (Baker Street, from memory), preventing people running down stairs directly onto the track. Most stairs don't open straight onto the platform like this.

The physical arrangement of elements can be broken down into different aspects of positioning and layout—putting elements in particular places to encourage or discourage people’s interaction with them, putting them in people’s way to prevent access to somewhere, putting them either side of people to channel or direct them in a particular way (e.g. staggered pedestrian crossings which aim to direct pedestrians to face oncoming traffic; Department for Transport, 1995), hiding them to remove the perception that they are there, splitting elements up or combining them so that they can be used by different numbers of people at once, or angling them so that some actions are easier than others (termed slanty design by Beale (2007), both physically and in metaphorical application in interfaces). Urbanists such as Whyte (1980) have catalogued, in colourful, intricate detail the effects that the layouts and features of built environments have on people’s behaviour—why some areas become popular, others not so, with whom, and why, with recommendations for how to improve things, in contrast to work such as Goffman (1963) which focuses on the social contexts of public behaviour in urban environments.

The layouts of shops, hotels, casinos and theme parks, especially larger developments where there is scope to plan more ambitiously, can also make use of multiple aspects of positioning and layout to influence and control shoppers’ paths—Stenebo (2010) discusses IKEA’s carefully planned (and continually refined) “fairyland of adventures” which routes visitors through the store; Shearing and Stenning (1984) examine how Disney World embeds “[c]ontrol strategies in both environmental features and structural relations,” many to do with positioning of physical features; while Underhill (1999, 2004), formerly one of Whyte’s students, describes how his company, Envirosell, uses observation approach to understand and redesign shopping behaviour across a wide range of store types and shopping malls themselves, much of which comes down to intelligently repositioning elements such as mirrors, basket stacks, signage and seating. Poundstone (2010) cites a study by Sorensen Associates which used active RFID tags fitted to shopping trolleys to determine that US shoppers taking an anticlockwise route around supermarkets spend on average $2.00 more per trip; the suggestion is that stores with the entrance on the right will be more likely to prompt this anticlockwise movement.

Changes in material properties can involve drawing attention to particular behaviour (e.g. rumble strips on a road to encourage drivers to slow down: Harvey, 1992), or making it more or less comfortable to do an activity (e.g., as Katyal (2002, p.1043) notes, “fast food restaurants use hard chairs that quickly grow uncomfortable so that customers rapidly turn over”). The application of some of these physical positioning and layout and material property ideas to a particular social issue is described in the blog post 'Towards a Design with Intent method v.0.1' from 2008.

Some seating at Wessex Water's HQ, Bath

Often combining positioning and material properties, the effect of different seating types and layouts on behaviour comprises a significant area of study in itself, with, for example, work by Steinzor (1950), Hearn (1957), Sommer (1969) and Koneya (1976) helping to establish patterns of likely interaction between people occurring with arrangements of chairs around tables, and overall room layouts in classrooms and mental hospitals. Sommer’s design intervention in the dayroom of an elderly ladies’ ward at a state hospital in Canada—by reducing the number of couches around the walls and adding tables and chairs in the centre of the room, with flowers and magazines—led to major increases in the amount of conversation and interaction between residents.

Seating at LAX

Osmond (1959) introduced the terms sociofugal and sociopetal to describe spaces which drive people apart and together, respectively; Sommer (1969, 1974) notes that airports are often among the most sociofugal spaces, largely because of the fixed, single-direction seating and “sterile” decor: “Many other buildings… such as mental hospitals and jails, also discourage contact between people, but none does this as effectively as the airport… In practice the long corridors and the cold, bare waiting areas of the typical airport are more sociofugal than the isolation wing of the state penitentiary.” (Sommer, 1974: p.72). Hall’s concept of proxemics (e.g. Hall, 1966) provides a treatment of personal space, its effects on behaviour, and its significance in different physical spaces as well as in different cultures. The different ‘distance zones’ identified by Hall—intimate, personal, social and public—have implications for the design process: “If one looks at human beings in the way that the early slave traders did, conceiving of their space requirements simply in terms of the limits of the body, one pays very little attention to the effects of crowding. If, however, one sees man surrounded by a series of invisible bubbles which have measurable dimensions, architecture can be seen in a new light. It is then possible to conceive that people can be cramped by the spaces in which they have to live and work. They may find themselves forced into behavior, relationships or emotional outlets that are overly stressful” (Hall, 1966, p.129).

Trellick Tower from the Great Western Main Line

Emergence, desire lines and predicting behaviour

“All buildings are predictions. All predictions are wrong”. Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn, 1994, p. 178.

“I built skyscrapers for people to live in there and now they messed them up—disgusting”. Ernő Goldfinger, commenting on tabloid reports of violent crime in the Trellick Tower, above (quoted in Open University, 2001)

In How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand (1994) contrasts ‘Low Road’ architecture designed to permit adaptation by users, with visionary ‘High Road’ architectural plans which seek to define at the design stage the future behaviour and lifestyles of buildings’ users. High Road plans often ‘fail’ in this sense, unable to anticipate future needs or usage patterns (as Ittelson et al (1974, p. 357) put it, “we are all living in the relics of the past”), while Low Road architecture can cope with changing requirements, appropriation (Salovaara, 2008) and emergent behaviour. The stereotype of architect as a 'High Road' planner—perhaps living in the penthouse at the top of the tower block he has designed—resonates in both fact (e.g. Ernő Goldfinger's comment quoted above) and fiction (e.g. Anthony Royal in J.G. Ballard's High Rise (1975).*

The parallels of the the High/Low Road approaches with the design and use of other systems—in particular software, but perhaps also economic and political systems in general—are evident throughout Brand’s book, although never explicitly stated as such; there are also parallels in planning at a level above that of buildings themselves, such as the clash in New York (Flint, 2009) between the bottom-up approach to urbanism favoured by Jacobs (1961) and the top-down approach of Robert Moses. While it will unfortunately not be considered in detail in this thesis, the emerging power of ubiquitous computing, when integrated intelligently into physical space—"city as operating system" (Gittins, 2007)—could permit a kind of Low Road 'read/write urbanism' (Greenfield & Shepard, 2007) in which the 'city users' themselves are able to augment and alter the meanings, affordances and even fabrics of their surroundings.

A cowpath at Brunel A desire path or cowpath is forming across this grass area in the John Crank memorial garden, Brunel University...

One emergent behaviour-related concept arising from architecture and planning which has also found application in human-computer interaction is the idea of desire lines, desire paths or cowpaths. The usual current use of the term (often attributed, although apparently in error, to Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1964)) is to describe paths worn by pedestrians across spaces such as parks, between buildings or to avoid obstacles—“the foot-worn paths that sometimes appear in a landscape over time” (Mathes, 2004) and which become self-reinforcing as subsequent generations of pedestrians follow what becomes an obvious path. Throgmorton & Eckstein (2000) also discuss Chicago transportation engineers’ use of ‘desire lines’ to describe maps of straight-line origin-to-destination journeys across the city, in the process revealing assumptions about the public’s ‘desire’ to undertake these journeys. In either sense, desire lines (along with use-marks (Burns, 2007)) could perhaps, using economic terminology, be seen as a form of revealed user preference (Beshears et al, 2008) or at least revealed choice, with a substantial normative quality.

As such, there is potential for observing the formation of desire lines and then ‘codifying’ them in order to provide paths that users actually need, rather than what is assumed they will need. As Myhill (2004) puts it, “[a]n optimal way to design pathways in accordance with natural human behaviour, is to not design them at all. Simply plant grass seed and let the erosion inform you about where the paths need to be. Stories abound of university campuses being constructed without any pathways to them.” Myhill goes on to suggest that companies which apply this idea in the design of goods and services, designing systems to permit desire lines to emerge and then paying attention to them, will succeed in a process of ‘Normanian Natural Selection’ (after Don Norman’s work).

A paved cowpath at Brunel ...whereas this one has been 'paved' after pedestrians wore a definite path.

In human-computer interaction, this principle has become known as ‘Pave the cowpaths’—“look where the paths are already being formed by behavior and then formalize them, rather than creating some kind of idealized path structure that ignores history and tradition and human nature and geometry and ergonomics and common sense” (Crumlish & Malone, 2009, p.17). Particularly with websites, analytics software can take the place of the worn grass, and in the process reveal extra data such as demographic information about users, and more about their actual desires or intention in engaging in the process (e.g. Google is a “database of intentions”, according to Battelle (2003)). This allows clustering of behaviour paths and even investigation of users’ mental models of site structure. The counter-argument is that blindly paving cowpaths can enshrine inefficient behaviours in the longer-term, locking users and organisations into particular ways of doing things which were never optimal in the first place (Arace, 2006)—form freezing function, to paraphrase Stewart Brand (1994, p.157).

From the point of view of influencing behaviour rather than simply reflecting it, the principle of paving the cowpaths could be applied strategically: identify the desire lines and paths of particular users—perhaps a group which is already performing the desired behaviour—and then, by formalising this, making it easier or more salient or in some way obviously normative, encourage other users to follow suit.

*It is worth differentiating, though, between a visionary approach which considers human behaviour and sets out to change it, and the approach attributed to some other treatments of the 'visionary architect' personality, in which human behaviour is simply ignored or relegated as being secondary to the vision of the building itself. In fiction, Ayn Rand's Howard Roark (in The Fountainhead, 1943) is perhaps an archetype; Sommer's architect who "learns to look at buildings without people in them" quoted above is perhaps based on real instances of this approach.

Westfield Stratford City, with Olympic Athletes' Village under construction, March 2010 The ticket hall of Stratford City railway station, London, with Westfield logo and the Olympic Athletes' Village under construction in the background, March 2010

The politics of architecture, power and control

“I was aware that I could be watched from above…and that it was possible to go much higher—to become one of the watchers—but I didn’t see how it could be done. The architecture embodied a political message: There are people higher than you, and they can watch you, follow you—and, theoretically, you can join them, become one of them. Unfortunately you don’t know how.” Geoff Manaugh, The BLDG BLOG Book (2009, p.17)

Architecture can serve as a regulatory force (Shah and Kesan, 2007) and has been used to influence and control public behaviour through embodying power in a number of ways. Direct use of architecture to change the economic or demographic make-up of areas ranges from policies of shopping centres and Business Improvement Districts to shift the social class of visitors to an area* (Minton, 2009), to Depression-era Tennessee Valley Authority’s mandate to revitalise impoverished areas through massive development programmes (Culvahouse, 2007), to government-driven use of settlements to occupy or colonise territories. In this latter context, Segal and Weizman (2003, p. 19), referring to Israel, comment that “[i]n an environment where architecture and planning are systematically instrumentalized… planning decisions do not often follow criteria of economic sustainability, ecology or efficiency of services, but are rather employed to serve strategic and political agendas”.

Vale (2008) discusses Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s 1791 layout of Washington, DC, often seen as physically reifying the ‘separation of powers’ principle contained in the US Constitution, by separating the buildings housing the branches of government, although Vale notes that L’Enfant does not explicitly mention this as his intention. Along perhaps similar lines, Stewart Brand (1994, p.3) mentions Churchill’s 1943 request that “the bomb-damaged Parliament be rebuilt exactly as it was before… It was to the good, he insisted, that the [House of Commons] Chamber was too small to seat all the members (so great occasions were standing-room occasions), and that its shape forced members to sit on either one side or the other, unambiguously of one party or the other.” Indeed, Churchill’s ‘crossing the floor’ in 1904 (and again in the 1920s) perhaps relied on the physical layout of the chamber for its impact. Ittelson et al (1974, p.139) also note that “[t]he eight months of deliberations in 1969, preceding the Paris Peace Talks, were largely centered on the issue of the shape of the table to be used in the negotiations.”

Internal building layouts are analysed for their ‘power’ implications by Dovey (2008), who uses a system of ‘space syntax analysis’ developed by Hillier and Hanson (1984) to examine diverse buildings such as Albert Speer’s Berlin Chancellery, the Forbidden City of Beijing, and the Metro Centre shopping mall in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. One recurring pattern in political buildings is the intentional use of something similar to what Alexander et al (1977, p.610), in a different context, call ‘intimacy of gradient’—a “diplomatic promenade” (Dovey, 2008, p. 65) selectively revealing a sequence of anterooms to visitors, their permitted progress through the structure (the deepest level being the president or monarch’s private study) calculated both to reflect their status and instil the requisite level of awe. Nicoletta (2003) looks at the use of architecture to exert social control in Shaker dwelling houses, e.g. the use of separate entrances and staircases for men and women, and the lack of routes through the house which did not result in observation by other members of the family.

