Entropy

Stuff that matters: Unpicking the pyramid by Dan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can all that be taught?

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Lockton

How to enjoy taking notes and revising things by Dan

It occurs to me that it's now October, and in Britain that really means the summer's over (though as I write this it's pleasantly sunny and crisp outside). And despite attending a lot of very interesting talks and events over the past few months, I've been very lax at writing them up for the blog. Part of me enjoys the act of 'revising' - I think I was always the kind of teenager who actually quite liked exams, in a way (not in all ways, but some). Right through my time as an undergraduate and doing my master's, I kept incredibly poorly organised notes, almost intentionally so, on hundreds of unfiled sheets of paper. (Well, filed in time-based strata, perhaps.) During boring or repetitive lessons and lectures, I often wrote whole pages of notes in mirror-writing, or upside-down, or applying arbitrary rules like using the long S or scharfes S or replacing any word that had a mathematical meaning in another context with its symbol, often very convolutedly, so using a delta every time the idea of "change" was present, or transmuting the word "regarding" into "with respect to", "wrt" and finally just "d" (as in the calculus sense). Hey, the rules made sense to me and somehow that level of engagement, however nonsensical it might seem, actually made me think about what I was writing down.

Then, when it came to 'revision time', I'd spend maybe a couple of days simply sorting through this (on the face of it) nightmare morass of notes, because I had to: they were useless otherwise (yes, a useful landmine strategy). And that act, of sorting out the hundreds of pages into coherent taxonomies, subjects and themes, imposing boundaries and ascertaining relationships, was not only like playing back the salient parts of dozens of lectures in rapid succession, but also forced me to read the notes: I had to, to work out how to file them. I had to work out what I'd meant when I wrote some gobbledygook. It made me think about it all again, reinforce what information I'd already retained, and add the rest - there was a lot of subjectivity in terms of what aspects I'd noted in the first place, of course. When it then came to the real 'revising', once the papers were organised, I had retained much more of it than I would have done otherwise, and was very much aware of what areas I didn't understand: which bits needed further work, and so on. It worked: it really did. It was useless when someone said "do you mind if I borrow your notes?" but from my point of view, I felt totally immersed when revising. It had the right mixture of challenge and ability. It was great.

Anyway, the point of all that is that to some extent I've been looking forward to getting round to writing about some of these talks and events, and the delay has had a certain kind of pleasant anticipation about it. The reports will be based on notes that are, while no longer as eccentrically formatted as they once would have been, subject to a fair degree of personal interpretation. And the things that have stuck in my mind in the interim - what's stayed with me about a particular talk in the intervening months without referring to those notes - will inevitably be fairly well reinforced by now.

Exploiting the desire for order by Dan

I met a lot of remarkable people in Finland, and some of them - they know who they are - have given me a lot to think about, in a good way, about lots of aspects of life, psychology and its relation to design. Thanks to everyone involved for a fantastic time: I was kind-of aware of the idea of Csíkszentmihályi's flow before, but something about the combination of week-long permanent sunlight, very little sleep, great hospitality and a hell of a lot of interesting, clever people, brought home to me the reality of the phenomenon, or one quite like it. A couple of the people it was great to meet were Loove Broms and Magnus Bång of the Interactive Institute in Stockholm, who have worked (among other things) on innovative ways to provide users with feedback on their energy use, beyond 'traditional' interfaces. We've seen a few of the Institute's STATIC! projects before on the blog before, but it was very interesting to be introduced to some more recent concepts from the AWARE project. They're all well worth a look, but one in particular intrigues me, primarily because of how simple the idea is:

Puzzle Switch, AWARE project, TII
The Puzzle Switch - designed by Loove Broms and Karin Ehrnberger. One type is shown above; below, a different design in 'On' (left) and 'Off' (right) positions.Puzzle Switch, AWARE project, TII   Puzzle Switch, AWARE project, TII

The AWARE Puzzle Switch - lower part of this page - really is as simple as a a series of light switches where it is very obvious when they are switched on, and which "encourage people to switch off their light, by playing with people’s built-in desire for order."

Where else can we use this idea? The Puzzle Switch does it safely, in a way that, for example, having a lever hanging off the wall at a crazy angle (which would equally suggest to people that they 'put it right') would not. Is the key somehow to make it clearer to users that high-energy usage states are not 'defaults' in any way? That accompanying any energy use, there needs to be some kind of visible disorder (as with the irritating flashing standby lights) to cause users to notice and consciously to assess what's going on?

Lights reminding you to turn things off by Dan

Standby indicators - Duncan DrennanStandby indicators - Duncan Drennan Duncan Drennan, who writes the very thoughtful Art of Engineering blog, notes something extremely interesting: standby lights, if they're annoying/visible enough, can actually motivate users to switch the device off properly:

Our DVD player has (to me) the most irritating standby light that I have ever seen on any device. When on, the light is constantly illuminated, but when in standby the light flashes continuously (at a slow rate). This drives me mad, but results in an interesting action – it causes me to turn it off at the plug when I am not using it (which is most of the time). Suddenly one little flashing light has resulted in more energy saving than having no light.

As he notes, designing a system with an indicator which actually draws power to inform you of... 'nothing' ... actually may not be as inefficient as a from-first-principles efficiency design process would suggest, because of that human reaction. Similarly to the Static! project's Power-Aware Cord, you may need to use a little extra energy to make people realise how much they're using without thinking. Although:

There is one problem with this, it only works on people who care. If I did not care about saving energy, then I would just leave the laptop plugged in and the DVD player on. That means that you have to consider how your users will handle this kind of subtle feedback and determine whether turning the light off, or encouraging unplugging, results in more energy savings.

Sometimes the most obvious design decisions may not be the ones which result in the greatest energy saving.

This is a very astute observation indeed.

Are there any other examples where this sort of effect can be usefully employed? How similar is this to the 'useful landmine' concept where you deliberately force/provoke/annoy yourself into taking actions you otherwise wouldn't bother/would forget to do?

The Rebound Effect nicely illustrated by Dan

Rebound effect The Rebound Effect is a significant problem in energy policy and sustainable design: if new devices are more energy efficient, will users simply use them more, or leave them on for longer? (A kind of Jevons' Paradox). This UK Energy Research Centre report (PDF, 5 Mb) looks to be a comprehensive, interesting and readable treatment of the subject.

