Retail

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!
  • Detailing and retailing by Dan Lockton

    HMS Furious
    The dazzle painting of HMS Furious, c. 1918. Image from A Gallery of Dazzle-Painted Ships A couple of weeks ago we looked at casino carpet design - a field where busy, garish graphic design is deliberately employed to repel viewers, and direct their attention somewhere else. Ben Hyde commented that deliberately unattractive "background music, lighting, seating, and color schemes in large malls" may be used to drive shoppers into the quieter surroundings of the actual stores, which certainly rings true in some cases I can think of.

    On another level, though, A comment by Kenshi drew my attention to the dazzle camouflage used in the First World War, which is quite startling, in a brilliantly bold way. Roy R Behrens' book, False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage, from the website of which I've borrowed these images, looks extremely interesting, and I will certainly be ordering a copy when I have the budget.

    Developed in Britain by Norman Wilkinson and in the US by Everett Warner and Frederic Waugh, the dazzle techniques were intended to make "a single thing appear to be a hodgepodge of unrelated components," as Behrens puts it in this fascinating article. The aim was that such visual disruption would cause confusion and make it difficult for the enemy to identify what kind of ship - and what size - it was from a distance, with the use of 'reversed perspective' in the patterning a part of this. The ship's course - and angle to the viewer - would also be problematic to identify, with colouring including bright whites, blues and sea-green alongside black, darker blue and grey selectively helping parts of the ship to blend into the seascape, and other parts very much stand out.

    Breaking the enemy's ability to distinguish elements of the ship properly, and generally to cause distraction and make it difficult to concentrate on observation for protracted periods, were all part of this plan; painting ships with different dazzle patterning on each side made identification even harder.

    Despite being likened to Cubism disdainfully by some contemporary journalists, the processes used for designing the camouflage were developed both analytically and empirically, and extensively tested before being applied to the real vessels. Nevertheless, there are certainly elements in common between dazzle techniques and parts of Picasso's and others' work; Behrens has written further on the interactions between Cubism, Gestalt theory and camouflage (both in nature and man-made).

    From A Gallery of Dazzle-Painted ShipsFrom A Gallery of Dazzle-Painted Ships
    Left: The Mauritania in dazzle paint camouflage. Right: Those blue and white stripes are familiar to UK shoppers today. Images from A Gallery of Dazzle-Painted Ships

    Intriguingly, the right-hand image above, with the bold blue and white stripes, has something in common with an everyday livery familiar to tens of millions of British shoppers: the iconic Tesco Value branding (below), at least in its original form. I'm not suggesting an actual link, but as we will see, there is something in common in the intentions behind these disparate methods of influencing viewer behaviour.

    Image from Plap man
    Tesco Value Beans. Image from Plap man on Flickr.

    The same Tim Harford article quoted in my recent post about defaults suggests that the "infamously ugly" Tesco Value packaging is intended as a tool to facilitate price discrimination:

    The difficulty is that if some of your products are cheap, you may lose money from customers who would willingly have paid more. So, businesses try to discourage their more lavish customers from trading down by making their cheap products look or sound unattractive, or, in the case of Starbucks, making the cheap product invisible. The British supermarket Tesco has a "value" line of products with infamously ugly packaging, not because good designers are unavailable but because the supermarket wants to scare away customers [from the Value products] who would willingly spend more [on other brands, or Tesco's 'normal' private label products].

    Whereas the dazzle camouflage was intended to confuse and disconcert the viewer, the thinking behind the Tesco Value graphics (I would love to know who designed the original style) thus appears to be to disconcert or repel certain viewers (customers) so that they pick a higher-priced alternative (usually on the shelf just above the Value items - Tesco's planograms have thinking behind them), while allowing immediate segmentation - those customers looking for the cheapest products possible find the Value products easily.

    There can't be many retail situations where pretty much the same products can be sold successfully at two different prices on the same shelving unit just because of differing packaging graphics, but it seems to work for Tesco, in the process creating a significant meme.