City layouts have been used strategically to try to prevent disorder and make it easier to put down. Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s “militaristically planned Paris” (Hatherley, 2008, p. 11), remodelled for Louis Napoléon (later Napoléon III) after 1848, had “[t]he true goal of…secur[ing] the city against civil war. He wanted to make the erection of barricades in Paris impossible for all time… Widening the streets is designed to make the erection of barricades impossible, and new streets are to furnish the shortest route between the barracks and the workers’ districts.” (Benjamin, 1935/1999, p. 12). The Haussmann project also involved “the planning of straight avenues as a method of crowd control (artillery could fire down them at barricaded masses)” (Rykwert, 2000, p.91). Scott (1998, p.59) likens the "logic behind the reconstruction of Paris" to the process of transforming old-growth forests into "scientific forests designed for unitary fiscal management"—part of which involves, as Scott emphasies throughout his book Seeing Like a State, the idea of making a space (and the people in it) legible to whoever is in power by removing or simplifying inconsistencies, anomalies and local practices to 'tame' potentially dangerous ceintures sauvages. Legibility affords measurement and standardisation, and these (from Domesday Book to the standardisation of surnames, to biometric IDs) afford modelling, regulation and control. Drawing on Hacking (1990), Scott (1998, p.92) suggests that it is "but a small step from a simplified description of society to a design and manipulation of society, with improvement in mind. If one could reshape nature to design a more suitable forest, why not reshape society to create a more suitable population?"

Returning to the specifics of architectural schemes, New York ‘master builder’ Robert Moses’ low parkway bridges on Long Island are often mentioned in a similar vein to Haussmann's Paris (Caro, 1975; Winner, 1986). These had the effect of preventing buses (and by implication poorer people, often minorities) using the parkways to visit the Jones Beach State Park—another of Moses' projects. However, Joerges (1999) questions details of the intentionality involved, suggesting that the story as presented by Winner is more of a parable (Gillespie, 2007, p. 72) about the embodiment of politics in artefacts—an exhortation to recognise that “specific features in the design or arrangement of a device or system could provide a convenient means of establishing patterns of power and authority in a given setting,” (Winner, 1986)—than a real example of architecture being used intentionally to discriminate against certain groups (see also the forthcoming blog post ‘POSIWID and determinism’). Nevertheless, Flint (2009, p.44) suggests in his book on Jane Jacobs' battles with Moses over New York planning, that, at least in his earlier years, "Moses strove to model himself after Baron Haussmann".

*Minton (2009, p.45) interviews a Business Improvement District manager in the UK who tells her explicitly that “High margins come with ABC1s, low margins with C2DEs. My job is to create an environment which will bring in more ABC1s.”

Pig ears on the South Bank, London 'Pig ear' skate stoppers near City Hall, London

Disciplinary architecture and design against crime

“Where the homeless are ejected from business and retail areas by such measures as curved bus benches, window-ledge spikes and doorway sprinkler systems, so skaters encounter rough-textured surfaces, spikes and bumps added to handrails, blocks of concrete placed at the foot of banks, chains across ditches and steps, and new, unridable surfaces such as gravel and sand.” Iain Borden, Skateboarding, Space and the City (2001, p.254)

Perhaps difficult to extract from the political dimension of architecture is the notion of disciplinary architecture, covering everything from designed measures such as anti-homeless park benches to prison design, via Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (1787) and Foucault’s ‘technologies of punishment’ (1977). Howell (2001) notes that this is often framed as ‘defending’ the general public against ‘undesirable’ behaviour by other members of the public—in this particular case again, measures to make skateboarding more difficult. Similar measures may be installed by members of the public to defend their own properties: Flusty (1997, p. 48) classifies “five species” of “interdictory spaces—spaces designed to intercept and repel or filter would-be users”, many of which occur frequently in residential contexts as well as public spaces: stealthy space—areas which have been deliberately concealed from general view; slippery space—spaces with no apparent means of approach; crusty space—space that cannot be accessed because of obstructions; prickly space—space which cannot be occupied comfortably due to measures inhibiting walking, sitting or standing; and jittery space—space which is constantly under surveillance (or threatened surveillance). Some of the ways of achieving these species of space will be familiar from other examples discussed in this thesis, particularly prickly space.

Prikka strips Prikka strips, a popular brand of add-on DIY plastic spikes for your wall.

'Design against crime' has recently received significant attention in the UK via initiatives such as the Design Against Crime Research Centre at Central Saint Martins (e.g. Ekblom, 1997; Gamman & Pascoe, 2004; Gamman & Thorpe, 2007) whose work has addressed some high-profile areas such as bicycle theft and bag theft in restaurants and bars (AHRC, 2008) through innovative product design interventions taking account of the environmental contexts in which crimes occur. While the focus may be on 'better' products (as was a much earlier programme by the Design Council focusing on design against vandalism (Sykes, 1979)), the parallel field of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) has developed from the early 1970s to date, focusing on redesigning architectural elements to discourage particular behaviours. In the UK, compliance with an Association of Chief Police Officers’ CPTED initiative, ‘Secured by Design’—run by ACPO Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd—has, according to Minton (2009, p.71), become a condition of planning permission for some large residential developments, leading to the situation where new estates are required to be “surrounded by walls with sharp steel pins or broken glass on top of them, CCTV and only one gate into the estate.”

Crowe (2000) provides a practical guide to implementing CPTED with diagrams and ‘design directives’ for a wide variety of spaces, including schools and student residences. Poyner (1983), in a guide which is effectively A Pattern Language for CPTED, outlines 31 patterns addressing different types of crime in different settings—for example, “4.7 Access to rear of house: There should be no open access from the front to the rear of a house. Access might be restricted to full-height locked gates,” addresses burglary and break-ins. Many of Poyner’s patterns make use of the principle of natural surveillance, described in Oscar Newman’s influential book Defensible Space: People and Design in the Violent City* (1972). Natural surveillance implies designing spaces to afford “surveillance opportunities for residents and their agents” (Newman, 1972, p. 78)—effectively, designing environments so that building users are able to observe others’ activities when outside the home, and feel observed themselves (a concept which, applied in the wider context of digital communications and social media, might be termed peerveillance**). There should be parallels with Jacobs’ (1961) concept of ‘eyes on the street’—although as Minton (2009) points out, implementing natural surveillance via enclosed, gated communities where strangers will necessarily stand out means that the residents can become isolated, targets even for burglars who know that it is unlikely there will be any passers-by (or even passing police) to see their activities.

Katyal (2002) provides a comprehensive academic review of ‘Architecture as Crime Control’, addressed to a legal and social policy-maker audience, but also interesting because of a follow-up article taking the same approach to examine digital architecture (see future article). One point to which Katyal repeatedly returns is the concept of architectural solutions as entities which subtly reinforce or embody social norms (desirable ones, from the point of view of law enforcement) rather than necessarily enforce them: “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” (Katyal, 2002, p. 1075).

*‘Defensible space’ covers “restructur[ing] the physical layout of communities to allow residents to control the areas around their homes.” (Newman, 1996) **The author used ‘Peerveillance’ for a pattern based on this concept in DwI v.1.0, at the time (March 2010) finding only one previous use of the term, on Twitter, by Alex Halavais. As of May 2011, the tweet is no longer findable via either Twitter or Google searches.

Implications for designers

▶ Designed environments influence people’s behaviour in a variety of ways, and some have been designed expressly with this intention, often for political or crime prevention reasons

▶ This can range from high-level visions of influencing wider social or community behaviours, to very specific techniques applied to influence particular behaviours in a particular context; the use of patterns facilitates re-use of techniques wherever a similar problem recurs

▶ Most patterns involve either the physical arrangement of building elements—positioning, angling, splitting up, hiding, etc—or a change in material properties, either to change people’s perceptions of what behaviour is possible or appropriate, perhaps by reinforcing or embodying social norms, or to force certain behaviour to occur or not occur

▶ There are also patterns around aspects of surveillance—designing layouts which facilitate or prevent visibility of activity between groups of people

▶ In practice, patterns may be applied in combination to create different kinds of space with different effects on behaviour

▶ There is potential for ‘paving the cowpaths’ strategically through design, identifying the paths of particular users—perhaps a group which is already performing the desired behaviour—and then, by formalising this, making it easier or more salient or in some way obviously normative, encourage other users to follow suit

▶ By affecting so completely the way in which people spend their lives, political or police attempts to control behaviour through the design of environments can be controversial

▶ Some concepts related to influencing behaviour in the built environment may be transposed to other designed systems and contexts


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Architecture et Comportement / Architecture and Behaviour, 3 (3), p. 217-231. Hillier, W.R.G. and Hanson, J. (1984) The Social Logic of Space. Cambridge University Press. Howard, E. (1902) Garden Cities of To-morrow. Available at Howell, O. 2001 'The Poetics of Security: Skateboarding, Urban Design, and the New Public Space,’ Urban Action 2001/San Francisco State University Urban Studies Program. Available at Ittelson, W.H., Proshansky, H.M, Rivlin, L.G. and Winkel, G.H. (1974) An Introduction to Environmental Psychology. Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. Joerges, B. (1999) 'Do Politics Have Artefacts?' Social Studies of Science, 29 (3), p. 411-431. Katyal, N.K. (2002) 'Architecture As Crime Control'. Yale Law Journal 111, p. 1039 Koneya, M. (1976) 'Location and Interaction in Row-and-Column Seating Arrangements'. Environment and Behavior 8 (2) p. 265-282 Manaugh, G. (2009) The BLDG BLOG Book. Chronicle Books. Mathes, A. (2004) 'Folksonomies - Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata'. Available at Marmot, A. (2002) 'Architectural determinism. Does design change behaviour?' British Journal of General Practice, 52 (476), p. 252–253 Minton, A. (2009) Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city. Penguin. Myhill, C. (2004) 'Commercial Success by looking for Desire Lines', 6th Asia Pacific Computer-Human Interaction Conference (APCHI 2004), Rotorua, New Zealand. Available at Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: People and Design in the Violent City. Architectural Press. Nicoletta, J. (2003) 'The Architecture of Control: Shaker Dwelling Houses and the Reform Movement in Early-Nineteenth-Century America'. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 62 (3), p. 352-387 Open University (2001) 'From Here to Modernity: Trellick Tower'. Available at Osmond, H. (1959) 'The Relationship between Architect and Psychiatrist'. In Goshen, C. (ed.), Psychiatric Architecture. American Psychiatric Association. Poundstone, W. (2010) Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It). Hill & Wang. Poyner, B. (1983) Design against Crime: Beyond Defensible Space. Butterworths. Rand, A. (1943) The Fountainhead. Bobbs Merrill. Rykwert, J. (2000) The Seduction of Place. Oxford University Press. Salovaara, A. (2008) 'Inventing New Uses for Tools: A Cognitive Foundation for Studies on Appropriation.' Human Technology, 4, (2), p. 209-228. Scott, J.C. (1998) Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. Segal, R. and Weizman, E. (eds.) (2003) A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture. Babel/Verso. Shah, R.C. and Kesan, J.P. (2007) 'How Architecture Regulates'. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 24 (4), p. 350-359. Shearing, C.D. and Stenning, P.C. (1984) 'From the Panopticon to Disney World: the Development of Discipline' in Doob, A.N. and Greenspan, E.L. (eds.) Perspectives in Criminal Law: Essays in Honour of John LL.J. Edwards, p.335-349. Canada Law Book. Sommer, R. (1969) Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design. Prentice-Hall. Sommer, R. (1974) Tight Spaces: Hard Architecture and How to Humanize it. Prentice-Hall. Steinzor, B. (1950) 'The spatial factor in face to face discussion groups'. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 45 (3), p. 552-555. Stenebo, J. (2010) The Truth About IKEA. Gibson Square. Sykes, J. (1979) Designing Against Vandalism. The Design Council. Throgmorton, J. & Eckstein, B. (2000) 'Desire Lines: The Chicago Area Transportation Study and the Paradox of Self in Post-War America.' Available at Underhill, P. (1999) Why We Buy. Simon & Schuster. Underhill, P. (2004) Call of the Mall. Simon & Schuster. Vale, L.J. (2008) Architecture, Power and National Identity (2nd ed.). Routledge. Whyte, W.H. (1980) The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. The Conservation Foundation. Winner, L. (1986) 'Do Artifacts Have Politics?' In The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology, pp. 19–39. University of Chicago Press Zeisel, J. (2006) Inquiry by Design (rev. ed.). W.W. Norton.

Boardwalk at Philips High Tech Campus, Eindhoven Reminiscent of a scene from Ballard's Super-Cannes, the Philips High Tech Campus also includes this lake and boardwalk, perhaps affording breakout meetings and secret discussions away from the earshot of office colleagues, although in full view of the surrounding buildings.

dConstructing a workshop by Dan

dConstruct 2011 workshop A couple of weeks ago, at dConstruct 2011 in Brighton, 15 brave participants took part in my full-day workshop 'Influencing behaviour: people, products, services and systems', with which I was very kindly assisted by Sadhna Jain from Central Saint Martins. As a reference for the people who took part, for me, and for anyone else who might be intrigued, I thought I would write up what we did. The conference itself was extremely interesting, as usual, with a few talks which provoked more discussion than others, as much about presentation style as content, I think (others have covered the conference better than I can). And, of course, I met (and re-connected with) some brilliant people.