The compact fluorescent light bulb shown above, fitted under some scaffolding over a public footpath in Hurley, on the Thames near Henley, is switched on all day, even in bright sunshine. But that's 'OK' of course, because it's one of those energy-saving bulbs.

How prevalent is this kind of thinking among users?

Do you really need to print that? by Dan Lockton

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

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

Please consider the environment

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

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

Persuasion & control round-up by Dan Lockton

  • New Scientist: Recruiting Smell for the Hard SellImage from New ScientistSamsung's coercive atmospherics strategy involves the smell of honeydew melon:

    THE AIR in Samsung's flagship electronics store on the upper west side of Manhattan smells like honeydew melon. It is barely perceptible but, together with the soft, constantly morphing light scheme, the scent gives the store a blissfully relaxed, tropical feel. The fragrance I'm sniffing is the company's signature scent and is being pumped out from hidden devices in the ceiling. Consumers roam the showroom unaware that they are being seduced not just via their eyes and ears but also by their noses.

    ...

    In one recent study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research, Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist and dean of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University in Pullman, and his colleagues carried out an experiment in a local clothing store. They discovered that when "feminine scents", like vanilla, were used, sales of women's clothes doubled; as did men's clothes when scents like rose maroc were diffused.

    ...

    A spokesman from IFF revealed that the company has developed technology to scent materials from fibres to plastic, suggesting that we can expect a more aromatic future, with everything from scented exercise clothing and towels to MP3 players with a customised scent. As more and more stores and hotels use ambient scents, however, remember that their goal is not just to make your experience more pleasant. They want to imprint a positive memory, influence your future feelings about particular brands and ultimately forge an emotional link to you - and more importantly, your wallet.

    (via Martin Howard's very interesting blog, and the genius Mind Hacks)

  • Consumerist: 5 Marketing Tricks That Unleash Shopping Frenzies Beanie BabiesThe Consumerist's Ben Popken outlines "5 Marketing Tricks That Unleash Shopping Frenzies":

    * Artificially limit supply. They had a giant warehouse full of Beanie Babies, but released them in squirts to prolong the buying orgy. * Issue press releases about limited supply so news van show up * Aggressively market to children. Daddy may not play with his kids as much as he should but one morning he can get up at the crack of dawn, get a Teddy Ruxpin, and be a hero. * Make a line of minute variations on the same theme to create the "collect them all" effect. * Make it only have one highly specialized function so you can sell one that laughs, one that sings, one that skydives, etc, ad nauseum.

    All of us are familiar with these strategies - whether consciously or not - but can similar ideas ever be employed in a way which benefits the consumer, or society in general, without actual deception or underhandedness? For example, can artificially limiting supply to increase demand ever be helpful? Certainly artificially limiting supply to decrease demand can be helpful to consumers might sometimes be helpful - if you knew you could get a healthy snack in 5 minutes, but an unhealthy one took an hour to arrive, you might be more inclined to go for the healthy one; if the number of parking spaces wide enough to take a large 4 x 4 in a city centre were artificially restricted, it might discourage someone from choosing to drive into the city in such a vehicle.

    But is it helpful - or 'right' - to use these types of strategy to further an aim which, perhaps, deceives the consumer, for the 'greater good' (and indeed the consumer's own benefit, ultimately)? Should energy-saving devices be marketed aggressively to children, so that they pressure their parents to get one?

    (Image from Michael_L's Flickr stream)

  • Kazys Varnelis: Architecture of Disappearance Architecture of disappearance
    Kazys Varnelis notes "the architecture of disappearance":

    I needed to show a new Netlab intern the maps from Banham's Los Angeles, Architecture of Four Ecologies and realized that I had left the original behind. Luckily, Google Books had a copy here, strangely however, in their quest to remove copyrighted images, Google's censors (human? algorithmic?) had gone awry and had started producing art such as this image.

    It's not clear here whether there's a belief that the visual appearance of the building itself is copyrighted (which surely cannot be the case - photographers' rights (UK at least) are fairly clear on this) or whether that by effectively making the image useless, it prevents someone using an image from Google Books elsewhere. The latter is probabky the case, but then why bother showing it at all?

    (Thanks to Katrin for this)

  • Fanatic Attack Finally, in self-regarding nonsense news, this blog's been featured on Fanatic Attack, a very interesting, fairly new site highlighting "entrancement, entertainment, and an enhancement of curiosity": people, organisations and projects that display a deep passion or obsession with a particular subject or theme. I'm grateful to be considered as such!
  • Biting Apple by Dan Lockton

    BBC News headline, 28 September 2007 Interesting to see the BBC's summary of the current iPhone update story: "Apple issues an update which damages iPhones that have been hacked by users". I'm not sure that's quite how Apple's PR people would have put it, but it's interesting to see that whoever writes those little summaries for the BBC website found it easiest to sum up the story in this way. This is being portrayed as Apple deliberately, strategically damaging the phones, rather than an update unintentionally causing problems with unlocked or modified phones.

    Regardless of what the specific issue is here, and whether unmodified iPhones have also lost functionality because of some problem with the update, can't we just strip out all this nonsense? How many people who wanted an iPhone also wanted to be locked in to AT&T or whatever the local carrier will be in each market? Anyone? Who wants to be locked in to anything? What a waste of technical effort, sweat and customer goodwill: it's utterly pathetic.

    This is exactly what Fred Reichheld's 'Bad profits' idea calls out so neatly:

    Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value.

    If bad profits are earned at the expense of customers, good profits are earned with customers’ enthusiastic cooperation. A company earns good profits when it so delights its customers that they willingly come back for more—and not only that, they tell their friends and colleagues to do business with the company.

    What is the question that can tell good profits from bad? Simplicity itself: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

    If your iPhone's just turned into the most stylish paperweight in the office, are you likely to recommend it to a colleague?

    More to the point, if Apple had moved - in the first place - into offering telecom services to go with the hardware, with high levels of user experience and a transparent pricing system, how many iPhone users and Mac evangelists wouldn't have at least considered changing?

    Pier pressure by Dan Lockton

      Palace Pier, Brighton
    Palace Pier, BrightonPalace Pier, Brighton

    Deliberately routing users via a longer or more circuitous route is found in many forms (with a variety of intentions) from misleading road signs, to endless click-through screens, splitting up articles, periodic rearrangement of supermarket shelves, and so on. This kind of forcing function can also be used to increase the likelihood of users reading 'important' information; as always, there is an agenda behind the design decision.