    Image from B3ta threadImage from Boakes
    Left: a 'Tesco Value' tattoo, from this B3ta thread There have been many others. Right: Rich Boakes' 'Tesco Value' greetings cards have been widely imitated, and could even have inspired this effort from Asda.

    Updates to the Tesco Value branding in recent years have reduced the intensity of the blue stripes and brought the style closer to other supermarkets' 'value' brands, which all tend to be similarly sparse (e.g. Sainsbury's Basics, below), but the Tesco style is still the most distinctive.

    Adequate biscuits

    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.

    Pier pressure by Dan Lockton

      Palace Pier, Brighton
    Palace Pier, BrightonPalace Pier, Brighton

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

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

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

    Cleaning up with carpets by Dan Lockton

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Implications of this kind of thinking

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

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

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

    Does anyone have any real examples of this?

    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.

    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?

    Objects in mirror are wider than they appear by Dan Lockton

    Robert Kilroy-Silk, mirrored This is an interesting story. Robert Kilroy-Silk (above) currently an independent MEP, has raised the issue in the European Parliament of intentionally distorting mirrors in clothes stores, specifically Marks & Spencer:

    Marks and Spencer has said it is mystified by a claim by MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk that it uses "distorting" mirrors in its changing rooms.

    Mr Kilroy-Silk has accused the store of misleading women with mirrors that make them look slimmer in its clothes.

    He made the allegation in a written question in the European Parliament.

    An M&S spokesman said: "Our mirrors are perfectly normal, standard mirrors. We are at a loss as to what he might be referring to."

    In his question, Mr Kilroy-Silk asked if it was "conceivable that within the millions of EU regulations covering virtually every aspect of life in the EU" there was not one that made it illegal for M&S to have mirrors that "deliberately distort women's shapes".

    Now, whatever you might think of Kilroy, and M&S's denial, it's surely not that unlikely that intentionally distorting mirrors have been, and probably are, used in some shops, and maybe some homes too. (As the distorting M&S mirrors are apparently in the Windsor and Maidenhead stores, which are pretty local to me, I should probably go and check.) Do cosmetic surgery clinics ever have a different set of mirrors on the way in to those on the way out?

    If, when designing a retail environment, you could a) increase sales and b) make customers feel better about themselves by using a 'slimming' mirror, why wouldn't you? How ethical is this? It's an underhand method of persuasion rather than physical control, but it could make a significant difference to sales, in the process making shoppers feel more positive, even if ultimately it's deceitful. Hewlett-Packard already produces digital cameras with a 'slimming' mode. If it helps you modify your self-image, and you like that, then I'm not sure it's unethical per se. It's just part of the great embedded architecture of delusion that fuels modern consumerism. Vanity sizing - another method of persuasion in clothes retailing - is an additional aspect of this.

    Mirrors are a useful persuasion and control tool for retail designers anyway, whether distorting or not. People stop or slow down when they encounter them. Sometimes it's vanity; sometimes it's simply useful for people to see how they look. As Paco Underhill says in the excellent Why We Buy:

    Stand and watch what happens at any reflective surface - we preen like chimps, men and women alike... Mirrors slow shoppers in their tracks, a very good idea for whatever merchandise happens to be in the vicinity.

    And, of course, Lawrence Lessig actually mentions the use of mirrors in an 'architecture of control' example, in the chapter 'What things regulate' of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace:

    A large hotel in an American city received many complaints about the slowness of its elevators. It installed mirrors next to the elevator doors. The complaints ended.

    What other uses of mirrors, or vanity devices/techniques in general, can be designed into environments to affect consumer behaviour?

    Packet switching by Dan Lockton

    Sainsbury's Basics Nice biscuits, well, adequate anyway Both Dr Tom Stafford (co-author of the fantastic Mind Hacks book & blog) and Gregor Hochmuth (creator of FlickrStorm, an improved Flickr search system) have been in touch suggesting packaging/portion sizes as a significant everyday architecture of control, (or at least an aspect of design which has a major impact on consumers' behaviour, and can be used to change it), and pointing to articles on the work of Professor Brian Wansink, of Cornell University's Food & Brand Lab.