I've run quite a few workshops in both corporate and educational settings using the Design with Intent cards or worksheets (now also available as a free iPad app from James Christie) but this workshop aimed to look more broadly at how designers can understand and influence people's behaviour. This is also the first 'public' workshop that I've done under the Requisite Variety name, which doesn't mean much different in practice, but is something of a milestone for me as a freelancer.

In the previous post I outlined what I had planned, and while in the event the programme deviated somewhat from this, I think overall it was reasonably successful. Rather than using a case study (I feel uneasy, when people are paying to come to a workshop, to ask them effectively to do work for someone else) we ran through a series of exercises intended to explore different aspects of how design and people's behaviour relate to each other, and perhaps uncover some insights which would make it easier to incorporate a consideration of this into a design process.

Heuristics and decision-making exercise

After a brief introduction to how design has been and is being used to influence people's behaviour, we ran through a few questions together intended to explore the idea of heuristics and biases in decision-making. Some questions addressed ‘classic’ behavioural economics issues such as sunk costs, loss aversion and recency/primacy effects—which can all affect users’ interaction with a system. Drawing on the project around energy use in which I'm currently involved with More Associates, we also looked at some heuristics issues relating to users’ interaction with systems across physical/digital interfaces, such as whether the salience of ‘visible’ things such as lighting leads people to overestimate how much energy they use compared with ‘invisible’ systems such as heating and air-conditioning. We briefly looked at anchoring effects and how menu designers use them, and discussed the potential upside of certain heuristics in certain circumstances, such as Gerd Gigerenzer’s ‘fast and frugal’ heuristic [PDF], and how thinking along these lines might result in more intuitive interfaces.

The main insights from this first session were:

• people use heuristics—sets of simple decision-making rules—to work out what to do in different situations, including using products and services

• they’re often relatively sensible and efficient, based on experience and pattern recognition, but can sometimes lead to biases and poor decisions

• so, understanding the heuristics your users use in making decisions about how to interact with your system is important, especially if you’re seeking to influence their behaviour in some way

dConstruct 2011 workshop

Black boxes and mental models

Each group received a ‘black box’, an unknown electronic device with an unlabelled interface of buttons, ‘volume’ controls and LEDs. The boxes were children's lunchboxes from Poundland. Internally—and thus secretly—each box also contained a wireless transmitter, receiver, sound chip and speaker (basically, a wireless doorbell), and in one box, an additional combined buzzer and klaxon. The aim was to work out what was going on—what did the controls do?—and record your group’s model of how the system worked in some form that could explain it to a new user who hadn’t been able to experiment with the device.

dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop

Because of the hidden functionality, the boxes’ operation was more complex than might initially have been apparent, and as it was realised that the boxes ‘interacted’ with each other, by setting off sounds in response to particular button-presses, the models generated by groups became more complex. Each group used slightly different methods to investigate and illustrate the system model—an exhaustive kind of state transition table/truth table, a user manual-style annotated diagram of the device, and a diagram focusing on each button or control in turn and elaborating its function. The investigation methods themselves differed slightly, with unexpected behaviour or coincidences (one group’s box setting off the doorbell in another, but coinciding with a button being pressed or a volume control being turned) leading to some rapidly escalating complex models.

The intended outcomes from this session were:

• trying to understand a new or unknown device essentially involves a user applying a number of heuristics to arrive at a mental model which seems OK, or satisfices

• representing and understanding models of system behaviour is difficult if you haven’t done it before, and there’s no universally agreed way of how best to do it to make sense to users

• models of complex systems may need to take into account the behaviour (or effects on) other actors, systems or contexts: very little in the world works entirely in isolation, and a systems approach to understanding technology needs to recognise the effects it has on society, and society on it

dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop These three photos above by Sadhna Jain

dConstruct 2011 workshop Photo by Sadhna Jain

Rules of interaction

Inspired by ‘Wizard of Oz’ testing and Eric Berne’s Games People Play, this exercise involved, in pairs, each person playing the role of either ‘device’ or ‘user’. Facing each other via a ‘screen’ made out of card, and each having a bowl of mixed sweets and toffees, each person picked up a (randomly drawn) set of rules for how to interact with the other—both an objective and a strategy for how to achieve it. The device’s objectives all involved ‘behaviour change’ in some way. The full list of objectives and strategies was as follows:

Device: Objectives • Try to get all of a particular kind of sweet from the user—for example, all of the shiny-wrappered toffees. • Try to get the user to eat as many sweets as possible—they can be yours or his/hers. • Try to get the user not to eat any sweets at all. • Try to get the user to get up and give his or her sweets to another user somewhere else in the room.

Device: Strategies • Ignore the user’s understanding or attempts to engage with the situation. Don’t answer any questions, ignore everything the user says, and just keep demanding what you want to try to achieve your objective • Ask questions to try to understand the user’s perspective, and try to come to an agreement which brings you both closer to your objectives. • Try to trick the user somehow, e.g. by lying about what you’re trying to achieve • Try to persuade the user to comply with your objective, by using reasoned, polite arguments to show that you are right. • Assume the user just wants everything done as quickly and easily as possible, and emphasise that it’s easy to achieve that by doing what you say. • Assume the user is very greedy, and will readily give up some sweets in return for ones he/she perceives as better. Make them seem desirable.

User: Objectives • You want to keep as many as possible of your sweets, while acquiring the ones the device has got. • You don’t want any of your sweets, but you do want the ones the device has got. • You only want certain types of sweet (e.g. you want only ones with shiny wrappers). • You want to find out more about the pros and cons of eating sweets, and you expect the device to tell you.

User: Strategies • You just want things to be as easy as possible. Accept suggestions from the device as long as they’re reasonable. • Ask lots of questions of the device. You want to understand and find out more about the options available to you, whatever they might be. • Be open to trading / swapping sweets with the device, but don’t let it get the better of you. • The device is your servant. Treat it accordingly.

dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop

The combination of objectives and strategies was intended to embody ‘assumptions’ about how the other (user or device) would act—in each case, to some extent a mental model of the system and the behaviour of its components. A device which, for example, assumes that “the user just wants everything done as quickly and easily as possible” is embodying a certain ‘designer’s model’ of how the user thinks and will behave.

When the interaction was ‘run’, some pairs quickly arrived at a negotiated result where both were happy, in the sense of their objectives and strategies being mutually compatible, while others reached a kind of stalemate. In at least one case, the device ‘won’ in persuading a user to give up her sweets against her own objectives. In practice, some pairs told each other what their objectives and strategies were, while others kept this secret; some possible lied about their objectives, consistent with the strategies given. Sometimes one person told the other his or her objectives, but the other ignored this (as per the strategy given). Some of the combinations were expected to lead to a degree of recursive second-guessing (the user assuming that the device is assuming that the user is assuming...) or knots, using R.D. Laing’s terminology, although it seems that the workshop participants were too sensible to let this happen!

The intended insights from this exercise were:

• when designers are trying to influence users’ behaviour, they do so with some model embodying assumptions about how users will behave and react to the way the product or service behaves (this is something we explored briefly in a workshop at UX London in 2010, which led to this paper and a forthcoming article in the Journal of Design Research)

• a product or service influencing a user’s behaviour can work best when the objectives of each side and the designer’s and user’s model of the system are compatible

• so, it is important to:     • try to understand the models that users have of your system     • design using strategies that match them

dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop

dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop

Exploring the environment

In the afternoon, we first went on a quick exploratory tour of streets around the workshop venue in the centre of Brighton, looking at some examples of designed situations or ‘interventions’ which aim to influence public behaviour in some way. (My direct inspiration here was Adam Greenfield and Nurri Kim’s excellent Systems/Layers Walkshop concept.) The main examples we examined and discussed were the (remains of the) Tidy Street energy graph, a CCTV camera on a tall pole with anti-climb spikes in the heart of one of the most ‘liberal’ towns in the UK, a ‘Scores on the Doors’ food hygiene rating scheme using stickers on the doors of restaurants and cafes, the conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in shopping streets which may appear pedestrianised but aren’t (neatly illustrated by an irate driver shouting at us), and a touchscreen cider advertisement at a bus stop, which invites the public to rearrange ‘fridge magnet’ words to create a limited set of mostly positive messages about the cider which are then apparently submitted to the brand’s Facebook page.

In each case, the aim was to look at the situation from both the designers’ and the users’ points of view: what assumptions do the designers appear to have made about how the public will understand or interact with the product/service/thing? What behaviours are they trying to influence? What is the result? Who are the stakeholders in each situation? Are the designers aiming to target everyone, or only particular groups? (e.g., by asking an older lady waiting at the bus stop about the interactive touchscreen advert, we found that she had no idea that it was anything more than a static ad.) From a design perspective, what kind of research would need to be done to make the interventions more effective? We also considered briefly whether some of the techniques used might translate into other contexts—e.g., could the Tidy Street idea be applied to other statistics or figures in public space? (Marking crime hotspots was suggested.) Which sorts of physical interventions might translate easily into a digital context, and vice-versa?

dConstruct 2011 workshop dConstruct 2011 workshop

dConstruct 2011 workshop

Tools and processes exercise

Returning to the workshop venue, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the processes that each participant uses to research, design and evaluate whatever it is that he or she does, and through discussion together, identify how explicit consideration of user behaviour, mental models and heuristics might be incorporated if influencing behaviour is to be part of the designer’s brief. What tools do people use to incorporate insights from user research into the design process? What assumptions are made about how users think, and how are these assumptions tested? The thinking here was that not only did we have a room full of very experienced people working in a range of digital and other design disciplines, but that they all used slightly different processes, and some cross-pollination between that expertise might be valuable for everyone involved.

In particular, the issue of how the use of personas relates to understanding (and influencing) user behaviour arose from the discussion, since a number of participants’ processes make use of them: some of the main points raised were:

• How much determinism is inherent in rigid use of personas, designing with particular assumptions in mind about how people behave? Is there retrofitting of finished product behaviour to particular persona assumptions?

• The depth or superficiality of personas: do they include any real consideration of behaviour? Has any attempt been made to include a representation of users’ mental models as part of the persona? How might this be done?

• How fixed are personas? How often are they revised? Is there a feedback loop as part of your design process? Could you plan it to incorporate them? Can gathering behavioural data be designed into the product?

• How are edge cases / troublemakers / extreme users included in your personas?

• What about emergent or unexpected behaviours? Can the personas cope with these? How do you even find out what behaviours are emerging?

• Do your personas incorporate a treatment of the history and future relationship of the individual with the product / service / brand? What might this involve if you took changes in behaviour into account?

There were some great anecdotes about personas which I'd probably better not share as they'll incriminate the participants, but the point to which much of this discussion seemed to be converging was essentially, what might a behavioural persona look like? Could personas even be defined in terms of mental models (“this is how a user with this mental model might behave”)?

dConstruct 2011 workshop

Some other points raised in the discussion included:

• How might cultural probes and story construction be used to explore behavioural factors?

• Are different approaches to behaviour used at different levels of the design process? Are assumptions made at once stage which have to be ignored at another?

• Could there be a kind of cross-disciplinary checklist of heuristics or behavioural considerations to address at different stages?

• How much can the designers question the assumptions about users made by a client?

• Is bringing in external specialists such as ethnographers the best way to investigate user behaviour or could the ability be developed by the design team?

• In some cases, designers know exactly who their users are (e.g. for developing products used internally within a company). Could this be extended to consumer products?

• Is it possible for designers to experience products from a user’s point of view? How could you facilitate this?

In summary, then, the last session tried to look at how a treatment of behaviour, the factors affecting it, and how to influence it, might be built into the design processes that organisations currently use. While the Design with Intent toolkit and other great resources such as the Behavior Wizard, Mental Notes or Brains, Behavior and Design seem to have proved useful to many designers facing 'behavioural' briefs, I'm under no illusions that they offer a complete process. They don't: they need proper research with users, to understand the contexts of behaviour and the ways that decisions are made, before trying to influence that behaviour through design. As the 'Rules of interaction' exercise demonstrated very simply, when the designer's and user's strategies and objectives aren't aligned, behaviour is unlikely to change in the way the designer intends.

More photos on Flickr.

