Norms

Thoughts on the 'fun theory' by Dan

The 'Piano Staircase' from Volkswagen's thefuntheory.com

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

Triggers

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).

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

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

Meter in the cupboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs

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

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

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

Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions

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

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

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

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

Disaggregated data dashboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] Kingston University, CHARM Project. 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 'You Are Here' Use-mark by Dan

You are here - Florence, Italy Who really needs a "You Are Here" marker when other visitors' fingers have done the work for you?

(Above, in Florence; below, in San Francisco)

You are here - San Francisco, California

Use-marks, like desire paths, are a kind of emergent behaviour record of previous users' perceptions (and perceived affordances), intentions, behaviours and preferences. (As Google's search history is a database of intentions.)

Indeed, while we'd probably expect the "You Are Here" spot to be worn (so it's not telling us anything especially new) can we perhaps think of use-marks / desire paths as being a physical equivalent of revealed preferences? (Carl Myhill almost makes this point in this great paper [PDF].)

And (I have to ask), to what extent does the presence of wear and use-marks by previous users influence the use decisions and behaviour of new users (social proof)? If you see a well-trodden path, do you follow it? Do you pick a dog-eared library book to read because it is presumably more interesting than the ones that have never been read? What about where you're confused by a new interface on, say, a ticket machine? Can you pick it up more quickly by (consciously or otherwise) observing how others have worn or deformed it through prior use?

Can we design public products / systems / services which intentionally wear to give cues to future users? How (other than "Most read stories today") can we apply this digitally?

Designed environments as learning systems by Dan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Lockton

Stuff that matters: Unpicking the pyramid by Dan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can all that be taught?

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Lockton

Placebo buttons, false affordances and habit-forming by Dan

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

The Straight Dope has quite a detailed answer from 1986:

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

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

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

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

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

Gizmodo, more recently, contends that:

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

Door close button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The detail of everyday interaction by Dan

A kettle Understanding what people really do when they carry out some 'simple' task, as opposed to what designers assume they do, is important. Even something as mundane as boiling a kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee is fraught with variability, slips, mistaken assumptions and so on, and can be studied in some depth to see what's really going on, or could be going on (e.g. this analysis from 1998 by my co-supervisor, Neville Stanton and Chris Baber). Everyday tasks can be complex.

Joe Davis: Telescopic Text

So I was fascinated and very impressed with Telescopic Text from Joe Davis (found via Kate Andrews' eclectically excellent Anamorphosis)

This is very clever stuff - well worth exploring.

Joe Davis: Telescopic Text

Joe Davis: Telescopic Text

As Joe's meta description for the page says, this is "an exploration of scale and levels of detail. How much or little is contained within the tiniest, most ordinary of moments." What scripts are embedded here for the user in this system of kettle, mist, mug, stale biscuits?

The dominating level of detail reminds me a bit of Tom McCarthy's Remainder, a novel almost entirely about interaction between people and environments. Or perhaps some of Atrocity Exhibition/Crash-era Ballard, where interactions between people, objects and spaces are broken down endlessly, obsessively.

Joe Davis: Telescopic Text

Back to kettles for a moment: they're going to feature more heavily on the blog over the next year, in various forms and on many levels. More than almost any other energy-using household product, they're ripe for the 'Design for Sustainable Behaviour' wand to be waved over them, since almost all the wasted energy (and water) is due to user behaviour rather than technical inefficiency. It'll be more interesting than it sounds!

Thoughtful Acts by Dan

Push Table, Jennifer HingAbove & below: 'Push' Table by Jennifer Hing. Push Table, Jennifer Hing

Jane Fulton Suri's wonderful Thoughtless Acts? chronicles, visually, "those intuitive ways we adapt, exploit, and react to things in our environment; things we do without really thinking" - effectively, examples of valid affordances perceived by users, which were not designed intentionally.