    From the New York Times:

    Dr. Wansink... probably knows more about why we put things in our mouths than anybody else. His experiments examine the cues that make us eat the way we do. The size of an ice cream scoop, the way something is packaged and whom we sit next to all influence how much we eat. His research doesn’t pave a clear path out of the obesity epidemic, but it does show the significant effect one’s eating environment has on slow and steady weight gain.

    In an eight-seat lab designed to look like a cozy kitchen, Dr. Wansink offers free lunches in exchange for hard data... His research on how package size accelerates consumption led, in a roundabout way, to the popular 100-calorie bags of versions of Wheat Thins and Oreos, which are promoted for weight management. Although food companies have long used packaging and marketing techniques to get people to buy more food, Dr. Wansink predicts companies will increasingly use some of his research to help people eat less or eat better, even if it means not selling as much food. He reasons that companies will make up the difference by charging more for new packaging that might slow down consumption or that put seemingly healthful twists on existing brands. And they get to wear a halo for appearing to do their part to prevent obesity.

    This bit is especially interesting to me (as an improvised-gadget kind of guy):

    Dr. Wansink is particularly proud of his bottomless soup bowl, which he and some undergraduates devised with insulated tubing, plastic dinnerware and a pot of hot tomato soup rigged to keep the bowl about half full. The idea was to test which would make people stop eating: visual cues, or a feeling of fullness. People using normal soup bowls ate about nine ounces. The typical bottomless soup bowl diner ate 15 ounces. Some of those ate more than a quart, and didn’t stop until the 20-minute experiment was over.

    More on that here, though sadly no pictures.

    The British Psychological Society's Digest, mentioning Wansink's work, focuses further on the 'visual cues' aspect: it appears that even when the serving is larger than normal in plain sight (as opposed to a deceptive bowl), the size of the portion still does not cause people to stop when they think they've had enough rather than when the bowl or plate 'tells them' they're finished:

    In four field studies, the researchers measured the amount eaten by 379 participants, half of whom were served with a particularly large bowl or plate of food. The participants given the extra-large servings ate an average of 31 per cent more food than the control participants. But crucially, just 8 per cent of them said afterwards that they thought they’d eaten any more than they would usually do. When told they’d been given an extra-large portion, 21 per cent continued to deny they’d eaten any more than usual, and of those who accepted they had eaten more than usual, only 4 per cent attributed this to the large plate or bowl their food had come in, with most others saying they’d eaten so much because they were hungry.

    “This hesitancy to acknowledge one being influenced by an external cue is common and has even been found when people are presented with tangible evidence of their bias”, the researchers said... “Altering one’s immediate environment to make it less conducive to overeating can help us lose weight in a way that does not necessitate the discipline of dieting or the governance of another person”.

    Of course, there are some other aspects to consider. There is certainly a tendency to eat what's put in front of you because it's perceived as bad manners not to, and there's the extra tendency to try to 'please' the person running the experiment, but both of those assume that the participant realises there is more food than he or she would normally eat. Yet the above findings suggest that people genuinely don't know how much they've eaten (relative to a 'normal' serving).

    Morrisons Peaches and Sainsbury's Mango Puree

    Implications for designers

    The simplistic implication is that people will eat what they're given. If you make the packet size 20% larger, people will (probably) eat 20% more in one sitting. If Burtons made Wagon Wheels a little smaller each year (that's a UK reference, but I'm sure there are equally well-known versions of the idea worldwide), it will take a while before anyone notices that the portion is smaller.

    But there are clearly limits to this, or at least a point where the consumer consciously thinks either "hang on, I'd better not eat all that in one go," or "that wasn't enough - I'll have another one." We all know this experience. Looking at the photo above, I'd happily eat two of those little tins of peaches in one go, but I've never got round to opening that big tin of mango purée as I can't see that I'd eat it all in one go (if I were with someone else, I might share it).