    But it's rare to see something quite as blatant as the above "This way to the end of the pier" sign on Brighton Palace Pier, attempting to persuade visitors to walk through the amusement arcade rather than along the walkways either side of the arcade. I don't know how effective it is; conceivably some visitors might assume that it's the only way to the end of the pier, but given how easy it is to see along the walkways either side, I'm not sure the deception is very convincing.

    What's the worst intentional mis-direction you've come across? And did it 'work'?

    Cleaning up with carpets by Dan Lockton

    Horrible carpet Following the recent post looking at aspects of casino and slot machine design, in which I quoted William Choi and Antoine Sindhu's study - "[Casino] carpeting is often purposefully jarring to the eyes, which draws customers’ gaze upwards toward the machines on the gambling floor" - Max Rangeley sends me a link to the Total Influence & Persuasion blog, discussing casinos' carpeting strategy in more detail:

    They don't want you to look at the floor, they want you to look at the machines! ... after some time you eyes get tired and need a rest. Normally they would be dawn to a area of dull colour that could be used as a "safe haven" (probably all done subconsciously). The ground is normally a good bet, yes?....not in a casino. As soon as you look at the ground it is worse than the machines and your eyes want to move off somewhere else and hopefully toward one of these many waiting, flashing slot machines where you can slot in a few more quid.

    Indeed, casinos' grotesque carpet patterns are apparently fairly notorious - a couple of years ago Boing Boing pointed to this fantastic gallery on Die Is Cast, the website of Dr David G Schwartz, an authority on casino design, strategy, and evolution:

    Casino carpet is known as an exercise in deliberate bad taste that somehow encourages people to gamble.

    In a strange way, though, it's s sublime work of art, rivalling any expressionist canvas of the past century. Note the regal tones of Caesars Palace, the bountiful bouquet of Mandalay Place, the soft, almost abstract pointilism of Paris, all whispering, "gamble, gamble" just out of the range of consciousness as people walk to the nearest slot machine.

    Image from Die Is Cast
    A section of the 9-page gallery of real casino carpet patterns at Die Is Cast.

    Implications of this kind of thinking

    Are there examples from other fields where graphic design is deliberately used to repel the viewer, specifically in order to shift his or her focus somewhere more desirable?

    In newspaper/magazine layout, one might think of company A using deliberately repellent/garish advertising graphics alongside company B's ad, to shift the reader's focus away from that page to the opposite page, where company A has a 'proper' ad. Or the low-priced items on a menu or on a shelf might be surrounded by ugly/brash/over-busy graphics, so as to make shoppers look away to the area where the higher-priced items are. Maybe even an artist (or the gallery) deliberately positioning 'ugly'/repellent work either side of the piece which it's desirable for the visitor to focus on: in comparison, it is bound to look more attractive.

    I have no evidence that this happens, but I'm assuming it has been used as a tactic at some point.

    Does anyone have any real examples of this?

    Ticket off (reprise) by Dan Lockton

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

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

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

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

    Dublin Bus ticket details at Dublin Airport

    An interesting case: Dublin Bus

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

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

    and Damien added this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A different strategy

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

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

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

    Process friction by Dan Lockton

    WD-40 Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah kindly sent me a link to this article by Ben Hyde:

    I once had a web product that failed big-time. A major contributor to that failure was tedium of getting new users through the sign-up process. Each screen they had to step triggered the lost of 10 to 20% of the users. Reducing the friction of that process was key to survival. It is a thousand times easier to get a cell phone or a credit card than it is to get a passport or a learner’s permit. That wasn’t the case two decades ago.

    ...

    Public health experts have done a lot of work over the decades to create barrier between the public and dangerous items and to lower barriers to access to constructive ones. So we make it harder to get liquor, and easier to get condoms. Traffic calming techniques are another example of engineering that makes makes a system run more slowly.

    I find these attempts to shift the temperature of entire systems fascinating. This is at the heart of what you're doing when you write standards, but it’s entirely scale free... In the sphere of internet identity it is particularly puzzling how two countervailing forces are at work. One trying to raise the friction and one trying to lower it. Privacy and security advocates are attempting to lower the temp and increase the friction. On the other hand there are those who seek in the solution to the internet identity problem a way to raise the temperature and lower the friction. That more rather than less transactions would take place.

    The idea of 'process friction' which is especially pertinent as applied to architectures of control. Simply, if you design a process to be difficult to carry out, fewer people will complete it, since - just as with frictional forces in a mechanical system - energy (whether real or metaphorical) is lost by the user at each stage.

    This is perhaps obvious, but is a good way to think about systems which are designed to prevent users carrying out certain tasks which might otherwise be easy - from copying music or video files, to sleeping on a park bench. Just as friction (brakes) can stop or slow down a car which would naturally roll down a hill under the force of gravity, so friction (DRM, or other architectures of control) attempts to stop or slow down the tendency for information to be copied, or for people to do what they do naturally. Sometimes the intention is actually to stop the proscribed behaviour (e.g. an anti-sit device); other times the intention is to force users to slow down or think about what they're doing.

    From a designer's point of view, there are far more examples where reducing friction in a process is more important than introducing it deliberately. In a sense, is this what usability is?. Affordances are more valuable than disaffordances, hence the comparative rarity of architectures of control in design, but also why they stand out so much as frustrating or irritating.

    The term cognitive friction is more specific than general 'process friction', but still very much relevant - as explained on the Cognitive Friction blog:

    Cognitive Friction is a term first used by Alan Cooper in his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum, where he defines it like this:

    “It is the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem permutes.”

    In other words, when our tools manifest complex behaviour that does not fit our expectations, the result can be very frustrating.

    Going back to the Ben Hyde article, the use of the temperature descriptions is interesting - he equates cooling with increasing the friction, making it more difficult to get things done (similarly to the idea of chilling effects), whereas my instinctive reaction would be the opposite (heat is often energy lost due to friction, hence a 'hot' system, rather than a cold system, is one more likely to have excessive friction in it - I see many architectures of control as, essentially, wasting human effort and creating entropy).

    But I can see the other view equally well: after all, lubricating oils work better when warmed to reduce their viscosity, and 'cold welds' are an important subject of tribological research. Perhaps the best way to look at it is that, just as getting into a shower that's too hot or too cold is uncomfortable, so a system which is not at the expected 'temperature' is also uncomfortable for the user.