Observing how people actually 'make use' of/hack the products, systems and environments around them - emergent user behaviour - and extracting lessons and ideas which can then be applied developing new and improved products, is a cornerstone of IDEO's human factors strategy, and it seems to have been very successful. It's an intelligent way of designing.

So I was excited to see, at New Designers last week, some inspired projects based around exactly this kind of thinking.

Jennifer Hing (Manchester Metropolitan, Three Dimensional Design) has dedicated her work to just this principle (as she puts it, "I design around people's natural behaviour, bending objects around the fine details of living") with a pair of beautifully simple, efficient pieces of furniture, the 'Push' Table and Hallway Stand, both of which intentionally afford users what they'd like to do anyway, at just the right moment:

Clearing the table is a simple task made complicated by the search for an alternative surface to temporarily relocate anything removed. An easy and desirable solution is to push everything off the surface and out the way, yet this movement is contrary to what culture, experience and common sense has taught us.

This table is based around the ‘pushing’ action. The sloped surface gently catches falling items, containing them until next required. It allows the most basic and initial response to clearing the table to take place.

As someone whose filing system consists mostly of using every horizontal surface I can find to deposit strata of tools, books, papers, components, etc, the utility of the Push Table resonates very much. I can even imagine building (adjustable) separators into the sloped section, to allow a primitive physical filing system to emerge (but see also Anna Harris's Ifiltro, discussed below).

Push Table, Jennifer Hing Above: 'Push' Table; Below: Hallway Stand by Jennifer Hing. Hallway Stand, Jennifer HingHallway Stand, Jennifer Hing

The hallway... holds strong routines in preparation for departure, individual to everyone. It can range from busy and hectic to quiet and empty within seconds, it experiences different weights of traffic depending on the time of day and is the instant dumping ground for anything that may arrive through the front door. It is an intense yet brief environment... The Hallway Stand is the amalgamated solution to many of the little actions and issues we have in that particular environment. It provides one collected place for coats, shoes, bags, keys, post and anything else we allow to loiter there. The aim is to simplify and contain this highly functional area.

It's angled so it can be leant against any wall, with the shelf/drawer/oddment tray horizontal, and has an array of peg-type hooks that by the look of it could be used for lots of different things. Again, almost inviting emergent behaviour. Jennifer's personal statement is also, very rarely for a new graduate designer, clear and eloquent about what she wants to do: "I want to make better use of and develop people’s initiative alongside bringing ease and fluidity to everyday actions." I wish her the best of luck: this approach to design really is an open door waiting to be pushed, if only you can find where to push.

My Table, Tiina Hakala Above & below: My Table by Tiina Hakala My Table, Tiina HakalaMy Table, Tiina Hakala

Tiina Hakala's My Table embodies some similar thinking (as does her Stor chair):

This project started as a research how people misuse items, for example how we often sit on tables or hang our clothes on door handles. This ‘unintentional design’ worked as an inspiration for My Table. We often use our desks for something totally different than working... I tried to keep this in mind and find a storing solution for the endless items, lamps, pens, paper folders, etc, we keep on our desks.

My Table offers endless possibilities to customize your workspace. The re-configurable sheet metal parts slide between two tabletops that allow you to move them around and organize them in an order that fits perfectly for you.

Again, this is a clever and neat approach - the variety of parts reminded me of the kinds of add-on bins, brackets and workpiece holders often found around machine tools where experienced machinists have adapted their environment to match their workflow. (Looking in detail at how other people set up their workshops/studios/desktops (in all senses) is endlessly fascinating.) Tiina's system uses a table top with a slot all the way round to hold the tab on the add-on parts, but a system with adjustable clamps (sprung or threaded) could also work very well, if perhaps not as elegantly.