    Between those upper and lower bounds, though (which of course will differ from culture to culture, and person to person), there must be a size range within which changes are either not noticed by the consumer, or not cared about enough to cause any change in behaviour:

    Number of portions required to feel full versus portion size
    I've no real evidence for this, of course, other than my own perceptions and a general inspiration by the Wansink quotes above, but the central section of the graph, at least, seems fairly clear. For smaller and larger portions, the amount a consumer would eat at a sitting (to feel 'full') could either also be constant (over another interval) or have some proportionality to size, depending on the context. For example, if the package/portions in question were something easily re-sealable, or easy to store, a consumer might eat from it proportionally to size, perhaps opening it again at different times, but if the package pretty much has to be eaten all in one go, or shared, to avoid spoilage, then the relationship might be a constant.

    So, if this model holds, a packaging/portion size reduction from the upper bound of the central interval to the lower bound may actually not affect the consumer's behaviour. If he or she is used to eating the whole packet in one go, he or she will still eat the whole packet in one go, and still feel 'full' to the same extent. Thus, reducing packaging/portion sizes within a certain range (the most common sizes, probably) is a sensible way of gradually, subtly, reducing people's food intake (equally, raising them within the range would have the opposite effect, again without consumers noticing so much).

    This is not too dissimilar from the phenomenon of unit bias, of course - "Consumption norms promote both the tendency to complete eating a unit and the idea that a single unit is the proper portion", but it's important to remember the 'within a certain range' qualification. A tiny bowl of soup, despite being a 'unit', will not fool anyone.

    One question which does arise from thinking about packaging and portion sizes is to what extent established sizes (weights, volumes) have affected consumers' habits. Is it coincidence that, say, a typical bag of crisps (potato chips) in the UK used to be 1 oz (around 28g), and that that's about the portion that most people ate in one go? In the last ten years though, cheaper brands have reduced to 25g or less, and premium brands escalated up to 38g or 45g - and yet still people eat one packet at a time, even when it may be almost double the weight of another. When the default size of spirit measures in pubs has gradually risen from 25 ml (down from 1 fl oz previously?) up to 35 ml or even doubles (50 ml) unless the customer specifies otherwise, this must have an effect on consumers' behaviour. Most people do not spend double the time drinking a 50 ml measure that they do a 25 ml measure. They drink it in perhaps a few seconds longer, yet have imbibed double the amount of alcohol. (Equally, the shape of glasses affects perceptions of liquid quantity - more of Prof Wansink's research.)

    Hence, this choice of default can have a major effect on behaviour, and is surely a powerful control technique in itself, as an anonymous commenter on a previous post explained very well.

    McVitie's Digestives forcing function McVitie's Digestives forcing function

    We've looked in some detail before at packaging designed to increase consumption of the product, such as (perhaps) the McVitie's packet shown above, where in practice the first five biscuits will often be eaten by the person who opens the packet, since the tear-strip is positioned so far down. Odd sized portions were a significant point of comment here - dishwasher & washing machine tablets, increase in standard wine glass sizes, Actimel bottles and large yoghourt pots were all mentioned as being in this category.

    To some extent, then, the sizing of packaging and portions ought to be considered a forcing function alongside more obvious physical behaviour-shaping constraints. It could, in fact, be a very important way of promoting (forcing?) healthier eating.

    (Incidentally, there's a fascinating discussion here between Prof. Wansink and Berkeley's Prof. Seth Roberts on 'cool data', i.e. designing and planning experiments and studies to attract maximum attention and interest whilst still being scientifically worthwhile. Wansink seems to have mastered that without descending into pseudoscience.)

    (P.S. My apologies to both Tom and Gregor for the delay in posting about this)

    Coercive atmospherics reach the bus shelter by Dan Lockton

    Milk & cookies
    Jonathan Zittrain discusses scented advertising in bus shelters: the California Milk Processor Board recently tried a campaign with chocolate-chip cookie-scented "aromatic strips", intended to provoke a thirst for milk, in San Francisco before having to remove them after allergy/chemical sensitivity concerns.