    A bright idea? by Dan Lockton

    UPDATE: See this more recent post for information and photos of how to get a 2-pin bulb to fit in a BC3 fitting. This may well be the example which involves the most different 'architecture of control' issues so far - by a long way. It is a complex case with a number of aspects, intentions and effects to consider. My mind isn't made up on the rights and wrongs of this: it's certainly an architecture of control, it's certainly devious and it's certainly a case of introducing a razor-blade model (product lock-in) into a field where there was previously none; it will also end up costing many consumers more money, yet it's founded in an attempt to 'encourage'/force more environmentally friendly behaviour.

    A couple of weeks ago, George Preston let me know about Eaton MEM BC3 light bulbs and fittings. These are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs or 'energy-saving' bulbs) which have their own kind of three-pronged bayonet connector (left), as opposed to the standard two-pronged bayonet (right):

    BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
    BC3 lamp, photo by George Preston
    BC3 fitting - image from MEMLITE brochure
    BC3 CFL and standard bayonet CFL compared, and a BC3 fitting. Upper two photos by George Preston; lower photo from BC3 brochure [PDF].

    Notice those three prongs are irregularly spaced. A normal bayonet bulb won't fit in a BC3 fitting, and a BC3 bulb won't fit in a normal bayonet fitting.

    What's the rationale behind this?

    From Approved Document L1 [PDF], an amendment to the UK Building Regulations, which came into force in April 2002 (applying to new-build houses):

    1.54 Reasonable provision should be made for dwelling occupiers to obtain the benefits of efficient lighting. A way of showing compliance with the requirement would be to provide at a reasonable number of locations, where lighting can be expected to have most use, fixed lighting (comprising either basic lighting outlets or complete luminaires) that only take lamps having a luminous efficacy greater than 40 lumens per circuit-watt. Circuit-watts means the power consumed in lighting circuits by lamps and their associated control gear and power factor correction equipment. Examples of lamps that achieve this efficacy include fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (not GLS tungsten lamps with bayonet cap or Edison screw bases).

    The idea is, then, that since 'normal' bayonet fittings can take normal tungsten incandescent filament bulbs as well as normal CFLs - something which has of course driven the more widespread adoption of CFLs - there is the likelihood/possibility that householders might replace any pre-installed CFLs with filament bulbs, for whatever reason (the usual reasons are the colour of the light, the aesthetic appearance of the bulbs, and the warm-up time). To prevent this possibility, a new type of light fitting and associated CFL cap design were required which were uniquely compatible, so that anyone with this kind of fitting would have to fit bulbs with the new cap design, which would only be available on CFLs.

    (Note that the same objective could have been achieved by fitting these rooms solely with fittings for commonly available standard linear fluorescent tubes, i.e. strip lights.)

    So, Eaton's MEM 250 division created the BC3 (bayonet-cap-3?) range, being nominated for an Electrical Product Award for Contribution Towards Energy Saving in the process.

    What's interesting is that as well as complete BC3 CFLs and BC3 fittings, the BC3 range includes BC3 base units (with the ballast and control electronics in them) into which a four-pin CFL tube can be plugged:

    BC3 lamp unit, from EthicalProductsDirect.com BC3 base unit, from EthicalProductsDirect.com
    Left: A tube unit with four pin connector; Right: A BC3 base unit (including ballast) to allow the tube to be attached. Images from Ethical Products Direct.

    This allows the tube to be replaced independently of the electronics - thus saving resources - but does not appear to be the focus of the BC3 system. (Just a thought: if more new houses were pre-fitted with these base units, or simply standard 2-pin bayonet base units, within the light fittings, so that a householder would simply go out and replace the tube rather than the whole lot, similarly to the linear fluorescent tube suggestion above, would it not have made for a more environmentally friendly solution?)

    Some interesting claims are being made for the BC3 system. Somehow the idea of forcing the householder to buy one particular brand of CFL has been transmuted into a misguided suggestion that the BC3 system actually makes the houses more energy efficient - e.g., from a housing association magazine [PDF] in Wiltshire:

    Residents in some of Westlea’s newer homes will know that we now fit special three-way bayonet lamp fittings as one way to make the property more energy efficient. Although the ‘BC3 eco bulbs’ needed for these lamp fittings are more expensive than ordinary lightbulbs, using them in a ‘standard’ house could save the resident around £100 each year because they use less electricity than ordinary lightbulbs. Some residents have told us they have had difficulty buying the three-pin eco bulbs locally, but we’re pleased to report that the following outlets are able to supply them from £6.35 upwards...

    From £6.35 each is a lot of money. Standard 'Tesco Value' 2-pin bayonet CFLs started at 88p each (Tesco, Egham, Surrey) the last time I looked - that's especially cheap, and they were only 11W, but 15W units are commonly available from about £2 - £3. Searching Froogle shows that BC3 bulbs start from around £10. Even Ethical Products Direct, to whom Eaton MEM's own website directs visitors wanting to buy BC3 bulbs, charges £9.36 for the cheapest complete BC3 unit.

    This is a lot of money for something which provides the householder with exactly the same function as a standard CFL a quarter the price. (It's not as if the BC3 bulbs last much longer, for example, or are more efficient. They just have a non-standard fitting and are only supplied by one manufacturer.) In fact, one might suggest that standard CFLs offer the householder more benefit, since they can be swapped around, fitted all over the place, even fitted to replace incandescent filament bulbs in standard fittings, should someone - shock - actually want to choose a CFL without being forced into doing so.

    The housing association quote above demonstrates an important point about the use of BC3s. Many householders' first encounter with them will be when they notice a CFL going dim or actually failing, or want to increase the light levels in a room, and find that they have to spend much more than they were expecting to spend on a CFL anyway. George's story demonstrates this well:

    We have recently moved into a new flat which is part of a modern development in London. A few lightbulbs needed replacing when we moved in, so I went out and bought some (they're all energy-efficient ones so I bought the same to replace them with). But oddly, none of them would fit in the fittings. I was under the impression that there were just Bayonet and Screw Cap fittings? These fittings were bayonet, but needed three, irregularly-spaced pins instead of the standard two.

    ...