In addition to the utility value, there's also the 'personalisation' benefit, as Tiina (UCCA Rochester, Furniture & Product Design) mentions on her website: arranging these holders, lamps, bins, hooks and so on does allow a workspace to match the user's mental model much more closely, while displaying some personality. (Still, I've held by the "messy desk a sign of a sophisticated mind" philosophy ever since seeing a newspaper article with that title stuck to the underside of another kid's desk lid at the age of 8 or 9.)

ifiltro, Anna Harris Above & below: Ifiltro table by Anna Harris ifiltro, Anna Harris

The Ifiltro table, by Anna Harris, is very clever indeed. As the accompanying cards explained:

Remove items from your pockets - Drop or place the contents onto the Ifiltro table top - Small items such as keys and money will filter through to a drawer below.

I don't know if Anna's thinking was along the same lines as Jennifer and Tiina's, but the design's addressing a very similar area, and it's something that's simple and, fundamentally, elegant.

It reminds me of an example I saw in a (GCSE?) design & technology textbook, where a student's design for a 'machine to sort two different sizes of marbles' (a brief which may conjure up images of sensors, comparators, gates, etc) was simply two diverging steel rails made out of coat hangers, with two trays underneath, so that as they rolled along the rails, smaller marbles dropped into the first tray and larger marbles into the second. We don't see that sort of design thinking often enough - I guess it's a kind of analogue computing (I know I've gone on about it before).

What do all these projects have in common? They're fundamentally about matching the product's affordances to what the user would like to be able to do in a situation, based on observations of users' behaviour and unintended perceived affordances found in artefacts. That's quite a mouthful. We could call it designing for behaviour, maybe. It's design to match behaviour rather than design to cause behaviour (which is most of what I talk about on this site).

But then, the affordance of, say, the sloping section on Jennifer's table, means that a user will perceive it and be more likely (probably) to use it, than sweep stuff onto the floor. So it does 'cause' user behaviour, in a way, as does all design.

I'll come back to this idea, as once we start looking at products with more technological content, it perhaps becomes easier to distinguish the ideas of 'product behaviour', 'user behaviour' and 'overall behaviour' (an idea I'm grateful to Ed Elias for).

So long, and thanks for all the rubbish by Dan

Kiitos . Tack . Thank you It cost nothing to put this (trilingual) thank-you message on this litter bin at Helsinki Airport. But does this kind of message - a very simple injunctive norm - have more effect on user behaviour than the absence of a message? To what extent does it make you more likely to use the bin? To what extent is a message of appreciation affective?

See also [both PDFs] 'Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment', an extremely interesting paper by Robert Cialdini, and 'Persuasive Trash Cans' [EDIT: Thanks to Ian Mason for the non-paywall link] by Eindhoven's Yvonne de Kort, Teddy McCalley and Cees Midden, which reviews this field and then compares the effectiveness of different kinds of messages. This quote is worth noting:

The focus theory of normative conduct... posits that norms affect human behavior systematically and significantly but only in situations where the norm is salient (focal) for the individual. In other words, this theory suggests that individuals may well have internalized an antilittering norm, but without activation through attention-focus procedures, it will not necessarily guide behavior in a prosocial direction.

Motel 6cc by Dan

Dove Cream Shower Motel EditionDove Cream Shower Motel Edition The plastic* of this built-in Dove shower cream bottle I encountered in a Finnish hotel recently was significantly stiffer than the consumer retail version. The idea is that you press the side of the bottle where indicated to dispense some cream, but it didn't deform anywhere near as easily as expected, with the result that the 'portion size' of the product was much smaller than you might dispense if you were at home.

Is this deliberate? The hotel wants to spend less on Dove, so it wants customers to use less of it, and the manufacturer obliges by making a bottle that's more difficult to squeeze? Whereas with the retail version, the manufacturer wants the customer to use as much as possible, as quickly as possible?

Is it a similar (but inverse) tactic to the Lather, Rinse, Repeat effect?

Or am I reading too much into it? Is it just that the bottle is going to have to last longer, with multiple refills, so stiffer plastic's used?