    The use of scent (fresh bread, coffee, 'new car smell' etc) as a persuasion method is nothing new in supermarkets and other retail environments - as part of coercive atmospherics, Douglas Rushkoff and Martin Howard both have interesting treatments of various approaches and results - but the balance does begin to shift when the application is so public. I would suspect a lot of the opposition in San Francisco was really more about the inescapable incursion of the commercial message into a public environment than the allergy concerns; as Jonathan puts it:

    Unlike the use of even large billboards, there’s no easy way to avert your nose the way you can avert your eyes, making the advertising much more invasive.

    Nevertheless, I'm not sure that a less obviously "invasive" olefactory campaign would necessarily meet too much opposition if handled correctly. Imagine an air freshener manufacturer sponsoring a clean-up of a city's dirtiest/stinkiest bus shelters. Provided it were not overpowering, and not too sickening, would a fragranced bus shelter without a coercive angle be seen as invasive?

    Or, to run closer to the milk-and-cookies example, what if, say, Nestlé were to fragrance bus shelters with chocolate milkshake scent in order to promote Nesquik? It doesn't have the same 'sneaky' aspect, though I suspect it would still be pretty irritating.

    A couple of stories from the Consumerist by Dan Lockton

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

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

    And from the comments:

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


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

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

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

    The fight back: loyalty card subversion by Dan Lockton

    J Sainsbury, Colliers Wood. This photo's been used before on the blog It's inevitable that for every attempt to cajole or impose control on users, there will be some people who seek to avoid or circumvent it. As Crosbie Fitch put it in a recent comment, "humans are designed to explore the parameters of their environment and to adapt to them".

    Supermarket loyalty cards are an interesting example of this. Whilst not a rigid method of control - more a method of persuasion - their ubiquity and fairly clear agenda make them common target for intentional avoidance, or subversion. For every person who hasn't signed up out of just-not-being-bothered, there is probably at least one who doesn't trust what will happen to his or her data, even if it's only a vague feeling of unease. And there is a small segment of customers who will (admirably) attempt to manipulate the system, either for their own gain, or simply out of an inquisitive or rebellious spirit.

    Image from Cockeyed.comImage from Cockeyed.com

    Rob Cockerham's 'Ultimate Shopper' is one of the most famous (and apparently successful) 'white hat' attempts to subvert a loyalty card system: Rob replicated the barcode (scanned by the cashier) from his Safeway Club card, and sent out dozens of copies of it to friends and readers of his website, with the aim of creating an 'interesting' customer profile on Safeway's system: one who bought vast quantities of products each month, right across the country:

    I want to take the credit for all of my shopping, and for your shopping too!

    ...

    Anyone who does this will be lumping their shopping data together with mine. Together we might amass a profile of the single greatest shopper in the history of mankind.

    You will still get club card savings, but you will miss out on the odd promotions they have from time to time. Actually, some promotions are awarded at the register, so you may continue to benefit from those, although the rewards will be utterly unpredictable.

    Actually cloning the data on the magnetic strip, to create a more foolproof (and less detectable) set of cloned cards, would be another step. Depending on the structure of the supermarket's loyalty scheme, there may well be thresholds above which the 'rewards' for customers increase substantially, and assuming the participants in the cloning scheme can work out a fair or acceptable way to share their rewards, this could mean greater benefits for all of them than actually using their cards individually.

    An alternative scheme is Rob Carlson's 'Giant BonusCard Swap Meet' where card-holders from Giant ("a large supermarket chain in the Baltimore/DC area") swap details with other card-holders in order to give themselves more privacy - from a 2003 article:

    Carlson's site works like this: You enter your Giant card number on a form. It puts this number into a pool of numbers gathered from participants. Drawing from this pool, it displays for each visitor a bar-code replica of someone else's number, allowing the visitor to print it out and tape onto his or her own card. Should you actually take the time to do this and then visit the local Giant to use this card, you are, to Giant, someone else. If enough people do this, the argument goes, Giant's shopper profiles are rendered muddied and ultimately useless.

