Sneaky

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.

Salt licked? by Dan

Salt shakers. Image from Daily MailSalt shakers. Image from Daily Mail UPDATE: See the detailed response below from Peter of Gateshead Council, which clarifies, corrects and expands upon some of the spin given by the Mail articles. The new shakers were supplied to the chip shop staff for use behind the counter: "Our main concern was around the amount of salt put on by staff seasoning food on behalf of customers before wrapping it up... Our observations... confirmed that customers were receiving about half of the recommended daily intake of salt in this way. We piloted some reduced hole versions with local chip shops who all found that none of their customers complained about the reduced saltiness."

A number of councils in England have given fish & chip shops replacement salt shakers with fewer holes - from the Daily Mail:

Research has suggested that slashing the holes from the traditional 17 to five could cut the amount people sprinkle on their food by more than half.

And so at least six councils have ordered five-hole shakers – at taxpayers’ expense – and begun giving them away to chip shops and takeaways in their areas. Leading the way has been Gateshead Council, which spent 15 days researching the subject of salty takeaways before declaring the new five-hole cellars the solution.

Officers collected information from businesses, obtained samples of fish and chips, measured salt content and ‘carried out experiments to determine how the problem of excessive salt being dispensed could be overcome by design’. They decided that the five-hole pots would reduce the amount of salt being used by more than 60 per cent yet give a ‘visually acceptable sprinkling’ that would satisfy the customer.

OK. This is interesting. This is where the unit bias, defaults, libertarian paternalism and industrial design come together, in the mundanity of everyday interaction. It's Brian Wansink's 'mindless margin' being employed strategically, politically - and just look at the reaction it's got from the public (and from Littlejohn). A BBC story about a similar initiative in Norfolk also gives us the industry view:

A spokesman for the National Federation of Fish Friers called the scheme a "gimmick" and said customers would just shake the containers more.

Graham Adderson, 62, who owns the Downham Fryer, in Downham Market, said: "I think the scheme is hilarious. If you want to put salt on your fish and chips and there are only four holes, you're just going to spend longer putting more on."

I'm assuming Gateshead Council's research took account of this effect, although there are so many ways that users' habits could have been formed through prior experience that this 'solution' won't apply to all users. There might be some customers who always put more salt on, before even tasting their food. There might be people who almost always think the fish & chips they get are too heavily salted anyway - plenty of people, anecdotally at least, used to buy Smith's Salt 'n' Shake and not use the salt at all.

And there are probably plenty of people who will, indeed, end up consuming less salt, because of the heuristic of "hold salt shaker over food for n seconds" built up over many years of experience.

Overall: I actually quite like this idea: it's clever, simple, and non-intrusive, but I can see how the interpretation, the framing, is crucial. Clearly, when presented in the way that the councils media have done here (as a government programme to eliminate customer choice, and force us all down the road decided by health bureaucrats), the initiative's likely to elicit an angry reaction from a public sick of a "nanny state" interfering in every area of our lives. Politicians jumping on the Nudge bandwagon need to be very, very careful that this isn't the way their initiatives are perceived and portrayed by the press (and many of them will be, of course): it needs to be very, very clear how each such measure actually benefits the public, and that message needs to be given extremely persuasively.

Final thought: Many cafés, canteens and so on have used sachets of salt, that customers apply themselves, for many years. The decision made by the manufacturers about the size of these portions is a major determinant of how much salt is used, because of the unit bias (people assume that one portion is the 'right' amount), and, just as with washing machine detergent, manipulation of this portion size could well be used as part of a strategy to influence the quantity used by customers. But would a similar salt sachet strategy (perhaps driven by manufacturers rather than councils) have provoked similar reactions? I'm not sure that it would. 'Nanny manufacturer' is less despised than 'nanny state', I think, certainly in the UK.

What do you think?