*HDPE, I think

Chute the messenger by Dan Lockton

Rubbish chute
Rubbish chute This is a communal rubbish chute serving a block of flats. The cross-sectional area of the aperture revealed by opening the hatch should be smaller than the cross-sectional area of the chute itself, so there's less chance of rubbish bags getting stuck, even when someone crams one in.

That aperture dimension is important. It (to a large extent) determines the volume of rubbish that can be thrown away in one go. That in turn determines the size of the bins that users of this chute will (probably) have in their houses or flats, and thus how often the bin will have to be emptied. Taking the rubbish out can be a chore; halving the bin size doubles the number of trips to the chute, doubles the inconvenience.

It is, therefore, more desirable not to throw too much away. At the very least, having a smaller bin will make users aware more often of just how much waste they're generating.

But does that have any measurable effect on purchasing decisions in the first place, assuming that more minimally packaged products are available as an alternative to those with excess packaging? How strongly coupled are the (limited) affordance of a smaller bin, and, at a couple of removes, in-store decisions? Is that rubbish bin, or indeed the chute aperture itself a social actor, a messenger, capable of persuading people to change their behaviour purely by existing with one set of dimensions rather than another?

Effectively, do people with smaller rubbish bins in their houses consciously buy items with less packaging?

Where else is this modified affordance -> inconvenience -> behaviour change pattern used as a strategy? As with making parking spaces deliberately smaller to make owning a large vehicle less convenient, the strategy may have some potential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design principles

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

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

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

Image from Headphonaught's Flickr stream

Elevator (lift) numerals positioned to avoid eye contact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design should:

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

    Security door propped open

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

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

    Natural surveillance

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Territoriality

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

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

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

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

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

    Addition of archway to discourage use as through-route

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

  • Building community

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

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

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

    Strengthening targets

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

  • Placing deadbolts lower on door frames

    (presumably to make kicking them open more difficult)

  • Having doors in vulnerable locations swing outward

  • Raising fire escapes to put them out of easy reach

  • Reducing the size of letter-box openings

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

  • Prickly shrubs placed outside of windows can also deter crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

    He again later returns to this point:

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

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

    Other aspects

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

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

    ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More specific examples

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

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

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

    (See also discussion here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Summary

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

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

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

    Tower A, Brunel University

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

    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!
  • In default, defiance by Dan Lockton

    'Choice of default' is a theme which has come up a few times on the blog: in general, many people accept the options/settings presented to them, and do not question or attempt to alter them. The possibilities for controlling or shaping users' behaviour in this way are, clearly, enormous; two interesting examples have recently been brought to my attention (thanks to Chris Weightman and Patrick Kalaher): Send to FedEx Kinko's button in Adobe Reader

    Recent versions of Adobe's PDF creation and viewing software, Acrobat Professional and Adobe Reader (screenshot above) have 'featured' a button on the toolbar (and a link in the File menu) entitled "Send to FedEx Kinko's" which upload the document to FedEx Kinko's online printing service. As Gavin Clarke reports in The Register, this choice of default (the result of a tie-in between Adobe and FedEx) has irritated other printing companies and trade bodies sufficiently for Adobe to agree to remove the element from the software:

    Adobe Systems has scrapped the "send to FedEx Kinkos" print button in iAdobe Reader and Acrobat Professional, in the face of overwhelming opposition from America's printing companies.

    Adobe said today it would release an update to its software in 10 weeks that will remove the ability to send PDFs to FedEx Kinkos for printing at the touch of a button.

    ...

    No doubt the idea of linking to a service that's often the only choice presented to consumers in the track towns of Silicon Valley made eminent sense to Adobe, itself based in San Jose, California. But the company quickly incurred the wrath of printers outside the Valley for including a button to their biggest competitor, in software used widely by the design and print industry.