    A Wired article from 2003 on Rob Cockerham and Rob Carlson's projects.

    Are there other similar examples?

    [An additional aspect of supermarket 'fight back' borders on actual theft but is surely extremely common: when supermarkets' self-service systems (e.g. for weighing loose fruit and vegetables) allow customers to print out an appropriate barcode label, there's also (inevitably) the possibility of the customer, er, adjusting the process in his or her favour. If I buy an organic apple that costs more per pound than a non-organic apple, and ostensibly looks the same, what's to stop me entering the details for the non-organic apple and thus paying just for that? There may be CCTV watching the self-weigh units, but is the resolution good enough to tell the difference between different types of apple? Will the checkout assistant be able to tell the difference?

    Of course, where these self-print systems are used in conjunction with self-scan systems (where the customer uses the scanner), there's even more potential to 'get away' with things, whether that's just under-weighing your goods or just pressing the button for the cheapest item each time - often, in the UK, onions - no matter what you're weighing. There's also significant potential for legitimate mistakes here. Since the CCTV can't read at that resolution, and you have a barcode for each item, you'd probably get away with it. Please note, I'm not advocating this, just pointing out a particular weakness of this aspect of retailing technology.

    Getting back to the point, if the above onion trick is combined with a loyalty card which tries to build a customer profile, we'd end up with a customer who buys an enormous amount of onions and no other loose fruit or vegetables. That might be suspicious in itself; if the customer has a loyalty card, he or she could be identified and investigated; otherwise there would be no way of tracing the mystery onion-buyer. Thanks to a friend for this observation]

    Creating false memories by Dan Lockton

    Interactive camera demo from Corporate Communications, IncAn interactive camera demo from Corporate Communications, Inc.

    Clive Thompson writes about some interesting research [PDF] by Ann Schlosser at the University of Washington into how the use of interactive product demonstrations on websites can produce "false memories" of product capabilities, compared with more conventional static presentation of features (the example is a camera):

    Later, she tested them on their ability to recall details about the camera. She intentionally included details that were false, but sufficiently plausible that they might have been true. The result? The people who viewed the interactive demo of the camera were much more likely than the folks who'd only viewed static images to "remember" the false details as being present. Or another way of putting it: The interactive demo was more likely to produce false memories of the product -- potential buyers who thought the camera could do things it can't.

    Why? Schlosser theorises that it's partly because interactivity encourages more "certainty" in our memories, and thus increases the likelihood that we'll believe suggestively false details to be true.

    As Clive goes on to mention, it's worth considering how much this kind of effect could be to companies' benefit if customers make purchasing decisions as a result of believing a product is better or has more features than it really does. Is it possible to use the tactic deliberately? Is this done? Can it be called unethical? Is the possible "experience overload" of an interactive demo similar to, say, an over-enthusiastic salesperson talking nine-to-the-dozen and concatenating feature lists into a stream of impressive-sounding non-sequiturs?

    Will consumers, in fact, ever let on that they've noticed the product they bought doesn't necessarily have all the features they assumed it did? Or will they assume (correctly, in fact) that they must have made a mistake?

    We all know, I'm sure, that most people blame themselves for mistakes made when using (or choosing) technology*. Mark at Another Useful Blog tackles this very well in relation to the design of armrests on the Metro-North and Long Island trains in New York, which consistently damage passengers' clothes by getting caught in pockets, etc:

    “You feel more like an idiot than anything ... But then you realize, they could have designed it better.”

    The first part of that statement hints at another reason why users may not complain about badly designed interfaces: they simply do not perceive a problem as being caused by bad design. Instead, they attribute the error to their own assumed incompetence. This behaviour can also be witnessed during some empirical usability tests... users think that the problem lies within themselves...