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

Towards a Design with Intent 'Method' - v.0.1 by Dan Lockton

As mentioned a while back, I've been trying to find a way to classify the numerous 'Design with Intent' and architectures of control examples that have been examined on this site, and suggested by readers. Since that post, my approach has shifted slightly to look at what the intent is behind each example, and hence develop a kind of 'method' for suggesting 'solutions' to 'problems', based on analysing hundreds of examples. I'd hesitate to call it a suggestion algorithm quite yet, but it does, in a very very rudimentary way, borrow certain ideas from TRIZ*. Below is a tentative, v.0.1 example of the kind of thought process that a 'designer' might be led through by using the DwI Method. I've deliberately chosen an common example where the usual architectures of control-type 'solutions' are pretty objectionable. Other examples will follow. General view of the method diagram v.0.1

Basics of the DwI Method, v.0.1

1. Assuming you have a 'problem' involving the interaction between one of more users, and a product, system or environment (hereafter, the system), the first stage is to express what your intended target behaviour is. What do you actually want to achieve?

2. Attempt to describe your intended target behaviour in terms of one of the general target behaviours for the interaction, listed in the table below. (This is, of course, very much a rough work in progress at present, and these will undoubtedly change and be added to.) Your intended target behaviour may seem to map to more than one general target behaviour: this may mean that you actually have two 'problems' to solve.

General target behaviours v.0.1

3. You're presented with a set of mechanisms - loosely categorised as physical, psychological, economic, legal or structural - which, it's suggested, could be applied to achieve the general target behaviour, and thus your intended target behaviour. Some mechanisms have a narrow focus - dealing specifically with the interaction between the user and the system - and some are much wider in scope - looking outside the immediate interaction. Different mechanisms can be combined, of course: the idea here is to inspire 'solutions' to your 'problem' rather than actually specify them.

The mechanisms, illustrative v.0.1

 

An example

This example is one that I've covered extensively on this blog: the most common 'solutions' are, generally, very unfriendly, but it's clear to most of us that the 'wider scope' mechanisms are, ultimately, more desirable.

Original photo by David Basanta
Sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park, London. Photo by David Basanta

Introduction

A number of benches in a city-centre park are occupied overnight or during parts of the day by homeless people. The city council/authorities ('they') decide that this is a problem: they don't want homeless people sleeping on the benches in the park. Expressed differently, their intended target behaviour is no homeless people sleeping on the benches.

So, which of the general target behaviours is closest to this?

Currently the list (disclaimer: v.0.1, will change a lot, letter allocations are not significant) is:

A1:  Access, use or occupation based on user characteristics A2:  Access, use or occupation based on user behaviour B:   No access, use or occupation, in a specific manner, by any user C:   User provided with functionality only when environmental criteria satisfied D:   Separate flows and occupation; users have no influence on each other E:   Interaction between users or groups of users F:   No user-created blockages or congestion caused by multiple users G:   Controlled rate of flow or passage of users H:   User follows process or path I:    User pays the maximum price which still results in a sale

While we might think the ‘discriminatory’ implications of A1 and A2 are relevant here given our assumptions about the authorities' motives, in fact ‘they’ probably don’t want anyone sleeping on the benches, regardless of whether he or she’s actually homeless, just having a lunchtime nap before returning to a corner office at Goldman Sachs, or anywhere in between. They don’t mind someone sitting on the bench (grudgingly, that would seem to be its purpose), as long as it’s not for too long (that’s another ‘problem’, though with very similar ‘solutions’), but they don’t want anyone sleeping on it. It’s not exactly the same problem as preventing anyone lying down (we might imagine a bright light or loudspeaker positioned over the bench, which allows people to lie down but makes it difficult to sleep), but the problems, and most solutions, are very close.

So it turns out that B, ‘No access, use or occupation, in a specific manner, by any user’, best matches the intended target behaviour in this case:

General Target Behaviour close-up, v.0.1

From mechanisms to 'solutions'

Looking at the diagram (PDF, 25k, or click image below), a number of possible mechanisms are suggested to achieve this target behaviour. (Again, a disclaimer: this is very much work in progress, and many mechanisms are missing at this stage.) There are physical, psychological, economic, legal and structural mechanisms, some with a narrow focus, and some much wider in scope.