    I'm no stranger to energy efficiency, and it wouldn't be so annoying were it not for the fact that the bulb I had bought as a replacement was an energy-efficient type anyway, but it seems illogical and a shame that properietary fitting sizes have been introduced into something that has always been so simple - choosing a lightbulb.

    (Equally, there is the problem of actually getting hold of BC3 bulbs. I went to the enormous B & Q in Slough on Sunday and couldn't see any on the shelves. While the 8,000 hour lifetime may mean that there's not a massive demand for them yet from the public, ordering online and waiting for delivery is not really a great option when a light bulb fails. It often causes inconvenience, and can be dangerous - until Incluminate's a production reality (!), the best option is to keep spare bulbs in the cupboard. But if you don't realise that you need to keep special BC3 bulbs, and that these aren't available from every corner shop or even every massive DIY store, this is going to be extremely inconvenient. The BC3 brochure does mention a "householder card... which can be left with the homeowner highlighting the 'energy saving' aspects of their new home" but how many people will remember to stock up on BC3 bulbs as a result?)

    Anyway, I think the main issues are:

  • Razor-blade model: monopoly on fitting type means higher prices can be charged for same function, consumers locked in
  • Non-standard fitting likely to cause significant inconvenience to householders
  • But:

  • System does force householders to use 'energy saving' bulbs*
  • The BC3 range is also made in the UK, which aside from actually supporting local jobs, means that the units are not transported from China as, say, Tesco Value CFLs are. That saves on transportation energy, at least, and while - looking briefly - I couldn't find a patent for the BC3 system, I presume Eaton have it protected somehow, otherwise there would surely be cheaper BC3-compatible bulbs available.

    (Another thought is what other proprietary systems - if any - have manufacturers evolved to meet the regulations in part L1? Are there lower-profile rival systems with their own fitting and cap designs? What would the implications be if a particular type were no longer available a few years down the line?)

    Conclusion

    Overall, this is a clever commercial attempt to respond to a governmental decision made with environmental protection in mind, and as such probably ought to be filed along with optimum lifetime products as something where the intention is to benefit society as well as benefit the manufacturer, at the expense of additionally inconveniencing the user. I feel focusing on a system of built-in base units, with readily available standard replacement tubes (either CFLs or linear fluorescent format) would have been more user-friendly as well as reducing the amount of electronics needlessly thrown away, but it would not have permitted a razor-blade model to the same extent.

    It will be interesting to see how the BC3 story develops in the years ahead: will they become commonly available, and how high will public awareness be? There will probably be many more similar products and systems in the next few years using technology to enforce government policy, particularly in an environmental context, and the Eaton MEM BC3 will be an important case study.

    *Of course, there's a lot that ought to be said about the real merits of a large-scale shift to 'energy saving' bulbs, particularly in relation to Australia's decision to phase out incandescent filament bulbs entirely, the European Lamp Companies' Federation's focus on the same, Gordon Brown's announcement on this, and campaigns such as Ban The Bulb.

    As a designer and engineer, I would suggest that in cold climates, 100W from an incandescent filament bulb means simply that 100 joules per second of heat is going into my room (probably wasting another 200 joules per second at the power station, but that's another matter). Light bulbs do heat our homes. If we lose 80W from the light bulb, the heating will probably get turned up by 80W instead. Better insulation, so that that heat isn't lost, may well turn out to be just as good, or better, than mass-replacement of thousands of millions of light bulbs with CFLs requiring significantly more resources to manufacture (and dispose of). Those electronics in the base don't come from nowhere, and are likely to outlast the fluorescent tube: hence why the idea of replaceable tubes is much more sensible than throwing away and replacing the base unit each time as well. But the bandwagon's set off and with heavyweight government and heavyweight manufacturers on board, it's got a lot of momentum...

    Some links by Dan Lockton

    Some links. Guess what vehicle this is. First, an apology for anyone who's had problems with the RSS/Atom feeds over the last month or so. I think they're fixed now (certainly Bloglines has started picking them up again) but please let me know if you don't read this. Oops, that won't work... anyway:

  • 'Gadgets as Tyrants' by Xeni Jardin, looks at digital architectures of control in the context of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas :

    Many of the tens of thousands of products displayed last week on the Vegas expo floor, as attractive and innovative as they are, are designed to restrict our use... Even children are bothered by the increasing restrictions. One electronics show attendee told me his 12-year-old recently asked him, “Why do I have to buy my favorite game five times?” Because the company that made the game wants to profit from each device the user plays it on: Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, Game Boy or phone.

    At this year’s show, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, Gary Shapiro, spoke up for “digital freedom,” arguing that tech companies shouldn’t need Hollywood’s permission when they design a new product.

  • The Consumerist - showing a 1981 Walmart advert for a twin cassette deck - comments that "Copying music wasn't always so taboo".

    I'm not sure it is now, either.

  • George Preston very kindly reminds me of the excellent Trusted Computing FAQ by Ross Anderson, a fantastic exposition of the arguments. For more on Vista's 'trusted' computing issues, Peter Guttmann has some very clear explanations of how shocking far we are from anything sensible. See also Richard Stallman's 'Right to Read'.
  • David Rickerson equally kindly sends me details of a modern Panopticon prison recently built in Colorado - quite impressive in a way:

    Image from Correctional News

    ...Architects hit a snag when they realized too much visibility could create problems.

    “We’ve got lots of windows looking in, but the drawback is that inmates can look from one unit to another through the windows at the central core area of the ward,” Gulliksen says. “That’s a big deal. You don’t want inmates to see other inmates across the hall with gang affiliations and things like that.”

    To minimize unwanted visibility, the design team applied a reflective film to all the windows facing the wards. Deputies can see out, but inmates cannot see in. Much like the 18th-century Panopticon, the El Paso County jail design keeps inmates from seeing who is watching them.

    Image from Correctional News website

  • Should the iPhone be more open?

    As Jason Devitt says, stopping users installing non-Apple (or Apple-approved) software means that the cost of sending messages goes from (potentially) zero, to $5,000 per megabyte:

    Steve typed "Sounds great. See you there." 28 characters, 28 bytes. Call it 30. What does it cost to transmit 30 bytes?

    * iChat on my Macbook: zero. * iChat running on an iPhone using WiFi: zero. * iChat running on an iPhone using Cingular's GPRS/EDGE data network: 6 hundredths of a penny. * Steve's 'cool new text messaging app' on an iPhone: 15c.

    A nickel and a dime.