    In particular, this whole area reminds me of a quote from Lee Iacocca:

    Remember this: Anybody who ever buys anything - a house, a car, or stocks and bonds - will rationalise his purchase for a few weeks, even if he made a mistake.

    *Sticking briefly with the camera example - if users remember the word "Zoom" from the demo, and remember seeing an image zooming in, and becoming more detailed, they might perhaps misremember that as an "optical zoom" even if in reality it is only a low-quality "digital zoom". If you're interested in cameras, you'd probably be checking whether it had an optical zoom in the first place, but otherwise, what you will remember is that the camera has "Zoom".

    Teaching customers a lesson by Dan Lockton

    Seth Godin talks about companies that try to teach their customers a lesson:

    "Either you're going to make someone happy or you're not...

    Here's the short version: If you try to teach a customer a lesson, you've just done two things: a. failed at teaching a lesson and b. lost a customer"

    How does this relate to the "stick" approach to changing users' behaviour?

    How does it relate to DRM, often presented as "keeping honest customers honest"?

    If you're designing (planning) a user's experience (retail, product design, software, services), do you look on the user as the enemy, or the focus of your efforts?

    (Trackback URI for Seth's post)

    Behaviour shaping round-up by Dan Lockton

    Image from Cockeyed.comFar Side image from Curious Shopper blogImage from Russell Davies' blog
    The legendary Rob Cockerham looks at the Point of Sale Trail in Fry's Electronics, Sacramento. Shoppers queuing for the checkouts are routed through a maze of aisles densely packed with impulse products: "At any point in the line, approximately 280 different products are within view, and 38 are within reach." Pule.

    Sara Cantor discusses techniques for encouraging/persuading/forcing people to wash their hands after using the toilet, from polite reminders to 'social influencing' (sinks in full view of a restaurant, for example). Very interesting post and comments.

    Russell Davies notes the "embedded assumptions" in the design of some task-specific stationery: "You can be as forward thinking and media-neutral as you like but you can't fight the assumptions you've built into the fabric of things." (Thanks to David Bausola for sending me this!)

    Review: Made to Break by Giles Slade by Dan Lockton

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

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

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

    Philosophy of planned obsolescence

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

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

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

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

    ...

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

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

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

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

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

    Shooting CRTs can be a barrel of laughs

    The problem of electronic waste

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

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

    ...

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

    ...

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

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

    Planned malfunction for strategic reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Levittown: designed-in privacy

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

    The book itself

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

    All in all, highly recommended.

    Skip

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

    Casino programmable* by Dan Lockton

    Part of the cover of a late-60s Pan edition of Casino Royale Signal vs Noise talks about the casino experience - a world awash with designed-in architectures of control, both physical and psychological (and physiological, perhaps), truly environments designed specifically to manipulate and reinforce certain behaviour, from maze-like layouts (intentional route obfuscation - perhaps even more so than in supermarkets) to the deliberate funnelling of winners past many other places to spend their chips on the way to the cashier's window.

    While the commenters (including 'Hunter' who runs a blog on casino design) attempt to clarify/debunk some of the more legendary 'casino tricks' including restricting daylight and pumping extra oxygen onto the floor, it's clear that an enormous wealth of expertise has developed over the years to maximise the control of players and thus maximise casinos' takings.

    A couple of months ago, Scott Craver mentioned another interesting casino trick:

    "This casino had a cell-phone blocker, and of course our conference room would have no wi-fi. Apparently the goal is to attract people to machines and disconnect them from everything else in the world. From the gambling areas you cannot tell if it is day or night. And the way everything was designed to suck people in had all the subtlety of a mousetrap."

    (Despite spending most of my formative years reading the James Bond books over and over again, and being fascinated by Thomas Bass's The Newtonian Casino, I've only ever actually been in one 'proper' casino, in London, and I spent most of that time watching a friend play blackjack and trying to apply what I could remember from Bringing Down The House, so I'm not really very familiar with the subject. But it's extremely interesting, and worthy of more research - and comparison with other 'public' environments.)