    I wonder how many users of Acrobat/Reader actually used the service? Did its inclusion change any users' printing habits (i.e. they stopped using their current printer and used Kinko's instead)? And was this due to pure convenience/laziness? Presumably Kinko's could identify which of their customers originated from clicking the button - were they charged exactly the same as any other customer, or was this an opportunity for price discrimination?

    As some of the comments - both on the Register story and on Adobe's John Loiacono's blog - have noted, the idea of a built-in facility to send documents to an external printing service is not bad in itself, but allowing the user to configure this, or allowing printing companies to offer their own one-click buttons to users, would be much more desirable from a user's point of view.

    In a sense, 'choice of default' could be the other side of process friction as a design strategy. By making some options deliberately easier - much easier - than the alternatives (which might actually be more beneficial to the user), the other options appear harder in comparison, which is effectively the same as making some options or methods harder in the first place. The new-PCs-pre-installed-with-Windows example is probably the most obvious modern instance of choice of default having a major effect on consumer behaviour, as an anonymous commenter noted here last year:

    Ultimately, though, you can sum up the free-software tug-of-war political control this way: it’s easiest to get a Windows computer and use it as such. Next easiest to get a MacOS one and use it as such. Commercial interests and anti-free software political agenda. Next easiest is a Linux computer, where the large barrier of having to install and configure an operating system yourself must be leapt. Also, it’s likely you don’t actually save any money upfront, because you probably end up buying a Windows box and wiping it to install Linux. Microsoft exacts their tax even if you won’t use the copy of Windows you’re supposedly paying them for.

    Starbucks Mug; photo by Veryfotos
    Photo by veryfotos.

    Sometimes 'choice of default' can mean actually hiding the options which it's undesirable for customers to choose:

    Here's a little secret that Starbucks doesn't want you to know: They will serve you a better, stronger cappuccino if you want one, and they will charge you less for it. Ask for it in any Starbucks and the barista will comply without batting an eye. The puzzle is to work out why. The drink in question is the elusive "short cappuccino"—at 8 ounces, a third smaller than the smallest size on the official menu, the "tall," and dwarfed by what Starbucks calls the "customer-preferred" size, the "Venti," which weighs in at 20 ounces and more than 200 calories before you add the sugar.

    The short cappuccino has the same amount of espresso as the 12-ounce tall, meaning a bolder coffee taste, and also a better one. The World Barista Championship rules, for example, define a traditional cappuccino as a "five- to six-ounce beverage." This is also the size of cappuccino served by many continental cafés. Within reason, the shorter the cappuccino, the better.

    ...

    This secret cappuccino is cheaper, too—at my local Starbucks, $2.35 instead of $2.65. But why does this cheaper, better drink—along with its sisters, the short latte and the short coffee—languish unadvertised? The official line from Starbucks is that there is no room on the menu board, although this doesn't explain why the short cappuccino is also unmentioned on the comprehensive Starbucks Web site, nor why the baristas will serve you in a whisper rather than the usual practice of singing your order to the heavens.

    The rest of this Slate article* from 2006, by Tim Harford, advances the idea that this kind of tactic is designed specifically to allow price discrimination:

    This is the Starbucks way of sidestepping a painful dilemma over how high to set prices. Price too low and the margins disappear; too high and the customers do. Any business that is able to charge one price to price-sensitive customers and a higher price to the rest will avoid some of that awkward trade-off... Offer the cheaper product but make sure that it is available only to those customers who face the uncertainty and embarrassment of having to request it specifically.

    Initially, one might think it a bit odd that the lower-priced item has survived at all as an option, given that it can only be a very small percentage of customers who are 'in the know' about it. But unlike a shop or company carrying a 'secret product line', which requires storage and so on, the short cappuccino can be made without needing any different ingredients, so it presumably makes sense to contnue offering it.

    Thinking about other similarly hidden options (especially 'delete' options when buying equipment) reveals how common this sort of practice has become. I'm forever unticking (extra-cost) options for insurance or faster delivery when ordering products online; even when in-store, the practice of staff presenting extended warranties and insurance as if they're the default choice on new products is extremely widespread.