Thanks to Andy Budd and Kate Bulpitt at Clearleft for inviting me and organising things so well respectively, and to Sadhna Jain for helping out. Do have a look at some of her recent student projects. And thanks too to the participants for being so enthusiastic about what , on the face of it, might have seemed a rag-bag collection of exercises!

dConstruct 2011 workshop Photo by Sadhna Jain

Design and behaviourism: a brief review by Dan

by Dan Lockton In a meta-auto-behaviour-change effort both to keep me motivated during a very protracted PhD write-up and demonstrate that the end is in sight, I'm going to be publishing a few extracts from my thesis (mostly from the literature review, and before any rigorous editing) as blog posts over the next few weeks. It would be nice to think they might also be interesting brief articles in their own right, but the style is not necessarily blog-like, and some of the graphics and tables are ugly.

“It is now clear that we must take into account what the environment does to an organism not only before but after it responds. Behaviour is shaped and maintained by its consequences… It is true that man’s genetic endowment can be changed only very slowly, but changes in the environment of the individual have quick and dramatic effects.” B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971, p.24

Behaviourism as a psychological approach is based on empirical observation of human (and animal) behaviour—stimuli in the environment, and the behavioural responses which follow—and attempts in turn to apply stimuli to provoke desired responses. John B. Watson (1913, p.158), in laying out the behaviourist viewpoint, reacted against the then-current focus by Freud and others on unobservable concepts such as the processes of the mind: “Psychology as the behaviorist views it… [has as its] theoretical goal…the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness”.

Classical and operant conditioning

In an engineering sense, Watson’s behaviourism perhaps treats animals and humans as black boxes* (Sparks, 1982), whose truth tables can be elicited by comparing inputs (stimuli) and outputs (responses), without any attempt to model the internal logic of the system—an approach which Chomsky (1971) criticises. As Koestler (1967, p.19) put it—also heavily criticising the behaviourist view—“[s]ince all mental events are private events which cannot be observed by others, and which can only be made public through statements based on introspection, they had to be excluded from the domain of science.” However, learning (via conditioning) is inherent to behaviourism—both Watson’s and the later perspective of Skinner—which means that the black box is somewhat more complex than a component with fixed behaviour. Classical or respondent conditioning, of the kind explored with dogs by Pavlov (1927)—and often applied in behaviour change methods such as aversion therapy (as for example, the ‘Ludovico technique’ in Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange (1962))—repeatedly pairs two stimuli so that the reflex behaviour provoked by one also becomes provoked by the other.

Operant conditioning, as developed by B.F. Skinner (1953) via famous experiments with pigeons, rats and other animals, is essentially about consequences: it involves reinforcing (or punishing) certain behaviours (the operant) so that the animal (or person) becomes conditioned to behave in a particular way:

“When a bit of behaviour is followed by a certain kind of consequence, it is more likely to occur again, and a consequence having this effect is called a reinforcer. Food, for example, is a reinforcer to a hungry organism; anything the organism does that is followed by the receipt of food is more likely to be done again whenever the organism is hungry. Some stimuli are called negative reinforcers: any response which reduces the intensity of such a stimulus—or ends it—is more likely to be emitted when the stimulus recurs. Thus, if a person escapes from a hot sun when he moves under cover, he is more likely to move under cover when the sun is again hot.” (Skinner, 1971, p.31-32)

It is important to note here that in Skinner’s terms, positive and negative reinforcement do not imply ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and negative reinforcement is a different concept to punishment. Positive reinforcement is giving a reward in return for particular behaviour; negative reinforcement is removing something unpleasant in return for particular behaviour. These are subtly different. Pryor (2002) gives the example of a car seatbelt warning buzzer as negative reinforcement—a device designed to be irritating or unpleasant enough to cause the user to take action to avoid it. We might consider that a recorded voice saying “Thank you” after the seatbelt is fastened could be a positive reinforcement alternative. Positive and negative punishment are essentially the inverse of each of these—a fine for not wearing a seatbelt while driving is a form of positive punishment, and taking away someone’s driving licence would be a form of negative punishment. Clicker training with animals such as dolphins and dogs (e.g. Pryor, 2002) arguably combines features of classical and operant conditioning, using an audible clicking device to help ‘mark’ particular behaviours immediately they occur, which can then be positively reinforced with treats—or the click itself can act as a reinforcer.

A major factor in operant conditioning is the schedule of reinforcement that occurs: variable schedules of reinforcement, where a reward occurs on an unpredictable schedule—either ratio (amount of behaviour required) or interval (time required)—can be particularly effective; as Skinner (1971, p. 39) notes, variable ratio scheduling is “at the heart of all gambling systems”. Pryor (2002, p. 22) comments that “[p]eople like to play slot machines precisely because there’s no predicting whether nothing will come out, or a little money, or a lot of money, or which time the reinforcer will come (it might be the very first time).” This principle is inherent in all games of chance—Schell (2008, p.153) recognises it as something a designer can work with explicitly: “a good game designer must become the master of chance and probability, sculpting it to his will, to create an experience that is always full of challenging decisions and interesting surprises.”

*A ‘black box’ approach to modelling human, animal and other system behaviour has also been discussed extensively within cybernetics, e.g. by Ashby (1956) and Bateson (1969).

Social traps

“Like their physical analogs, social traps are baited. The baits are the positive rewards which, through the mechanisms of learning, direct behavior along lines that seem right every step of the way but nevertheless end up at the wrong place. Complex patterns of reinforcement, motivation, and the structure of social situations can draw people into unpreferred modes of behavior, subjecting them to consequences that are not comprehended until it is too late to avoid them.” Cross and Guyer, Social Traps, 1980, p.16-17

Platt (1973) and Cross and Guyer (1980) discuss ‘social traps’, situations in which there is both reinforcement which encourages a behaviour, but also a punishment or unpleasant consequences of some kind, affecting either the person involved or someone else, at some later point or in some other way. “The behavior that receives the green light becomes supplanted by or is accompanied by an unavoidable punishment…[C]igarette smoking provides a simple example: the gratification associated with smoking encourages future behavior of the same kind, while the painful illness associated with that same behavior does not occur until a point very distant in the future; and when, finally, the illness does occur, no behavioral adjustments exist that are sufficient to avoid it” (p.11-12). There are perhaps parallels with Bateson’s concept of the double bind (Bateson et al, 1956), in which a person is subject to conflicting ‘injunctions’ (reinforcers or punishments) about what ‘right’ behaviour is, with the result that whatever he or she does, will be wrong (and perhaps punished) according to one of the injunctions.

Countertraps—what Platt (1973) suggests might be called ‘social fences’—also exist, where people avoid a behaviour because of (fear of) punishment or undesirable consequences, even though the behaviour would have been desirable. Often the reinforcer is a short-term, local gain, whereas the punishment is a longer-term effect, perhaps affecting a wider group or area: Platt cites Hardin’s tragedy of the commons (1968) as a well-known example of social trap with worldwide social and environmental consequences. Costanza (1987) examines how different kinds of social traps are responsible for a range of environmental problems.

Cross and Guyer’s (1980) taxonomy of social traps is potentially interesting for two reasons from a design perspective, since (in common with some of the cognitive biases and heuristics to be discussed in a later post), design could seek to help users avoid such traps, by redesigning situations to avoid them (hence influencing behaviour), or in some way exploit the effects to influence behaviour, if they are useful in some other way. In Cross and Guyer’s taxonomy, there are five classes of trap (including countertraps), together with a ‘hybrid’ category for traps comprising more than one of the others: time-delay traps, where the time lag between a behaviour and a reinforcer is too high for it to be effective, e.g. “the high school dropout who, avoiding the present pain and unpleasantness of school, finds himself later lacking the education which could have prepared him for a more rewarding job” (p.21); ignorance traps, in which people fail to make use of generally available knowledge when making a decision, but simply rely on immediate reinforcers or superstitions; sliding reinforcer traps, “patterns of behavior [which] continue long after the circumstances under which that behavior was appropriate have ceased to be relevant, producing negative consequences that would have been avoided easily had the behavior stopped earlier… The trap occurs because the rewards establish a habit which persists in the succeeding period” (p.25); externality traps, where “the reinforcements that are relevant to the first individual may not coincide with the returns received by the second… If Peter spends five minutes in a cafeteria line choosing his dessert, he does not suffer for it, but all the people waiting behind him certainly do” (p. 28); and collective traps, which involve tragedy-of-the-commons-type externality traps, involving reinforcers or consequences for multiple participants based on behaviour by one or more.

Cross and Guyer (1980, p.35) suggest ‘ways out’ of the traps, including their ‘conversion’ into trade-offs, “presenting the individual with a set of reinforcers that occur in close proximity to the behavior in question and which closely match the actual reward and punishment patterns that underly [sic.] the situation. The trap then becomes a simple choice situation in which rational and learned behavior are coincident. In some cases—particularly those of time-delay traps—this might be accomplished simply by altering the timing of reinforcers somehow bringing the punishment or proxy for the punishment into closer proximity with its causative behavior.” This could well be the principle behind a design approach to removing social traps, although it relies on being able to determine the structure of reinforcers and punishments which are affecting current behaviour, and somehow redesigning them accordingly.

Means and ends

Studer (1970, p.114-6) discussed applying operant conditioning principles to the design of environments (such as buildings), by treating them as “learning systems arranged to bring about and maintain specified behavioral topographies…What operant findings suggest, among other things, is that events which have traditionally been regarded as the ends in the design process, e.g., pleasant, exciting, comfortable, the participant’s likes and dislikes, should be reclassified. They are not ends at all, but valuable means, which should be skillfully ordered to direct a more appropriate over-all behavioral texture.”

Reconsidering means and ends in this way may provide a useful alternative perspective on design for behaviour change. What may be an end from the user’s perspective (some kind of reward for turning off unnecessary equipment, perhaps) effectively becomes the means by which the designer’s end (the user turns off unnecessary equipment) might be influenced. The designer’s intended end is the user’s means for achieving the user’s intended end (Figure 1). If the end the user desires can be aligned with the means available to the designer, then the behaviour is reinforced. The mapping between ends and means (in both directions) may not seem to be one-to-one on first inspection. For example, the user’s end probably reflects an underlying need—not examined further in a behaviourist context—and likewise with the designer’s end. ‘Receiving feedback on my energy use in the office’—a favourite designer’s means for influencing reduced energy use—is probably rarely expressed as a desired end from a user’s point of view, but if successful at reinforcing conservation behaviour, it presumably fulfils some underlying psychological needs.

Means and ends Figure 1. The designer’s end and user’s means may be seen as reflections of each other, and likewise with the designer’s means and user’s end. Based on ideas from Studer (1970).

As an informal warm-up exercise in a workshop run at the Persuasive 2010 conference in Copenhagen, the author asked participants (designers and others involved with planning persuasive technology interventions) to map some intended ends relating to socially beneficial behaviour change, and some of the means they could think of to achieve them (Figure 2), using the labels ‘People will do this…’ and ‘…if our design does this’ for ends and means respectively.

Viewing the designer’s means from the user’s point of view, as an end, sometimes involves the end being avoiding something rather than receiving something—i.e. negative reinforcement. It is debatable whether this has much value beyond being simply a warm-up exercise, but it does encourage designers to think about trying to align the ends desired by the user with the means available to the designer. Weinschenk (2011, p.120), in appealing to (mainly web) designers to consider operant conditioning as a strategy for influencing behaviour, asks, “Hungry rats want food pellets. What does your particular audience really want?”

Means and ends Figure 2. Some means-end pairings suggested by workshop participants in Copenhagen.

Impact of behaviourism

Despite many of behaviourism’s principles having been adopted in other fields—not just animal training but therapeutic applications (e.g. with autism), athletic training, programmed learning via ‘teaching machines’ (e.g. Kay et al, 1968), to the emerging self-help industry (Rutherford, 2009)—it was largely supplanted in the mainstream of academic psychology by the ‘cognitive revolution’ (e.g. Crowther-Heyck, 2005), re-emphasising cognition as something to be understood as a determinant of behaviour. Pask (1969, p.21) refers to “the arid conflict between behaviourism and mentalism,” while Ericsson and Simon (1985, p.1) suggest that “[a]fter a long period of time during which stimulus-response relations were at the focus of attention, research in psychology is now seeking to understand in detail the mechanisms and internal structure of cognitive processes that produce these relations.” Images of Skinner-like scientist figures peering at rats pressing levers to obtain food, with the implication that this was what was proposed for humanity, to some extent cast a shadow of ‘the psychologist as manipulator’ over subsequent work on behaviour change—as Pryor (2002, p. xiii) notes, “to people schooled in the humanistic tradition, the manipulation of human behavior by some sort of conscious technique seems incorrigibly wicked.” Winter and Koger (2004, p.116) suggest that “[s]inister motives are attributed to those who would implement behavioral technology, and Skinner himself has been badly misrepresented and misunderstood as a cold, cruel scientist”.

Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), which proposed a new society—“the design of a culture” based on a scientifically refined “technology of behaviour” reinforcing only behaviours which were beneficial to humanity, many of which were essentially about ensuring environmental sustainability—was widely read as promoting a totalitarian future. Chomsky (1971) suggested that “there is nothing in Skinner’s approach that is incompatible with a police state in which rigid laws are enforced by people who are themselves subject to them and the threat of dire punishment hangs over all,” and this view persists, although Skinner eschews the use of punishment in favour of reinforcement. Slater (2004, p. 28) argues that “Skinner is asking society to fashion cues that are likely to draw on our best selves, as opposed to cues that clearly confound us, cues such as those that exist in prisons, in places of poverty. In other words, stop punishing. Stop humiliating. Who could argue with that?”

In a later work, Skinner (1986) offers an explicit ‘design for sustainable behaviour’ view of the possibilities of intelligent use of operant conditioning:

“[W]e have the science needed to design a world…in which people treated each other well, not because of sanctions imposed by governments or religions but because of immediate, face-to-face consequences. It would be a world in which people produced the goods they needed, not because of contingencies arranged by a business or industry but simply because they were “goods” and hence directly reinforcing. It would be a beautiful and interesting world because making it so would be reinforced by beautiful and interesting things… It would be a world in which the social and commercial practices that promote unnecessary consumption and pollution had been abolished… A designed way of life would be liked by those who lived it (or the design would be faulty).” (Skinner, 1986, p. 11-12)

Rutherford (2009, p.102) notes that Skinner himself designed and “constructed a variety of gadgets and devices that allowed him to control his environment, and thus his behavior. For example for many years Skinner rose early to write, often going directly from his bed to his desk. He would then switch on his desk lamp, which was connected to a timer. When his writing time was up, the timer would switch off his desk lamp, signaling the end of the writing period… For Skinner, setting up environmental contingencies for personal self-management was a natural outcome of behavior analysis.”

Regardless of the position of behaviourism in current academic psychological discourse, there are certainly elements which are relevant to design for behaviour change; indeed, the principles of reinforcement can be seen at work underneath many designed interventions even if they are not explicitly recognised as such. As Skinner (1971) argued (see quote opening this section), the environment shapes our behaviour both before and after we take actions, antecedent and consequence (even the absence of a perceived consequence is a consequence, in this sense). This is an important point, since much work in behaviour change focuses on one or the other. A system designed to suggest or cue particular behaviours, and then reward or acknowledge them, covers both intervention points, particularly given the fact that much interaction with products and systems is part of a regular schedule, and users do learn how to operate things through an ongoing cycle of reinforcement: behaviour change does not necessarily happen in a single step. The concept of variable or unpredictable reinforcement has potential design application in situations where a reward cannot be given every time, and also (as noted by Schell (2008)) in the design of games and game-like features in other interactions. The idea of shaping behaviour towards an intended state through progressive rewards for improvements in behaviour rather than every time has relevance in changing habits, which can be important in (for example) establishing exercise and healthier eating routines.

Winter and Koger (2004, p.118) propose what a behaviourist approach to a sustainable society might involve in relation to influencing more environmentally friendly transport choices, which suggests a mixture of different kinds of reinforcement designed into the system: “All the cues encouraging driving alone would be gone. Nobody would be climbing into a car alone, cars would be expensive to operate and roads would be less convenient. People would live within walking or biking distance to their workplace, commute in groups, or use public transportation… Schools and shops would be arranged close by, allowing people to complete errands without the use of a car… We wouldn’t try to change out of moral responsibility or pro-environment attitudes. We would emit environmentally appropriate behaviors because the environment had been designed to support them.”

Implications for designers

▶ Behaviourism is no longer mainstream psychology, but some of the principles could have potential application in design for behaviour change

▶ There is a recognition that the environment shapes our behaviour both before and after we take actions—a useful insight for designing interventions

▶ There is also a recognition that behaviour change does not necessarily happen in a single step, but as part of an ongoing cycle of shaping

▶ Where cognition cannot be understood or examined, modelling users in terms of stimuli and responses may still offer valuable insights

▶ Positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and negative punishment can all be implemented via designed features, and often underlie designed interventions without being explicitly named as such

▶ Schedules of reinforcement can be varied (e.g. made unpredictable) to drive continued behaviour

▶ Design could either exploit or help people avoid ‘social traps’ where both reinforcement and punishment exist, or reinforcement is currently misaligned with the behaviour, converting them into ‘trade-offs’ which more closely match the intended behavioural choices

▶ Considering means and ends may provide a useful perspective on design for behaviour change. The end from the user’s perspective effectively becomes the means by which the designer’s end might be influenced


Ashby, W.R. (1956) An Introduction to Cybernetics. Chapman & Hall, London Bateson, G., Jackson, D.D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J.H. (1956) Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia. Behavioral Science I(4) Bateson, G. (1969) Metalogue: What Is an Instinct? In Bateson, G. (1969) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. University of Chicago Press, Chicago Burgess, A. (1962) A Clockwork Orange. Heinemann, London Chomsky, N. (1971) The Case Against B.F. Skinner. The New York Review of Books, 30 Dec 1971 Costanza, R. (1987) Social traps and environmental policy. Bioscience 37(6) Cross, J.G. and Guyer, M.J. (1980) Social Traps. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Crowther-Heyck, H. (2005) Herbert A. Simon: The Bounds of Reason in Modern America. Johns Hopkins University Press Ericsson, K.A. and Simon, H.A. (1985) Protocol Analysis: Verbal Reports as Data. MIT Press Hardin, G. (1968) The Tragedy of the Commons. Science 162. Kay, H., Dodd, B. and Sime, M.E. (1968) Teaching Machines and Programmed Instruction. Penguin Koestler, A. (1967) The Ghost in the Machine. Pask (1969) The meaning of cybernetics in the behavioural sciences (The cybernetics of behaviour and cognition; extending the meaning of "goal"). In Rose, J. (ed.) (1969) Progress of Cybernetics, Volume 1. Gordon and Breach Pavlov, I. (1927) Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex. Translated by Anrep, G.V. Oxford University Press Platt, J. (1973) Social Traps. American Psychologist, 28 Pryor, K. (2002) Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training. Interpet Rutherford, A. (2009) Beyond the Box: B.F. Skinner's Technology of Behavior from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s. University of Toronto Press Schell, J. (2008) The Art of Game Design. Morgan Kaufmann Skinner, B.F. (1953) Science and Human Behavior. The Free Press, New York. Skinner, B.F. (1971) Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Skinner, B.F. (1986) Why we are not acting to save the world. In Skinner, B.F. Upon further reflection. Prentice-Hall Slater, L. (2004) Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychology Experiments of the Twentieth Century. Bloomsbury Sparks, J. (1982) The Discovery of Animal Behaviour. Collins. Studer, R.G. (1970) The Organization of Spatial Stimuli. In Pastalan, L.A. and Carson, D.H. (eds.), Spatial Behavior of Older People. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Watson, J.B. (1913) Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20 Weinschenk, S (2011) 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. New Riders Winter D. du N. and Koger, S.M. (2004) The Psychology of Environmental Problems. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

B.F. Skinner photo from Banksy Rat photo from DG Jones on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-NC

Design with Intent toolkit 1.0 now online by Dan

Design with Intent cards It's been a long time coming, but a year after v.0.9, the new Design with Intent toolkit, DwI v.1.0, is ready. Officially titled Design with Intent: 101 Patterns for Influencing Behaviour Through Design, it's in the form of 101 simple cards, each illustrating a particular 'gambit' for influencing people's interactions with products, services, environments, and each other, via the design of systems. They're loosely grouped according to eight 'lenses' bringing different disciplinary perspectives on behaviour change.

The cards (Download them here) The intention is that the cards are useful at the idea generation stage of the design process, helping designers, clients and - perhaps most importantly - potential users themselves explore behaviour change concepts from a number of disciplines, and think about how they might relate to the problem at hand. Judging by the impact of earlier iterations, the cards could also be useful in stakeholder workshops, and design / technology / computer science education. Each gambit is phrased as a question, as used in Nedra Weinreich's worksheet based on DwI v.0.9, in the hope that the cards can actively provoke innovative behaviour change design ideas, while the new accompanying Design with Intent wiki can, in time, act as a kind of 'further reading' resource.

You can download the card deck, either the whole thing (ISBN 978-0-9565421-1-3) or individual sections, free of charge, but bear in mind this initial version is still something of a draft (with some typos and a few ugly alignment errors) and there are a few extra introductory cards which will be added over the next couple of weeks. So do come back and get the updated version when it's available.

Printed card decks (ISBN 978-0-9565421-0-6) will be available for mail order very soon, too: these will be sold at a price which just covers my costs. If you're going to UX London or Persuasive 2010 I hope to have some packs with me, so do let me know if you'd like me to reserve one for you. This isn't a commercial venture: it's part of my PhD and the more people who use the cards, the better (from my point of view). I will try to produce some alternative formats such as posters and worksheets, too, since I know cards aren't everyone's cup of tea.

UPDATE: Printed packs now available to order

The wiki The wiki is inspired partly by Crumlish & Malone's Designing Social Interfaces, a great book (and a neat companion to Jenifer Tidwell's incredible Designing Interfaces, also from O'Reilly) with a companion wiki which acts as an evolving, referenceable container for new examples, tips on implementation, data on effectiveness, and so on, as they come to light, as well as new patterns, new ways of grouping them and new uses for this kind of approach.

At present, the wiki is pretty basic and while I get to grips with the nuances of Mediawiki (and, of course, writing up my PhD thesis!) it's not open for general editing, but it will be in due course. I hope over time it will prove to be a valuable resource for people working in design for behaviour change, design for sustainable behaviour, persuasive technology, behavioural economics and other related areas. There are also a number of linked pages which I haven't written yet, but by putting them in as red links, they're a constant reminder for me to do them!

Your feedback Your comments are incredibly important to this project. I'll be putting a survey online very soon, but in the meantime, if you have any reactions, please do get in touch ( I'm aware that I haven't yet replied to everyone who took part in the earlier survey, for which I apologise.

UPDATE: 5-minute survey now online

The blog In the light of the new wiki, and coming towards the end of my PhD, the blog will change a bit during the summer - nothing will be lost, but I intend to incorporate a lot of the examples into the wiki, preserving people's comments. The various domain names and redirects need a bit of htaccess fun to sort out too! For the moment, though, it'll stay as chaotic as it is.

Thanks to everyone who's helped with the development of Design with Intent so far: I hope the wait for these cards has been worth it!

Learning from game design: 11 gambits for influencing user behaviour by Dan

Games are great at engaging people for long periods of time, getting them involved, and, if we put it bluntly, influencing people's behaviour through their very design. Something conspicuously missing from Design with Intent v.0.9 is a satisfactory treatment of the kinds of techniques for influencing user behaviour that can be derived from games and other 'playful' interactions. I hope to remedy this in DwI 1.0, so here's a preview of the eleven patterns I've included in the new Ludic Lens on behaviour change: patterns drawn from games or modelled on more playful forms of influencing behaviour. These aren't original, by any means. People such as Amy Jo Kim (see her great presentation 'Putting the fun in functional'), Sebastian Deterding, Francisco Inchauste, Jeremy Keith, Geke Ludden, and of course Ian Bogost have done work which explores this area from lots of different angles, and it also draws on decades of research in social psychology. Russell Davies' Playful (which I really should have gone to!) looks like it was very pertinent here too. (Note, this lens doesn't cover Game Theory-like patterns, some of which are indeed relevant to influencing user behaviour, but which I've chosen to group under a new 'Machiavellian Lens')

My main interest here is to extract the design techniques as very simple design patterns or 'gambits'* that can be applied in other design situations outside games themselves, where designers would like to influence user behaviour (along with the other Design with Intent techniques). So these are (at least at present) presented simply as provocations: a "What if...?" question plus an example. The intention is that the card deck version will simply have what you see here, while the online version will have much more detail, references, links and reader/user-contributed examples and comments.

Challenges & targets, Santa Barbara beachChallenges & targets

What happens if you set people a challenge, or give them a target to reach through what they're doing?

« Whoever laid out this coffee tub as a target for throwing coins knew a lot about influencing people to donate generously and enjoy it


Unpredictable reinforcement, Teignmouth, DevonUnpredictable reinforcement

What happens if you give rewards or feedback on an unpredictable schedule, so users keep playing or interacting?

Arcade games such as this coin pusher usually employ a strong element of unpredictable reinforcement, to keep users playing/paying »


Scores - Nintendo Brain AgeScores

Can you give users feedback on their actions as a score or rating allowing comparison to a reference point?

« The ‘Brain Age’ score given by Dr Kawashima’s games for Nintendo gives users a clear incentive to keep using the software


Levels - FarmvilleLevels

Can you split your system up into achievable levels which help users feel like they’re making progress?