    *Yeah, it's a calculated pun!

    Review: We Know What You Want by Martin Howard by Dan Lockton

    A couple of weeks ago, Martin Howard sent me details of his blog, How They Change Your Mind and book, We Know What You Want: How They Change Your Mind, published last year by Disinformation. You can review the blog for yourselves - it has some fascinating details on product placement, paid news segments, astroturfing and other attempts to manipulate public opinion for political and commercial reasons, including "10 disturbing trends in subliminal persuasion" - but I've been reading the book, and there are some interesting 'architectures of control' examples:

    Supermarket layouts

    We've seen before some of the tricks used by stores to encourage customers to spend longer in certain aisles and direct them to certain products, but Howard's book goes into more detail on this, including a couple of telling quotes:

    "About 80 percent of consumer choices are made in store and 60 percent of those are impulse purchases."
    Herb Meyers, CEO Gerstman + Meyers, NY

    "We want you to get lost."
    Tim Magill, designer, Mall of America

    Planograms, the designed layout and positioning of products within stores for optimum sales, are discussed, with the observation that (more expensive) breakfast cereals, toys and sweets are often placed at children's eye level specifically to make the most of 'pester power'; aromas designed to induce "appropriate moods" are often used, along with muzak with its tempo deliberately set to encourage or discourage customers' prolonged browsing. There's also a mention of stores deliberately rearranging their layouts to force customers to walk around more trying to find their intended purchases, thus being exposed to more product lines:

    "Some stores actually switch the layout every six months to intentionally confuse shoppers."

    The book also refers readers to a detailed examination of supermarket tactics produced by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group in Ontario, The Supermarket Tour [PDF] which I'll be reading and reporting on in due course. It looks to have an in-depth analysis of psychological and physical design techniques for manipulating customers' behaviour.

    Monopolistic behaviour

    Howard looks at the exploitation of 'customers' caught up in mass-crowds or enclosed systems, such as people visiting concerts or sports where they cannot easily leave the stadium or arena or have time, space or quiet to think for themselves, and are thus especially susceptible to subliminal (or not-so-subliminal) advertising and manipulation of their behaviour, even down to being forced into paying through the nose for food or drink thanks to a monopoly ('stadium pouring rights'):

    "One stadium even hindered fans from drinking [free] water by designing their stadium without water fountains. A citizens' protest pressured the management into having them installed."

    Patents

    The 'remote nervous system manipulation' patents of Hendricus Loos (which I previously mentioned here and here, having first come across them back in 2001) are explained together with a whole range of other patents detailing methods of controlling individuals' behaviour, from the more sinister, e.g. remotely altering brain waves (PDF link, Robert G Malech, 1976) to the merely irritating (methods for hijacking users' browsers and remotely changing the function of commands - Brian Shuster, 2002/5) and even a Samsung patent (1995) which involves using a TV's built-in on-screen display to show adverts for a few seconds when the user tries to switch the TV off.

    A number of these patents are worth further investigation, and I will attempt to do so at some point.

    The book itself

    We Know What You Want is a quick, concise, informative read with major use of magazine/instructional-style graphics to draw issues out of the text. It was apparently written to act as a more visual companion volume to Douglas Rushkoff's Coercion, which I haven't (yet) read, so I can't comment on how well that relationship works. But it's an interesting survey of some of the techniques used to persuade and manipulate in retailing, media, online and in social situations. It's easy to dip into at random, and the wide-ranging diversity of practices and techniques covered (from cults to music marketing, Dale Carnegie to MLM) somehow reminds me of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, even if the design and format of this book (with its orange-and-black colour scheme and extensive clipart) is completely different.

    I'll end on a stand-out quote from the book, originally applied to PR but appropriate to the whole field of manipulating behaviour:

    "It is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it."
    Edward Bernays

    'Secret alarm becomes dance track' by Dan Lockton

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

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

    ...

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

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

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

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

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

    Shaping behaviour at the Design Council by Dan Lockton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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