    15c for 30 bytes = $0.15 X 1,000,000 / 30 = $5,000 per megabyte.

    "Yes, but it isn't really $5,000," you say. It is if you are Cingular, and you handle a few billion messages like this each quarter.

    ... [I] assumed that I would be able to install iChat myself. Or better still Adium, which supports AIM, MSN, ICQ, and Jabber. But I will not be able to do that because ... it will not be possible to install applications on the iPhone without the approval of Cingular and Apple... But as a consumer, I have a choice. And for now the ability to install any application that I want leaves phones powered by Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux, RIM, and Palm OS with some major advantages over the iPhone.

    Aside from the price discrimination (and business model) issue (see also Control & Networks), one thing that strikes me about a phone with a flat touch screen is simply how much less haptic feedback the user gets.

    I know people who can text competently without looking at the screen, or indeed the phone at all. They rely on the feel of the buttons, the pattern of raised and lowered areas and the sensation as the button is pressed, to know whether or not the character has actually been entered, and which character it was (based on how many times the button is pressed). I would imagine they would be rather slow with the iPhone.

  • Dependence by Dan Lockton

    Karel Donk has some intriguing thoughts on 'maximising the upside' of life, by reducing dependence on other people, status and possessions, so that there is less to lose:

    So one of the important things in life is to be as independent as possible and rely on very few things. After all, when it comes down to it, the only thing you can really and always depend on in life is yourself. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want a lot of things in life. Want and have as much as you like, but require as little as possible. This is the simple rule you can use to guide you in making decisions about what you want to depend on in life.

    Interestingly, he also hits on the 'architectures of control' issue, briefly:

    Today’s world, and indeed for a very very long time now, is structured in such a way where people are directed, if not forced, to become dependent. Dependent on the system, or dependent on others. When you do enough research, you will find that this is all by design. I won’t go into details in this post, but certainly will in the future. For now it’s enough to note that this is by design. The reason why things are set up in this way is of course to be able to control people and limit their freedoms. When people depend on you, you can manipulate them into behaving the way you want. Because they depend on you, they have little choice but to go along with anything you say because they fear losing what they get from you. By definition if someone depends on someone else, or something else, that person has something to lose.

    I'm looking forward to reading Karel's future thoughts on this. Creating dependence, or at least creating a need/desire/requirement to consume more, is a fair characterisation of many architectures of control we've looked at on this site, from printer cartridge sneakiness to outright chemical addiction; whether a simple razor-blade model (you need to buy more of this, because it's the only thing that fits) or something more sinister, Karel is right: the common thread is dependence.

    To a large extent, I think this is why education is so important. If we understand the systems around us, technical, political and cultural, we are able to make (better) decisions for ourselves. If, however, we 'leave it up to others who understand all that stuff', we become dependent on them.

    Shaping behaviour: Part 2 by Dan Lockton

    Dashboard of 1992 Reliant Scimitar SST, on B1098 somewhere near March
    Speedometer, rev counter and fuel and temperature gauges on the dashboard of my 1992 Reliant Scimitar SST. Photo taken on B1098 alongside Sixteen Foot Drain, Isle of Ely, England. In part 1 of 'Shaping behaviour', we took a look at 'sticks and carrots' as approaches for shaping (or changing) people's behaviour. It's especially worth reading and thinking about the comments on that post as there are some very thoughtful analyses which go beyond my rather cursory treatment. 'Shaping behaviour' is a vast field, encompassing pretty much all of politics, advertising and marketing alongside much of religion, education, psychology (and psychiatry?), product and graphic design.

    The 'sticks, carrots and speedometers' classification was originally mentioned to me as a possible method by Chris Vanstone, of the UK Design Council's former research arm, RED. The idea is that you can get people to change their behaviour by persuading (or forcing) them with 'sticks' (punishment/disincentives), 'carrots' (rewards) or 'speedometers' (showing them the results of their actions, how they're doing, or how well they could be doing if they changed their behaviour). Having looked at sticks and carrots - and found the classification rather limiting - let's take a look at speedometers.

    Some gauges provide information which directly relates to a user's actions at that time. An actual speedometer or rev counter allows the user to determine what effect his or her actions are having on a vehicle, and take corrective action if the information displayed is outside the 'correct' range (of course there are other factors, such as the resistance to motion from drag or going uphill, and if one can hear the engine, a rev counter's perhaps not really necessary, but I digress). Other gauges, such as fuel or temperature gauges (see photo at top) show us information over which we can't have so much direct influence (or, in the case of a clock, say, no influence...) but about which we need to take action if certain levels are reached. Certainly, we change our behaviour as a result of taking in the information displayed. Usually. And the speedometer can of course be a metaphor for other methods of feedback or information displays - which I'll get to later on.

    Energy use

    Sticking with physical gauges for the moment, in recent times there's been a lot of design effort put into devices which monitor and display our energy or fuel use, with the hope that they'll persuade us to change our behaviour, or bring to our attention which devices (e.g. in a home) are more power-hungry than others in an immediately persuasive way. The Design Council's Future Currents project, which investigated a range of interesting techniques and design approaches, put the idea well:

    Energy is invisible, which makes it difficult to control. We can give people the tools to monitor their own energy use. Studies show that if people can see what they’re using, they use up to 15% less energy.

    An anecdote in Kalle Lasn's Design Anarchy claims an even larger reduction:

    The manager of a housing co-op was increasingly frustrated with her tenants. No matter how much she reminded and badgered them... the tenants would not, could not reduce their energy consumption. Finally she hit an idea. What would happen, she wondered, if the electricity meters were moved from the basement to a conspicuous spot right beside the front door, so that each time the tenants left or entered their home, they could see how fast their meter was whirring? The meters were moved. Lo and behold, within a few weeks electricity consumption fell 30 percent.

    (It's not clear whether there were individual meters so tenants could see each other's consumption - that kind of "control by embarrassment", or social pressure, may be effective in this free-rider or unequal contribution situation.)