    Perhaps a post would be in order rounding up ways to save money (or get a better product) by requesting hidden options, or requesting the deletion of unnecessary options - please feel free to leave any tips or examples in the comments. Remember, all progress depends on the unreasonable man (or woman).

    *There is another tactic raised in the article, pertinent to our recent look at casino carpets, which I will get around to examining further in due course.

    The Terminal Bench by Dan Lockton

    Heathrow: Skyport for the Seventies
    Mags L Halliday - author of the Doctor Who novel History 101 - let me know about an 'interesting' design tactic being used at Heathrow's Terminal 5. From the Guardian, by Julia Finch:

    Flying from the new Heathrow Terminal 5 and facing a lengthy delay? No worries. Take a seat and enjoy the spectacular views through the glass walls: Windsor castle in one direction; the Wembley Arch, the London Eye and the Gherkin visible on the horizon in the other.

    But you had better be quick, because the vast Richard Rogers-designed terminal, due to open at 4am on March 27 next year, has only 700 seats. That's much less than two jumbo loads, in an airport designed to handle up to 30 million passengers a year.

    There will be more chairs available but they will be inside cafes, bars and restaurants. Taking the weight off your feet will cost at least a cup of coffee.

    I suppose we should have expected this. If they weren't actually going to remove the seats, they'd have used uncomfortable benches instead. In itself, it's maybe not quite as manipulative as the café deliberately creating worry to get customers to vacate their seats that we looked at a few days ago, but as Frankie Roberto commented, "airports seem to be a fairly unique environment, and one that must be full of architectures of control."

    Heathrow: Skyport for the Seventies

    Nevertheless, aside from the more obvious control elements of airport architecture - from baggage trolley width restrictors to the blind enforcement of arbitrary regulations, the retailers themselves are keen to make the most of this unique environment and the combination of excitement, stress, tiredness, and above all, confinement, which the passengers are undergoing:

    The new terminal may have been heralded as a "cathedral to flight", but with 23,225 sq metres (250,000 sq ft) of retail space, the equivalent of six typical Asda stores, it is actually going to be a temple to retail. Heathrow may be packed with shops, but when the £4.2bn Terminal 5 opens the airport's total shopping space will increase by 50% overnight.

    ...

    After security, two banks of double escalators will transport potential shoppers into a 2,787 sq metre (30,000 sq foot) World Duty Free store... Mark Riches, managing director of WDF, believes his new superstore has the best possible site to part passengers from their cash: "About 70% of passengers will come down those escalators", he said, "and we will be ready".

    He recognises he has a captive audience: "If we can't sell to people who can't leave the building, then there's something wrong with us".

    Mr Riches, a former Marks & Spencer executive, is planning "to put the glamour back into airport retailing" with plans for gleaming cosmetics counters and a central area reserved for beauty services such as manicures.

    "We are moving away from just selling stuff to providing services. This should be real theatre," he said.

    He is also planning what he calls "contentainment" - the music will change according to where you are in the shop and a 14-metre-long "crystal curtain" "bigger than a double decker bus and thinner than a calculator" will show videos, advertising and sports events.

    Heathrow: Skyport for the Seventies

    Everything about this story - from the location itself out on the bleak badlands between the M25 and A30, to the way the customers are coerced, channelled, mass-entertained and exploited, to the odd hyperbolic glee of Mr Riches' visions for his mini-empire - seems to scream J G Ballard. If Kingdom Come hadn't riffed off the Bentall Centre, it could surely have been about a Terminal 5.

    Back to the practical aspects: the deliberate removal of public seating to force passengers to patronise restaurants and cafés is in no way isolated to Heathrow. In a coming post - also suggested by Mags - we'll look at First Great Western's policy of doing this in some of its railway stations, with none of the glitz of Terminal 5 but all of the cold-eyed distaste for the customer.