Easy-to-reach levels lower the barriers to participation and encourage continued engagement for games such as FarmVille »


Rewards, Kai's Power ToolsRewards

Can you encourage users to take up or continue a behaviour by rewarding it, through the design of the system?

« Kai’s Power Tools (pioneering visual effects software) revealed ‘bonus functions’ to reward users who developed their skill level


Playfulness - Spiral Wishing WellPlayfulness

Can you design something which ‘plays’ with its users, provoking curiosity or making interactions into a game?

Spiral wishing wells turn giving money to charity into something actively fun for donors, and provoke curiosity of passers-by »


Storytelling - Dyson bookletsStorytelling

Can you tell a story via your design, which interests users and keeps them engaged?

« Dyson uses narrative booklets drawing customers (and potential customers) into the story behind the company and its technology


Leave gaps to fill - MediawikiLeave gaps to fill

Can you leave deliberate gaps (in a design, message, etc) which users will want to fill, becoming engaged in the process?

Deliberate use of red links on Wikipedia, signifying articles which should be written, “encourage[s] new contributors in useful directions” »


Roleplaying - Tio by Tim HolleyRole-playing

What happens if your system gives users particular roles to play, or makes them feel like they’re playing a role?

« Tim Holley’s Tio encourages children to become ‘energy champions’ for their household, influencing parental behaviour


Collections - UbiFit GardenCollections

What happens if you encourage users to collect a set of things (friends, activities, places, objects, etc) through using your system?

UbiFit Garden encourages users to maintain a regular variety of exercise activities, in order to ‘collect’ different types of flower »


Make it a meme - ShareThisMake it a meme

What happens if you plan your design to be something people want to spread, and make it easy for them to do so?

« ShareThis and similar quick-access social sharing services can mean rapid ‘viral’ or ‘meme’ status for interesting or amusing stories


The text and examples aren't quite fixed yet, so any comments and feedback on the above are very welcome.

Spiral wishing well photograph courtesy of Steve Divnick - see this video if you don't believe the power of the well; UbiFit Garden images from DUB at University of Washington; ShareThis Chicken Poncho screenshot from this listing on Regretsy; Tio image from Tim Holley.

*I've decided to start using Bryan Lawson's 'gambit' terminology [PDF], if only to recognise that at least at present, DwI is not really a proper pattern language, as Sally Fincher comments here.

What I didn't get round to writing about in 2009 by Dan

A lot of people send me ideas and suggestions for the blog, for which I'm very grateful indeed, but which I don't always get round to investigating or posting or dealing with in a timely manner. Or sometimes I note them, use them as examples elsewhere, or in conversation with people, but never actually get round to posting about them. I apologise for all this, and I apologise if you've sent stuff and never got a reply, or got a very late reply. I have a very very inefficient workflow and it is sometimes embarrassing. It's something I need to fix in 2010 if I'm going to get a PhD thesis done by the summer. But as as a bumper end-of-2009 post, here's a roundup of some really interesting examples, ideas, projects, and other tit-bits. If yours isn't here, I further apologise: it may resurface at some point soon.

Transparent toilet in Lausanne

George Preston sent me a link to this video of a very interesting public toilet in Lausanne, Switzerland. As George puts it:

There's a central quite modern district [in Lausanne] called Flon, and the toilets have an intriguing way of grabbing your attention/dissuading vandals....the walls are made of glass. But when you pay and enter, a current running to an LC layer in the glass is cut off, rendering it opaque. For people not familiar with them, they are baffling!

The tell-tale pill bottle

Ralph Borland - responsible for the impressive Suited for Subversion - and who must be just about finished with his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin - sends me this story about tuberculosis pill bottles equipped with a SIM card, which can text a patient, his or her carer, or indeed the health authorities if the pills aren't taken, "achiev[ing] a 94% compliance rate for a TB trial in South Africa". The SIMpill Medication Adherence Solution is a clever product, a neat technology intervention in patient compliance, an area designers are increasingly being asked to address.

From the SIMpill website:

The SIMpill® Medication Adherence Solution offers detailed compliance data and corresponding statistics, and the patient or pre-approved healthcare professionals or analyst, can gain access to real-time information regarding medication use and compliance through a private secure account on the SIMpill® website. Via the web account the healthcare providers can monitor the medication use of their patients in real-time, and can decide on type of intervention to meet the patient’s ongoing adherence schedule.

As Ralph points out, though:

Put that together with the fact that you can be imprisoned in SA if you have a drug-resistant TB strain and you have something more like a coercive technology than persuasive, interfacing directly with authority structures etc. Thought it's an interesting cross-over of developing world design and persuasive design...

Narrower supermarket aisles

Brian Cugelman of AlterSpark sent me the following rather coercive idea he overheard, along the lines of Monkeon's Leonard Ball bench:

On BBC radio some caller made a proposal relevant to your research. To cope with the UK’s obesity epidemic, with 25% of the population considered obese, a caller proposed making grocery stores aisles very narrow so people of average weight could shop and obese people would not fit.

Punishing users for Alt-tabbing away

From a comment on Jeff Atwood's 2007 'Please don't steal my focus' post (which I found again when searching for how to stop an application stealing focus):

One of the old MMOs I used to play (Rubies of Eventide) would log you out of the game if you alt tabbed, supposedly to prevent cheating. This was back in the days when web browsers on windows would steal focus back any time a script on the page reloaded. I died so many times to those damn page reloads.

Mike on December 5, 2007 4:08 AM

Obstacles speed up exiting crowds

Tjebbe van Eemeren of the University of Twente - a student of Peter-Paul Verbeek of What Things Do fame - sends me a link to this story about the use of obstacles to speed up the passage of crowds:

Even when exits are wide open, people seem to jam up in front of it. Then they tried something goofy. They put something in the way of the people trying to get out. Not so big that it blocked the way, but big enough that people had to detour around it. And it had to be in just the right place. Guess what? Everybody got out faster.

The actual research isn't referenced in the story, but this article goes into a lot more detail. There's a preprint of the paper by Daichi Yanagaisawa et al here. There's also discussion of the story and the phenomenon on Derren Brown's blog.


Opower Robert Cialdini gets name-checked quite a lot on this blog, and rightly so: his work on persuasion and the psychology of influencing behaviour across many different domains underpins many of the design patterns and explains many of the examples we've looked at (particularly what I characterised as the 'cognitive lens' of design with intent). He's something of a model for how to be a respected academic researcher at the forefront of his field (who actually tries things out rather than simply theorising), a consultant in high demand from industry, and also a bestselling popular author.

Cialdini is now Chief Scientist of Opower, an energy monitoring and smart metering startup which started life as Positive Energy (thanks to Mike Stenhouse for sending me details earlier in the year) and has already had significant success partnering with utility companies in the US to give customers better feedback - using personalised messages based on social proof and norms to suggest actions for householders to take to reduce their consumption:

Step 1: Customer reads report: “You used 72 percent more than your efficient neighbors.” Step 2: Customer reads targeted tip: “Most people in your area keep their AC at 78 degrees” Step 3: Customer turns down thermostat and takes other energy-saving actions.

I think it's worth keeping an eye on Opower's development: they're taking a different, but complementary approach to other innovators such as Onzo in the UK, and seem to be putting into practice (on a huge scale) some of the ideas that projects such as CHARM are also investigating. As I've talked about before, there's a lot of opportunity for design to influence behaviour in this area, and help users as well as reducing environmental impact.

User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings: TSB competition by Dan

The deadline's fast approaching (mid-day 17th Dec) for the UK Technology Strategy Board's 'User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings' competition [PDF] - there's an introduction from Fionnuala Costello here. This is an exciting initiative which aims to bring together (in a 5-day 'sandpit') people from different disciplines and different sectors to address the problems of influencing user behaviour to improve the energy efficiency of offices and other non-domestic buildings, and generate commercially viable collaborative solutions to develop, some of which will then be part-funded by the TSB. Fionnuala's blog, People in Buildings has some great posts and discussions exploring aspects of how human factors and technology together might be used to help people use energy more effectively. If you or your organisation are interested in these kinds of issues - and using design to address them - it'd be well worth getting an application in over the next few days.

Through London with the DwI goggles on by Dan

As I've admitted before, having the idea of 'design that's intended to influence behaviour' on my mind a lot of the time does sometimes lead to seeing everything with that filter in place:

[It's] a kind of conspiracy bias, ascribing to design intent that which is perhaps more likely to be due to situational factors (a kind of fundamental attribution error for design), or inferring the intention behind a design by looking at its results.

Nevertheless, it's not unexciting. Noticing things I'd never have noticed before I started doing this research - often details or tricks that have been pointed out by commenters here on the blog - can give you a feeling of deeper connection to the design of the products and systems and environments around us. Things are designed to influence how people use them, what people do and don't do, whether we are conscious of it or not. So here are some observations - none of them terribly amazing! - from a recent day in London with a camera and my long-suffering girlfriend. There are hundreds more I could have included - everything from elements of the websites we looked at before travelling, to the layout of stations and streets and buildings and tables and chairs and the wording and order of menus and adverts and just about everything that's been designed to elicit some kind of behavioural response. But we just don't notice most of this: it's only occasionally that things attract our attention, which is what happened with the following examples.

Door buttons, First Great Western

The 'Open Door' buttons on First Great Western's Class 165/166 trains (going into Paddington) are much larger than the 'Close Door' buttons (which rarely need to be pressed anyway, since the doors are closed automatically before the train departs). I'm assuming they're intentionally more prominent because it's the button that people need to see and press in a hurry if they need to get off and the vestibule(?) area's crowded (and it often is on this service), and larger for a kind of Fitts' Law reason: reducing the time taken to 'acquire the target'. It's also large enough to be able to elbow it or press it with a shoulder if you're carrying things in both hands.

Escalators, Canary Wharf station

The escalators at Canary Wharf underground station, as at many others, have raised obstructions (often masquerading as "Stand on the right" signs) every couple of feet to prevent people sliding down the panelling between the handrails. When I looked at this before - the slightly more extreme spikes at Highbury & Islington station - there were some great comments including a story about what can happen when they obstructions aren't present (or rather when just one is - a large sign at the bottom). It did occur to me that the kind used at Canary Wharf would actually work quite well as hand-holds for climbing up, should you want to.

Look Right marking on road, Canary Wharf

All over the UK, but particularly in urban areas with complex traffic movements, one-way systems or lots of visitors, such as here outside the DLR station at Canary Wharf, some pedestrian crossings are marked with "Look Right", "Look Left" or "Look Both Ways" on the road, to suggest to pedestrians (at just the right moment) which way they should look to watch out for oncoming traffic. Richard Thaler has mentioned this as a 'nudge' example before. It doesn't always get implemented correctly; there are also other design tricks for influencing pedestrians to face the right way at crossings.

I might be going beyond my expertise here, but it seems like it's actually relatively unusual in much of Europe (perhaps because of the Vienna Convention) to have instructional 'injunctive' text on traffic signage (including markings), compared with some other parts of the world. For example, in the UK, since the 1960s at least we very rarely have signs such as "Wrong Way, Go Back" - there would more likely be a "No Entry" sign, with no text. If you're interested in British road signage, this is one of the best articles on the subject.

Gate at Mudchute Park

Here's a 'kissing gate' at Mudchute Park presumably intended to prevent bicycles (though I would have thought a bike could fit through the gate next to it). As we've seen before, trying to stop cyclists using awkward gates doesn't always work. Given the location of this gate, it may also help prevent any animals which have escaped from the the farm from running out onto the road.

Anti-climb paint, Mudchute allotments

Also at Mudchute, these allotments have anti-climb paint applied to the fence - a slippery paint that stays 'wet' (here's a nice publicity photo). I'll be honest, I've often wondered how much effect this stuff really has against someone equipped with, say, rough-textured gloves who could, at least on a fence like the one in the picture, probably get his/her hand all the way round both the horizontal and vertical parts of the fence. Or just a loop of rope, or a hook, along with black clothes (to hide the paint that comes off) or disposable overalls plus some kind of disposable blanket or rug to cover the spikes and flatten the barbed wire would seem to be all you need. I'm not condoning this, of course - as an allotmenteer myself, I appreciate that they can well be an attractive target.

As an alternative to anti-climb paint, spikes, etc, these roller bars seem quite interesting.

Bird bin, Mudchute farmBird bin, Mudchute farmBird bin, Mudchute farm

The yard of the Mudchute Kitchen, part of the farm, has these friendly rubbish bins - a great example of affective engagement, particularly somewhere where there are going to be lots of young children visiting on school trips or with families. The open beaks are an invitation, a perceived affordance that they should be 'fed'. Whether it's a good idea to 'teach' children to feed litter to birds is another matter...