    Wattbox by Gary Lockton, 1992 You make waste visible. From Design Anarchy by Kalle Lasn
    Wattson - image from diykyoto.com Example 'greenness gauge' from Design Council's Future Currents website
    Flower Lamp Power Aware Cord
    Above left: Wattbox by Gary Lockton, Brunel University, 1992, a simple unit which displayed the cost of electricity being used as well as estimated bills; Above right: 'You make waste visible' from Kalle Lasn's Design Anarchy; Centre left: Wattson, from DIYKyoto; Centre right: An example 'greenness gauge' from the Design Council's Future Currents project; Bottom left: Static! Flower Lamp 'blooms' when a household has reduced its power consumption for a period; Bottom right: Static! Power Aware Cord glows with an intensity related to the power being used. First image courtesy of Paul Turnock; other images from the websites linked.

    The convergence of new monitoring and connectivity technologies such as home wireless networks and RFID, with the pressure to scrutinise our environmental impact, has meant that there are more opportunities for potentially persuasive, interesting ways of approaching this area. Tom Coates has some good thoughts on this, and the relation to continuous monitoring of other parts of our (and others') lives, and how fascinating it can be. Wattson (thanks to both Richard Reynolds and Michelle Douglas for originally bringing this to my attention) takes an especially 'designer' approach, becoming a coffee-table talking point as well as showing (in different display modes) the power currently being used, the costs, and, via a coloured glow projected onto the table below, a non-numerical indication of the intensity of power usage. Similarly playful methods are used in some of the Static! projects from Stockholm's Interactive Institute - perhaps, in fact, when the 'event' which occurs as the 'speedometer' registers more desirable values is exciting in itself, the technique is closer to a 'carrot' than a speedometer.

    EU energy label A mess of adaptors
    Left: The Energy Label, required on certain products/packaging in the EU; Right: A typical mess of adaptors powering home electronic equipment. Here we have a scanner, a power drill charger, a printer (plug hidden), a battery charger and a cutting plotter. How easy is it for a consumer to audit the power usage of this kind of mess?

    The related debate over standby buttons on home electrical equipment which I covered briefly in July last year, brought home an important point to me, as someone who's worked on quite a few consumer electronic products powered from adaptors: many users think that if a red LED is on when the product is 'off', that little LED is all that's being powered. That's quite an important issue when it comes to consumers having a better understanding of their home energy use.

    When seeing the Wattson and Future Currents projects for the first time, I was tempted to say "well, why don't people just look at the power ratings on the appliances they buy?" but soon realised that that's a pretty entrenched engineering mindset rearing itself in my mind. People don't want to have to look on a label on the back of the product. They mostly don't think about energy use when buying products. Even the use of 'green' labelling on the front of products (e.g. the EU label shown above) doesn't hit home the actual monetary costs of different devices over typical usage periods. In this sense, monitoring devices which really get the user interested in using products more efficiently do seem to be very much worth it, even when they themselves use more power than strictly 'necessary'.

    (There are a few points I'd like to make about home lighting and 'energy saving' light bulbs, especially since some aspects of the recent blogosphere commentary made me think a little further, but they can wait for another day...)

    Economy gauges

    Economy vacuum gauge MPG meter from Toyota Camry
    Left: A traditional analogue vacuum gauge showing 'fuel economy'. Image from brochure for Reliant Rialto 2, 1984; Right: Toyota's Eco Drive meter from the Camry - image from HybridCars.com. As an aside, I have no idea how 35-40 mpg can be considered 'excellent'! What year is this?

    Moving away from home electricity consumption, the increased prevalence of electronic in-car trip computers, usually built-in, has meant that second-by-second fuel economy read-outs are much more common, and can again inspire a kind of self-challenge to maximise economy while driving. As the miles-per-gallon (or perhaps L/100 km) figure drops (or increases) with every blip on the accelerator or rapid acceleration from the traffic lights, drivers really can train themselves to change their behaviour (indeed, I know a couple of people who are constantly shifting their gaze from the road ahead down to, alternately, the speedometer and the miles per gallon figure, to see "how well they are doing", which is not necessarily ideal). Economy gauges in cars are nothing new - vacuum gauges were quite a popular home-fit accessory at one time, but they generally did not directly relate to the fuel consumption per distance travelled, merely the vacuum in the inlet manifold, hence the amount of fuel-air mixture being drawn through, whether or not the car were moving.

    An alternative type of economy gauge was that once used by Volvo and other manufacturers, which compared the engine's rpm (or the gearbox rpm?) to the gear selected (manual only, I presume) and illuminated a gearstick icon when the driver was in the 'wrong' gear, i.e. driving at less than optimum efficiency. Even more simply, some car companies used to mark the 'gearchange points' on the speedometer with dots at certain speeds - assuming the driver could not tell from the engine note that the gear engaged was too high or low, the dots would at least give some indication, though of course different driving conditions and loads would make the dots' positions guidelines rather than absolutes. (I do have photographs of both these designs, somewhere, but will have to post them at some point in the future.)

    Speedometers and control

    Certainly, then, physical speedometers and gauges can have an effect on users' behaviour and can encourage people to change; technology seems to be making this easier and more interesting and engaging. There are so many opportunities; already in some countries, there are roadside speed displays to make motorists aware of their speed (which present a fun challenge for drivers, or indeed cyclists, wanting to see what they can achieve) - how long before we have roadside CO2 monitoring (with displays)?

    But are any of these 'architectures of control'?

    In the sense that they are methods of persuasion rather than methods of restriction or enforcement, they are on one side of a line with rigid control on the other, but when we look at techniques such as the "control by embarrassment", or social pressure mentioned earlier, we can see that there is some kind of continuum related to how the information displayed by the speedometer (of whatever form) is used: if only you can see your personal energy usage habits within a house, you can make the choice whether or not to change your behaviour, but if the rest of your household can also see your habits, and see that you're costing them unnecessary money, the pressure on you to change is much greater.

    That, I think, is where the 'control' element comes in. Say that every household's yearly carbon emissions (however this were to be calculated) were monitored. If the information were available to the householders, it may give them food for thought, and may inspire changing behaviour. If the information were available to the government, it may lead to taxation, and may lead to changing behaviour. If the information were legally required to be displayed on an illuminated sign outside the house, so neighbours could see who was "getting away with more carbon emissions", it may (perhaps) lead to people changing behaviour too, or risk recriminations from the community, possibly worse than just social embarrassment. This last case is pretty much speedometer + blackmail, and I would say that that crosses the line to become control. If you want to fit in, and not be censured by others, you have to conform. That is an architecture of control, very much so, and hence we can see that speedometers, as with many other possible design elements, can be used as part of systems of control, but are not in themselves necessarily political. It's the way they're used that makes them, possibly, controversial.