    Heathrow: Skyport for the Seventies

    Images from a leaflet published by the British Airports Authority, 1970.

    Bad profits by Dan Lockton

    Image from Sevenblock (Flickr)
    Image from Sevenblock (Flickr)
    The Gillette Sensor Excel not only comes with a dummy blade, it also only comes with two out of five possible blade slots filled. Images from Sevenblock on Flickr. The razor-blade model in general is something of an old chestnut as far as architectures of control go, and we've covered it in a number of different contexts on this site over the past couple of years. But it's always interesting to see it in action with razors themselves, especially if the strategy has become even less consumer-friendly. Via the This Is Broken pool on Flickr, in which 'Sevenblock' talks about Gillette's use of a dummy blade and dummy slots on the Sensor Excel packaging, I learned of Fred Reichheld's concept of 'bad profits':

    ...there is something disappointing with the set-up of buying a new razor. This razor reminded me of Fred Reichheld.

    The blade which arrives pre-attached to the razor is fake. Is it dangerous to use a real one? Perhaps.

    No, it is a set-up to dupe customers into grabbing a new razor and heading to the mirror only to realize that they are holding a plastic faux blade. Then, turn over the packaging, and two razors are held in a spot for five. Another subtle sigh from the customer.

    Why not surprise the customer in the other direction? "Wow, five blades! For less than 20 dollars." Because that's what happens when you go to refill. BJs and Costco have good deals on bulk blades.

    Reichheld's idea is, effectively, that a company's strategies can centre on creating 'good profits' or 'bad profits':

    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?

    The full article is well worth a read, as, I expect, Reichheld's book The Ultimate Question is too (though one reviewer on Amazon also offers some succinctly persuasive criticism).

    The basic concept, that the 'ultimate question' of whether or not a customer would recommend a company is the key to growth is a good way of articulating, from a business perspective, the message of consumer advocacy that so many from Ralph Nader and Vance Packard to Consumerist and Seth Godin have promulgated over the years, though of course the 'Why?' and 'Why not?' are crucial. But Reichheld's simple identification of 'good profit' and 'bad profit' seems to be a very clever way of looking at the issue: the 'good' and 'bad' labels refer to the effect on the company itself as well as on the customer, since a company reliant on bad profits will, one would assume, ultimately, lose its customer base (unless there are no alternatives - Brand Autopsy has an interesting piece on this in relation to car rental firms).

    Most commercially driven architectures of control, then (as opposed to politically driven ones) would seem to be designed to extract value from customers (unwilling or ignorant), and thus might be described as bad profit-seeking, by Reichheld's definition. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow on DRM, it's unlikely that any customers wake up and say, "Damn, I wish there was a way to have my actions deliberately constrained for commercial gain by the products and services I use." Hence, it's unlikely that customers will evangelise or even recommend products and systems which give them a lousy experience. They may accept them grudgingly, as most of us do with many commercial (and political) interactions every day, but once a 'good profit' alternative becomes available and widely known about, they won't hesitate to switch. I hope.

    Maybe 'good profits' and 'bad profits' are too simplistic as terminologies, much like Jakob Nielsen's 'Evil design' comments, but even a continuum between 'good' and 'bad' profit intentions is a useful way of thinking about the merits or otherwise of corporate strategies, particularly with customer service, products, pricing, rent-seeking, gouging, lock-in and so on.

    Portioning blame by Dan Lockton

    McDonald's: Image from Flickr user DRB62
    McDonald's, Toledo, Ohio, 1967. Image from DRB62 on Flickr. We've looked previously at the effect of portion/packaging sizes as a 'choice of default' architecture of control, and I'm aware that I have not yet reviewed Dr Brian Wansink's excellent Mindless Eating, which examines this and other psychological aspects of the way we eat. I will do this in due course.