Recessed alarm, DLR
Unlike the 'Open Door' button above - which doesn't matter if it's accidentally pressed since it only operates when the train is stationary and alongside the platform - passenger emergency alarms such as this type on the Docklands Light Railway need to be prominent and visible, yet protected against accidental operation due to, for example, someone leaning on the button when the train is crowded. So, not only recessing it, but mounting it at the top of the recess, where even an inadvertent poke from an umbrella or elbow is less likely to make contact, is a clever errorproofing solution.

A 'Norman' door, Canary Wharf

The shopping mall at Canary Wharf features 'Norman doors' that despite having prominent, elegant, no doubt expensive stainless steel handles, must actually be pushed open, hence the necessity of the 'Push' labels. Other than being able to pull the doors closed if necessary, or simply because it's cheaper to make doors with the same fittings on both sides so they can be hinged either way, I'm not sure why this particular category of false affordance is so common. Making the handles flatter on the 'push' side would preserve a similar style visually but signal that they need to be pushed without needing to resort to a sign.

Couple of other observations: the comprehensive row of prohibition signs on the doors almost forms a design element itself, echoing the pattern of squares further down. You're not allowed to do much other than spend money in this particular mall. Also, printing the word STYLE on posters in reflective foil does, unfortunately, mean that from some angles, the L and E will disappear.

ATM forcing function

Getting some money out: we're so used to ATMs returning the card before dispensing the cash that we often don't even think about this interlock forcing function. In fact it may even momentarily surprise us when ticket machines (for example) don't work like this.

But ATMs didn't always operate like this either, and when the cash was returned first, the card was often forgotten. So the order was changed - as Phillip Chung & Michael Byrne put it "to place the hanging postcompletion action 'on the critical path' to reduce or eliminate [its] omission" - although this card-then-cash format is by no means universal.

I looked at some possible alternative solutions for the problem in this paper for Applied Ergonomics (e-mail me if you'd like a copy), as a kind of test / demonstration of the Design with Intent toolkit.

(The above is actually a photo of a different machine to the one I used on this particular day, since there was a queue of people behind me)

Spikes, Southwark

These friendly anti-sit spikes (including a slightly crooked one on the left) outside the headquarters of London Councils in Southwark just scream "We love the public!". I guess the alcove could provide a useful hiding place for someone to jump out on passers-by or something.

Eat, South Bank

Further along the South Bank, this branch of Eat reminded me that B J Fogg used a photo of the Eat sign in his talk at Design for Persuasion, as an example of what he calls hot triggers: cues or calls to action which actually prompt a behaviour, assuming that the motivation and ability are there already. Someone walking along, hungry (motivated), with enough money to buy food (ability) needs a trigger, and a sign pretty much instructing one to eat is a particularly clear one. We didn't eat there, of course - there are better places - but it's an interesting tactic.

Gearstick, Reliant Scimitar SST

Finally, as we were about to drive home from the station, I thought about the reverse gear 'gate' - a kind of lock-out - which prevents the driver changing accidentally directly from a forward gear into reverse (though it's usually possible the other way round). Depending on the gearbox, you generally need to lift the gearstick over the 'gate' or press a button while moving the stick, or in the case of my Reliant Scimitar (which has a 1980s Ford Sierra gearbox), press the gearstick itself downwards.

  What do you see everyday that makes you think "they designed it like that so that people would do this"?

Three quotes from clever people by Dan

Herbert Simon"Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artefacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state." Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969 (p.129 of 1981 MIT press 2nd edition)

BF Skinner"[W]e need to make vast changes in human behaviour, and we cannot make them with the help of nothing more than physics or biology, no matter how hard we try... What we need is a technology of behaviour."

B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971 (p.10 of 1973 Pelican edition)

Jay Forrester"People may dislike the idea of 'designing' social systems. Designing social systems may seem mechanistic or authoritarian. However, all social systems have been designed... People have designed the systems within which they live. The shortcomings of those systems result from defective design, just as the shortcomings of a power plant result from erroneous design."

Jay W. Forrester, 'Designing the Future', talk at University of Seville on December 15th 1998 (p.6 of this PDF)

Emphases in the above are mine. Arguably, in the Forrester quote, we have not consciously/intelligently enough designed the systems in which we live (hence the shortcomings), which I think is partly the point he's making based on the rest of the talk.

I still think my favourite 'Design with Intent'-related quote is this one from Buckminster Fuller. It has an attractive blend of humility and confidence, seeing people not as the problem but as part of the solution.

Image sources: Herbert Simon; B.F. Skinner; Jay Forrester.

Thoughts on the 'fun theory' by Dan

The 'Piano Staircase' from Volkswagen's

The Fun Theory (Rolighetsteorin), a competition / campaign / initiative from Volkswagen Sweden - created by DDB Stockholm - has been getting a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks from both design-related people and other commentators with an interest in influencing behaviour: it presents a series of clever 'design interventions' aimed at influencing behaviour through making things "fun to do" - taking the stairs instead of the escalator, recycling glass via a bottle bank and using a litter bin. The stairs are turned into a giant piano keyboard, with audio accompaniment; the bottle bank is turned into an arcade game, with sound effects and scores prominently displayed; and the litter bin has a "deep pit" effect created through sound effects played as items are dropped into it. It's exciting to see that exploring design for behaviour change is being so enthusiastically pursued and explored, especially by ad agencies, since - if we're honest - advertisers have long been the most successful at influencing human behaviour effectively (in the contexts intended). There's an awful lot designers can learn from this, but I digress...

As a provocation and inspiration to enter the competition, these are great projects. The competition itself is interesting because it encourages entrants to "find [their] own evidence for the theory that fun is best way to change behaviour for the better", suggesting that entries with some kind of demonstrated / tested element are preferred over purely conceptual submissions (however clever they might be) which have often been a hallmark of creative design competitions in the past. While the examples created and tested for the campaign are by no means "controlled experiments" (e.g. the stats in the videos about the extra amount of rubbish or glass deposited give little context about the background levels of waste deposition in that area, whether people have gone out of their way to use the 'special' bins, and so on), they do demonstrate very well the (perhaps obvious) effect that making something fun, or engaging, is a way to get people interested in using it.

Bottle bank arcadeWorld's deepest bin


Going a bit deeper, though, into what "the theory of fun" might really mean, it's clear there are a few different effects going on here. To use concepts from B J Fogg's Behaviour Model, assuming the ability to use the stairs, bottle bank or bin is already there, the remaining factors are motivation and triggers. Motivation is, on some level, presumably also present in each case, in the sense that someone carrying bottles to be recycled already wants to get rid of them, someone standing at the bottom of the stairs or escalator wants to get to the top, and someone with a piece of litter in her hand wants to discard it somehow (even if that's just on the ground).

(But note that if, for example, people start picking up litter from elsewhere in order to use the bin because they're excited by it, or if - as in the video - kids run up and down the stairs to enjoy the effect, this is something slightly different: the motivation has changed from "I'm motivated to get rid of the litter in my hand" to "I'm motivated to keep playing with this thing." While no doubt useful results, these are slightly different target behaviours to the ones expressed at the start of the videos. "Can we get more people to take the stairs over the escalator by making it fun to do?" is not quite the same as "Can we get people so interested in running up and down the stairs that they want to do it repeatedly?")

So the triggers are what the interventions are really about redesigning: adding some feature or cue which causes people who already have the ability and the motivation to choose this particular way of getting out of the railway station to the street above, or disposing of litter, or recycling glass. All three examples deliberately, prominently, attract the interest of passers-by ("World's deepest bin" graphics, otherwise incongruous black steps, illuminated 7-segment displays above the bottle bank) quite apart from the effect of seeing lots of other people gathered around, or using something in an unusual way.

And once they've triggered someone to get involved, to use them, there are different elements that come into play in each example. For example, the bottle bank - by using a game metaphor - effectively challenges the user into continuing (perhaps even entering a flow state, though this is surely more likely with the stairs) and gives feedback on how well you're doing as well as a kind of reward. The reward element is present in all three examples, in fact.

Perhaps the most relevant pattern in all these examples, and the "fun theory" concept itself, is that of emotional or affective engagement. The user experience of each is designed to evoke an emotional response, to motivate engagement through enjoyment or delight - and this is an area of design where a lot of great (and commercially applicable) research work has been done, by people such as Pieter Desmet (whose doctoral dissertation is a model for this kind of design research), Pat Jordan, Marco van Hout, Trevor van Gorp, Don Norman and MIT's Affective Computing group. Taking a slightly different slant, David Gargiulo's work on creating drama through interaction design (found via Harry Brignull's Twitter) is also pertinent here, as is Daniel Pink's collection of 'emotionally intelligent signage' (thanks to Larry Cheng for bringing this to my attention).

What sort of behaviour change, though?

I suppose the biggest and most obvious criticism of projects such as the Rolighetsteorin examples is that they are merely one-time gimmicks, that a novelty effect is the most (maybe only) significant thing at work here. It's not possible to say whether this is true or not without carrying out a longitudinal study of the members of the public involved over a period of time, or of the actual installations themselves. Does having fun using the stairs once (when they're a giant piano) translate into taking the (boring) normal stairs in preference to an escalator on other occasions? (i.e. does it lead to attitude or preference change?) Or does the effect go away when the fun stairs do?

It may be, of course, that interventions with explicitly pro-social rhetoric embedded in them (such as the bottle bank) have an effect which bleeds over into other areas of people's lives: do they think more about the environment, or being less wasteful, in other contexts? Have attitudes been changed beyond simply the specific context of recycling glass bottles using this particular bottle bank?

Project by Stephen Intille & House_n, MITProject by Stephen Intille & House_n, MIT

How others have done it

This campaign isn't the first to have tried to address these problems through design, of course. Without researching too thoroughly, a few pieces of work spring to mind, and I'm sure there are many more. Stephen Intille, Ron MacNeil, Jason Nawyn and Jacob Hyman in MIT's House_n group have done work using a sign with the 'just-in-time' message "Your heart needs exercise - here's your chance" (shown above) positioned over the stairs in a subway, flashing in people's line-of-sight as they approach the decision point (between taking stairs or escalator) linked to a system which can record the effects in terms of people actually making one choice or the other, and hence compare the effect the intervention actually has. As cited in this paper [PDF], previous research by K D Brownell, A J Stunkard, and J M Albaum, using the same message, in a similar situation, but statically displayed for three weeks before being removed, demonstrated that some effect remains on people's choice of the stairs for the next couple of months. (That is, the effect didn't go away immediately when the sign did - though we can't say whether that's necessarily applicable to the piano stairs too.)

Persuasive Trash Cans by de Kort et alLast year I mentioned Finland's "Kiitos, Tack, Thank you" bins, and in the comments (which are well worth reading), Kaleberg mentioned Parisian litter bins with SVP (s'il vous plaît) on them; most notable here is the work of Yvonne de Kort, Teddy McCalley and Cees Midden at Eindhoven on 'persuasive trash cans' [PDF], looking at the effects of different kinds of norms on littering behaviour, expressed through the design or messages used on litter bins (shown to the left here).

Work on the design of recycling bins is, I think, worthy of a post of its own, since it starts to touch more on perceived affordances (the shape of different kinds of slots, and so on) so I'll get round to that at some point.

Many thanks to everyone who sent me the Fun Theory links, including Kimberley Crofts, Brian Cugelman and Dan Jenkins (apologies if I've missed anyone out).

What's been going on recently by Dan

The RSA House, LondonRSA Design Directions 2009/10

The RSA's 2009/10 Design Directions competition has been launched, which means up and down the country there are design students and new graduates working on one of the pretty wide selection of briefs. Given the RSA's aim of 'removing barriers to social progress' - with a significant commitment to using design to do this - the briefs are themed around design for social benefit, addressing issues ranging from helping an ageing workforce to helping new architecture graduates apply their skills in other contexts.

A couple of the briefs are explicitly about design for behaviour change, and thanks to working with Jamie Young of the RSA's Design & Behaviour project on some ideas for briefs earlier this year, the Design with Intent toolkit is explicitly referenced as a 'resource' for the Independence Days brief on 'reinventing assistive technology' (sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board) and A matter of life..., a brief about improving patient compliance with taking prescribed medication (sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline). Both of these are very noble causes and I hope the Design with Intent patterns are useful inspiration in some small way; I look forward to seeing some of the results!

Design Approach worksheet by Nedra Kline WeinreichDesign Approach worksheet

Nedra Kline Weinreich, author of Hands-on Social Marketing, has created a fantastic Design Approach for Behaviour Change worksheet based on the 12 design patterns from my Design with Intent toolkit poster.

By re-framing each of the patterns as a question - e.g. "How can you provide a cue to action at the appropriate time?" for kairos (discussed by BJ Fogg in his original book, Persuasive Technology) - Nedra turns the patterns more directly into cues for action themselves for a design team to brainstorm or think about. After working through the questions, asking each of them about the behaviour problem you're working on, you pretty much end up with a set of possible solutions: this is a very clever way to structure the idea generation process. (As such I've added a link to Nedra's worksheet to the DwI intro page of this site.)