    The speedometer metaphor

    Metaphorically, of course, a speedometer can be any method of making users aware of their behaviour, or the link between their behaviour and some other effect. Many of the examples studied and created by Stanford's Captology / Persuasive Technology lab fall into this area, offering users feedback on their actions, or encouraging them to behave in a certain way (e.g. giving up smoking) through highlighting causal relationships.

    But isn't this, to some extent, what all persuasion is about, if we allow our 'speedometer' to have, in some situations, only two values (on/'good' vs off/'bad')? Everything 'persuasive', from advertising campaigns to counselling, is about saying "A is happening/not happening because you're doing/not doing B; it will be better/stop happening if you stop/start doing C." A speedometer is saying "You're doing OK because this is the result of your actions" or "Look at the results of your actions - you need to change what you're doing!"

    Is it true, then to say that any situation where one entity (person/animal/plant) is trying to change the behaviour of another entity is resolved either by control (forcing the change in behaviour) or persuasion (inspiring the change in behaviour), or a combination of the two (e.g. by tricking the entity into changing behaviour)?

    Or is that too simplistic?

    How much are bored eyeballs really worth? by Dan Lockton

    Putfile system requires users to click-through 10 pages of ads We've discussed deliberately splitting up articles to increase page views before - inspired by Jason Kottke - with some very insightful comments, but the technique used by the free file-hosting site Putfile goes way beyond simply inconveniencing the user.

    Most free hosting sites require multiple clicks, or a minute's wait before you can actually download the file you want, but Putfile requires you to click through 10 pages before actually reaching the link to the file (it's not obvious how to hack it: the filenames change each time).

    What makes it rather odd is that the adverts displayed on each of the 10 pages are identical - the same text ads for the same things, in the same order. Am I really more likely to click on one after having looked at multiple instances of it? How positive an incentive is being frustrated?

    (It's possible that the 10 page click-through might be intended to reduce bandwidth use somehow, as if a significant proportion of users will get bored and give up before actually downloading the file. But if users get that bored and antagonistic towards Putfile, they'll be less likely to click on Putfile links in the future, which means less ad views.)

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

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

    Shaping behaviour: Part 1 by Dan Lockton

    A couple of months ago I posted about the 'shaping behaviour' research of RED, part of the UK Design Council. At the time I noted in passing a classification of design approaches for shaping behaviour, mentioned by RED's Chris Vanstone: "stick*, carrot or speedometer." It's worth looking further at this classification and how it relates to the spectrum of control, especially in a technology context: Yes, it's a stick (well, a branch), next to a PCB

    Stick

    If we define 'stick' as 'punishing the user for attempted deviation from prescribed behaviour', then many of the architectures of control we've examined on this site demonstrate the stick approach. They're not explicitly 'technologies of punishment' in Foucault's phrase, but rather a form of structural punishment. The thinking seems to be (for example):

  • If you try to sleep on this bench, you will be uncomfortable (and hence won't do it again)
  • If you try to copy a DVD, your copy will be degraded and your time and blank DVD wasted (and hence you won't do it again, or will buy another authorised original)
  • If you try to view our website using a competitor's browser, your experience will be broken (and hence you'll switch to our browser)
  • If you try to skateboard here, your board will be damaged and you will be maimed (and hence you won't do it again)
  • ...and so on. There are numerous other examples from software and urban planning, especially.

    The thing is, though, for each of those 'sticks', a large percentage of people will not be obedient in the face of the 'punishment'. They'll try to find a way round it: a way of achieving their original objective but avoiding the punishment. They'll search for what others in similar situations have done (e.g. DeCSS in the DVD example) or ask among friends until they find someone with the required expertise or who knows about an alternative. They may even actively destroy the 'stick' that punishes them. In some cases they might not even understand that they're being punished, simply seeing 'the system' as beyond their comprehension or stacked against them.

    Equally, there isn't always a rational strategy behind the 'stick' in the first place. The anti-homeless bench doesn't 'solve' the 'problem of homelessness'. It just punishes those who try to lie down on it without offering an alternative. It's punishment with no attempt at resolving the problem.

    If a stick does get people to change their behaviour in the intended way, it will be accompanied by resentment, anger and dissatisfaction. It may only be fear of the consequences which prevent actual rebellion. In short: using sticks to change people's behaviour is not a good idea.

    Carrots: image from image.frame Image from image.frame

    Carrot

    A 'carrot' means offering users an incentive to change their behaviour. This moves away from actual control to something closer to some aspects of captology - making a persuasive case for behaviour change through demonstrating its benefits rather than punishing those who disobey.

    To some extent, control and incentives may be incompatible. Taking away functionality from users then showing them how they can get it back (usually by paying something) might be a classic combined "carrot and stick" technique, but it's also bordering on a protection racket, and it doesn't fool many people.

    However, can control be used in conjunction with genuine incentives to serve the agendas of both sides? Electric lights that turn off automatically if no-one's in the room take some control away from the user, but also offer benefits to both the user (lower electricity bills) and society as a whole (less energy used). But if they turn off automatically, is there actually any incentive for the user to change his or her behaviour? If we're always spoon-fed, will we ever learn?

    Perhaps mistake-proofing measures or forcing functions which allow a user to increase his or her productivity or safety, in return for giving up some 'control' - which may not be highly valued anyway - fit the definition best. If I'm working in a factory painting coachlines on hand-built bicycles, a steady guide arm that damps my arm vibrations - but only if I also take care as well - takes some control away from me, but also prevents me making mistakes, allowing me to paint more coachlines per hour, more accurately. It also helps my employer.

    But that's a very weak degree of control. Unless anyone can come up with any counter-examples, I would suggest that providing real incentives for users to change their behaviour is fundamentally a very different approach to the 'control mindset' (unless you are trying to trick people by offering false incentives, or by understating what they could lose by changing their behaviour).

    I'll get round to speedometers in a future post, since this approach is worthy of a deeper treatment.

    *The phrase "carrot and stick" seems now universally to imply "offering incentives with one hand and punishment with the other" (though not necessarily at the same time), rather than the "carrot dangling from a stick, just out of reach" meaning (i.e. "motivating people to perform with incentives which will never be fulfilled") which I first assumed it to have when I heard the phrase as a kid (I'm not the only one with this issue). In this post, I'll use "stick" to mean "punishment".