    In the meantime, though, here's an interesting account of the invention (probably one instance of many) of super-sizing as a specific technique for increasing consumption, from Michael Pollan's fascinating The Omnivore's Dilemma:

    ...The soda makers don't deserve credit for the invention of super-sizing. That distinction belongs to a man named David Wallerstein...[who] in the fifties and sixties ...w orked for a chain of movie theaters in Texas, where he labored to expand sales of soda and popcorn - the high mark-up items that theaters depend on for their profitability. As the story is told in John Love's official history of McDonald's, Wallerstein tried everything he could think of to goose up sales - two-for-one deals, matinee specials - but found he simply could not induce customers to buy more than one soda and one bag of popcorn. He thought he knew why: Going for seconds makes people feel piggish.

    Wallerstein discovered that people would spring for more popcorn and soda - a lot more - as long as it came in a single gigantic serving. Thus was born the two-quart bucket of popcorn, the sixty-four ounce Big Gulp, and, in time, the Big Mac and the jumbo fries, though Ray Kroc himself took some convincing. In 1968, Wallerstein went to work for McDonald's, but, try as he might, he couldn't convince Kroc, the company's founder, of supersizing's magic powers.

    "If people want more fries," Kroc told him, "they can buy two bags." Wallerstein patiently explained that McDonald's customers did want more but were reluctant to buy a second bag. "They don't want to look like gluttons."

    Kroc remained skeptical, so Wallerstein went looking for proof. He began staking out McDonald's outlets in and around Chicago, observing how people ate. He saw customers noisily draining their sodas, and digging infinitesimal bits of salt and burnt spud out of their little bags of French fries. After Wallerstein presented his findings, Kroc relented, approved supersized portions, and the dramatic spike in sales confirmed the marketer's hunch... One might think that people would stop eating and drinking these gargantuan portions as soon as they felt full, but it turns out hunger doesn't work that way. Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise.

    As I say, we'll come back to this and similar issues in due course, but I think it's worth bearing in mind the implications of the unit bias phenomenon within design generally. Where else does it apply?

    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.

    Friday quote: Precedents (the flipside) by Dan Lockton

    'The Briton' door closer.
    As a flipside, perhaps, to the quote on precedents from a couple of weeks ago:

    If there is something really cool, and you can't understand why somebody hasn't done it before, it's because you haven't done it yourself.

    (From Lion Kimbro's fascinating How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think.)

    The way I interpret that is that every previous person who has come up with the idea has been dissuaded by the same thought, viz. 'Why hasn't anyone done that before?' and thus this is the problem.

    When you come up with an idea, whether as a designer, engineer, scientist, thinker, writer, programmer, educator, anything, two of the biggest objections you'll face are:

    a) I bet that's not original. Therefore, it's no good. b) Why hasn't anyone done that before? It can't be any good.

    But in an abstract sense, we shouldn't be put off by the existence or non-existence of precedents. It can be useful to learn from others' success (and failures), of course, but independent thought and development (even if unknowingly following others' work) so often seem to be at the heart of genuine progress.

    Image: 'The Briton' door closer, from an era when it was considered worth branding and having pride in the design of a product such as this.

    Useful terminat-ology by Dan Lockton

    Image from www.blackflag.com
    Image from Black Flag website. Sometimes there's very useful terminology in one field, or culture, which allows clearer or more succinct explanation of concepts in another. In the UK we don't have Roach Motels. There are doubtless similar products, but they don't have such a snappy name, or one which can be repurposed so easily.

    Reading about DRM, file format incompatability and lock-in, I'd come across the term a number of times without necessarily thinking through exactly what it meant when used in this way, not being familiar with the actual product. "You can check data in but you can't check it out" (possibly in conjunction with some kind of superficially attractive bait) is a good explanation, derived from the actual slogan used on the front of the box. I'm assuming (possibly wrongly) that 'roach motel' isn't especially familiar to most UK readers - do we have an equivalently neat alternative term? Are there equivalents in other languages?