Inspired by Nedra's thinking, the next version of the DwI toolkit, which I'm putting together at present, will have a question element to each of the patterns.

Design for Persuasion, Brussels Design for Persuasion conference, Brussels

Design for Persuasion handoutAt the beginning of October I was honoured to be invited to speak at Design for Persuasion, a new conference taking place at the impressive Belgacom Surfhouse in Brussels, organised (very well) by Christel de Maeyer and BJ Fogg.

The event was mainly directed towards 'new media' persuasion and design, focusing on practical applications rather than academic studies, and featured some great presentations from people such as Richard Sedley (who kindly took the above photo for me!), Amy Shuen, Bart de Waele (whose excellent 'Addictive Websites' slides you can see here), and other expert practitioners. Many of the presentations are on Slideshare; there are also some very nice photos on Flickr from Katrien Degreef.

Here's my presentation (below) with a transcript here and image credits here. The handout (picture above right) I refer to is here [PDF].

Many thanks to Christel and BJ for organising this, and to the great people I talked to, including Nynke, Marijn and Arjan.

BURA stats A pleasing statistic

Thanks to readers of this blog, the DwI toolkit v.0.9 poster [PDF] I originally posted back in April is at time of writing, the most-downloaded document ever from Brunel University's institutional repository, BURA. (Much, much more than any of our other papers, too!)

With 28,000 downloads since it went on BURA, plus another 5,000 or so directly from the blog before I changed where the link pointed, and probably a few directly from Google Books (as well as a handful of at-cost sales of the physical printed poster) it gives me an incredibly warm feeling to think that so many people all over the world have found it interesting enough to read (and hopefully - in at least some cases! - use) it. Please do let me know (in the comments, or by email) if you've found it useful (or useless), what problems you've applied it to, how you think it could be improved, and so on, or have a go at the survey.

The next version (v.0.95) will take a different form (cards - which some of you will have tried out in a couple of workshops) and include some new patterns, as well as 'question' phrasing as mentioned above. I hope to have this available to download (or buy as a card deck) by the end of 2009.

Thanks again for making the DwI toolkit a success!

Things which slipped by without me writing about them much here

The last few months have been very busy for me as I rush to progress the PhD in sufficient depth and breadth while still doing other things, and I'm aware that I haven't talked much about all this on the blog. I've been to the DiGRA conference and had great discussions with Ian Bogost and Sebastian Deterding; I've been to dConstruct and talked to Adam Greenfield; been to Greengaged and blogged about it for the site; been to a conference on Naturalistic Decision-Making and got some incisive advice from Gary Klein himself; and am about to present this paper [PDF] at Sustainable Innovation '09. With the help of some great participants (including Frankie who interviewed me here!) I've also managed to complete a series of Design with Intent workshops in which we've addressed a range of behaviour change briefs. The results of these workshops will be reported on here at some point soon, I promise!

So, stay tuned: as winter approaches, and sitting in front of a warm, glowing rectangle becomes more appealing, I will endeavour to blog more often and about more real examples of design with intent in the wild, a bit more like the blog used to be. Thanks for sticking with me.

Some interesting projects (Part 2) by Dan

Following on from Part 1, here are a couple more very interesting student projects linking design and behaviour. This time, both involve providing feedback on the impact or costs of everyday behaviours in order to get people to think. Tim Holley's Tio project, developed in response to a brief by Onzo, and described as 'A Light Switch to Help Children Save Energy' - deservedly won the HSBC Sustainability Prize at the Made in Brunel show:

Tio by Tim Holley "Children play a key role in reducing energy consumption due to the fact that they will be among the key decision-makers in the next 30 years. A simple way to engage and educate them is to concentrate on lighting, which accounts for up to 15% of electricity use in the home. The target market for Tio is 7-11 year-olds. This coincides with a period in primary education during which children begin to learn about the environment, energy and the effects that humans are having on the world. Tio [...]allow[s] children to demonstrate their knowledge of energy conservation to their family and encourage their role as ‘energy champions’ of the home. Tio has the potential to reduce lighting-use by up to 25%, resulting in an energy saving of up to 11% over a five year period...

Tio by Tim Holley The wall-mounted light switch[...] controls the lighting in the child’s room. Tio is soft and tactile, thus encourages user interaction. The character of ‘Tio’ displayed on the light switch encourages children to turn their lights off: Tio is happy when the lights have only been on for a short period of time. The longer they are left on, the angrier he becomes. This acts as an emotional reminder to turn the lights off...

The recommended ‘lights-on time’ is influenced by the child’s age, their daily activities and the time of day. [...] Information (‘lights-on’ time) is sent wirelessly from the wall switch to a computer. The computer programme allows the child to track their lighting-use performance over an extended period of time. The child takes care of a ‘virtual tree’ by moderating their lighting-use performance. This engages children to make a personal contribution to reducing energy consumption." Tio by Tim Holley

There are some clever ideas in there, including pester-power ("Make sure your parents turn off their lights too") and, from a Design with Intent toolkit point of view, some of the patterns you might be able to identify include affective engagement, self-monitoring, material properties and metaphors. There's some neat product detailing too, such as the way Tio's expressions are formed by different patterns of LEDs being illuminated under the translucent case.

Tim was a very useful and insightful tester of an earlier version of the Design with Intent toolkit back in autumn 2008 (as part of the pilot study reported in this co-authored paper [direct PDF link]) so it's great to see his project get such recognition. He's now working for Onzo in product R&D strategy and has some exciting and ambitious plans for the future: as a very talented young designer bringing together creative user-centred design and technology expertise with an eye for business strategy, I'm sure Tim will go far.

Lehman's Inheritance by Alexander KirchmannAcross London at Goldsmiths, Alexander Kirchmann's 'Lehman's Inheritance' project aims "to create and design products, that can help an individual to manage the [economic] crisis" such as this pint glass with cost markings (right). As Alexander puts it, "my products are the inheritance of the crash... By exposing people to their spending and also to their earnings my design is saving the owner money."

This is an incredibly simple project (at least the example that's illustrated - I'd be interested to know what other products Alexander modified / created). But the impact of exposing costs in this way - self-monitoring without any special equipment - could be very effective. In some of the recent workshops I've run with designers and students, similarly low-tech feedback concepts have been suggested for problems such as reducing water wastage (sinks with scales marked on them) and reducing overfilling of electric kettles.

More projects coming up in Part 3.

Images from the websites linked.

Some interesting projects (Part 1) by Dan

I've come across some interesting student projects at various shows and exhibitions this summer, some of which address the relationship between design and people's behaviour in different situations, and some of which explicitly aim to influence what people do and think. Here's a selection (Part 2 and Part 3 will follow). Displacement Engine by Jasmine CoxDisplacement Engine by Jasmine Cox

Jasmine Cox's Displacement Engine (Dundee) is "a navigational compass which gives you a little extra push to break away from routine, to wander the unexplored route... By pulling the slider closer and pushing it further away, the user learns to relax the need to be heading in an absolute direction. It allows the experience of a place and an outdoor space to absorb and distract them." The variability of the GPS signal means that the device perhaps won't always be 'reliable' - again, leading the user to explore and think for him or herself rather than being able to trust the device entirely. As Jasmine says here, it's somewhere between a sat-nav and dérive.

The question of how much the paths and routes we take (physically and in whatever metaphorical way you can think of) are controlled, or at least influenced, by what maps, devices, signs, etc are telling us is something that I've touched a few times with this blog over the years (e.g. here). Practical semiotics as wayfinding decision-making heuristics, maybe. As someone who grew up obsessively poring over maps and atlases, memorising road networks and coastlines, trying to visualise these unknown places (and drawing plenty of my own), I'm fascinated by the possibilities of sat-navs and navigational devices which structure our choices for us (as Adam Greenfield notes, perhaps even removing routes we 'don't want to be walking down'), even though (in practice) I very much dislike using them, and it horrifies me to become reliant on them. I've had the "ROAD ENDS 800 FEET" sign looming at me out of the night after following a calm voice's directions down a canyon track somewhere off Mulholland Drive. I've also spent happy afternoons driving across the Fens with a scruffy, annotated Philip's Navigator on my lap and no purpose in mind other than seeing interesting places, and I know which I prefer. Jasmine's project helps bridge that divide a bit, or at least twist it in a new and intriguing direction.

Jasmine's blog chronicling the development process is interesting, too: it's a great insight into the thought processes of how a project like this actually gets done, the decisions made at different stages, and how contingent the result is on conditions, insights and ideas earlier on. I expect something like this helps quite a lot with writing up a major project, though I know I always wrote the development story for my projects right at the end, when the various dead-ends and mistakes could be woven and re-ordered into something that sounded more professional, or so I hoped.

Source by Oliver CraigSource by Oliver Craig

Intended to encourage people to drink more water while out shopping or walking, without buying bottled water (and throwing away the bottle each time) Source by Oliver Craig (Loughborough) is essentially a modern take on the public water fountain (which has disappeared in many areas of the UK - how many new shopping centres include them?), combining it with the convenience of bottled water: using special bottles filled via a valve in the base, pedestrians could get free filtered tap water from a network of fountains, positioned at the entrances to participating stores who would also sell the bottles. Re-using the bottles earns the user points which can be spent in the participating stores.

From one point of view, free fountains which don't require a special bottle (i.e. no format lock-in) would be preferable (as so often in the UK, the concern is about "value for money" and vandalism rather than public need), but something like Source, with special bottles, the sale of which funds the scheme, could be a step in the right direction.

Ravensbourne's Kei Wada's How Long? Door Knob and Tag, along with his Whose Turn? Bottle Opener address behaviours in a shared environment such as a student house, applying design to 'bad habits'. The Bottle Opener (right, below) "is a playful bottle opener that can be spun to help make decisions" such as who has to take the rubbish out, or buy milk, in the format of an object associated with parties and fun (whether this would increase or decrease the likelihood that housemates adhere to the 'decision', I don't know!).

The Door Knob and Tag (left and middle, below) are timers for bathroom or shower doors - the knob is a replacement knob / lock for the door itself, while the tag can be hooked over the handle without actually enforcing a 'lock'. But the principle is the same: "inspired by the annoying occurrence of never knowing how long flatmate will take in the shower. The person who takes the shower sets the timer when he/she locks the door, so the other housemates do not have to knock on the door and disturb their ablutions. When time is up, it rings to let the housemates know the room is vacant." I particularly like Kei's statement that "the act of setting the timer now becomes an extension of the motions involved in locking the door" - whether or not this kind of action (which requires prior thought in terms of deciding how long to set it for) could become an unconscious habit or not would be interesting to study.

Aside from annoying your housemates less, the timers could also work to reduce water and energy usage, in terms of time spent in the shower: if the alarm ringing sound were annoying or loud enough to make it socially unacceptable to spend too long in there, then this is a kind of socially enforced shower timer.

Kei WadaKei WadaKei Wada

More projects coming up in Parts 2 and 3...

Images from the graduates' websites linked.

A survey for designers: more books to win by Dan

Following last week's card-sorting exercise (which went really well - thanks to everyone who took part), here's something a bit more open-ended and ongoing. I'm trying to find out how designers and design teams (in-house or consultancies) who've worked on influencing user behaviour think about what they've done - which techniques and patterns do people recognise that they've used, or considered? Do the patterns I've identified in the toolkit actually make sense to people who've put this stuff into practice strategically? Or do people think about it differently?

So, if you've worked on persuasive technology, behaviour change design, or influencing user behaviour in general, across any field where you consider that you're designing stuff (service design, product design, interaction design, social design, user experience, information architecture, HCI, social marketing, mobile interaction, web design, network engineering, pervasive/ubiquitous computing, transformation design, advertising, urban planning, human factors, ergonomics, built environments, healthcare, environmental, safety, crime prevention - anything, in fact), I'd really appreciate it if you could spare a few minutes to have a go at this survey. It shouldn't take too long unless you have a lot to tell me about! DwI Cards 'Designers thinking about the effect they can have on behaviour' is a growing theme. The idea with this survey is that if we can collect together some good examples of where and how companies are using these ideas, what's worked and what hasn't (and why) (where you're prepared to talk about it!), it'll be a useful reference for everyone, as well as (potentially) a series of great case studies to be included in a book (at some point once my PhD's out of the way). In the meantime, I'll of course try to feature some of the projects on the blog.

If you take part in the survey, your details will go into a draw to win a classic book on design and behaviour (I'll do one draw for every 20 participants). I'm not sure what the books will be yet, but there's a lot to choose from. The survey doesn't really have a closing date at present - I'll leave it open as long as it's getting interest.

Thanks for your help!