Category B preview, v.0.1

I'll try to pick out and discuss a few mechanisms - physical, psychological and structural (leaving out the legal and economic for the moment) - to demonstrate how they can be applied in the context of the bench example, but first it's important to note two things:

  • Different mechanisms can of course be combined to produce solutions: e.g. legal mechanisms would need some kind of surveillance, either human or technological, to enforce; a 'stick' approach along with a 'carrot' may be more effective than simply one or the other. So a fine for interacting with the system (i.e. sleeping on the bench) would probably have more effect if combined with making the alternative more attractive, e.g. providing somewhere else for people to sleep.
  • None of these mechanisms is an actual 'solution' to the 'problem' directly, and even if applied rigorously, the actual effectiveness in terms of physically forcing, psychologically encouraging, or otherwise enforcing the intended target behaviour is not guaranteed. Users are not mechanical components; nor are they all rational economically. Your results will vary.
  • The most obvious physical mechanism for addressing the issue is the placing of material - to interrupt the surface of the bench, or perhaps even to cause injury (usually not done deliberately with park benches, but surely done, at least in the sense of conditioning the user not to repeat the interactions, with some pigeon spikes, barbed wire, anti-climb and various anti-sit spikes).

    Mechanisms close-up, v.0.1

    Interrupting the surface of the bench is usually done by adding central armrests (which do at least serve another function in addition), as illustrated here:

    New anti-homeless bench being installed at Richmond Station

    Belson Georgetown Bench
    A new bench with armrests being installed at Richmond Station, just as London Overground takes over from Silverlink; and the Belson Georgetown Bench, "Redesigned to face contemporary urban realities, this bench comes standard with a centre arm to discourage overnight stays in its comfortable embrace."

    Of course, it is possible to sleep on a bench with central armrests, but it's certainly discouraging, as the Belson quote suggests.

    Sleeping over armrests on bench, photo by Rick Abbott
    Photo by Rick Abbott

    Placing of material could equally be subtractive rather than additive - so interrupting the surface might also suggest removing elements to prevent or discourage sleeping. This could be in the form of removing every (say) third section of a bench, thus making the remaining length too short to lie down on properly (this has been done in some airport lounges), making the benches shorter altogether, or even separating the seats into 'single-occupancy benches' - which would seem to be suggested by the spatial mechanism:

    Short bench - image from Yumiko Hayakawa Single occupancy benches - photo by Ville Tikkanen
    "A man tries to sleep on a deliberately shortened bench at the park" - photo from this excellent article by Yumiko Hayakawa discussing anti-homeless measures in Tokyo; 'Single-occupancy benches' in Helsinki - photo by Ville Tikkanen

    Indeed, simply narrowing the bench (making a kind of perch), and/or removing the backrest from a bench which already has central armrests, so that someone can't even lean back to doze, would also count in terms of removing material.

    Mechanisms close-up, v.0.1

    Designs suggested by the orientation of material mechanisms are also fairly common - most often, a simply angled seat surface, as used on many bus-stop perches or these benches:

    Angled bench - photo from Yumiko Hayakawa
    "Can't Lie Down, Can't Lean Back - A man has a hard time getting a break on this partitioned, forward-leaning bench at Tokyo's Ueno Onshi park". Photo from Yumiko Hayakawa's article. Bench by Joscelyn Bingham
    The 'Lean Seat' by Joscelyn Bingham

    Curved surfaces, both convex and concave, can also be employed:

    Curved bench - photo from Yumiko Hayakawa Curved bench - photo from PhatalbertConvex surface tubular bench in Tokyo - photo from Yumiko Hayakawa's article; Concave surface bus shelter perch in Shanghai - photo by Albert Sun

    And curvature can be combined with the use of armrests (and height - which suggests that spatial might also be expanded to include something like "dimensional change to alter distance between elements of system") to create something like the 'Oxford Cornmarket montrosity', which might prevent people sleeping on it, but certainly doesn't stop people occupying it in a way the designers didn't intend:

    Monstrosity, Oxford Cornmarket

    Monstrosity in use, Oxford Cornmarket
    The 'benches' in Oxford's Cornmarket Street, discussed here and here. Second photo by Stephanie Jenkins

    Looking at some of the other relevant physical mechanisms, it's worth noting that change of environmental characteristic - 'local temperature change' - also finds an expression in the convex Tokyo bench pictured above - as Yumiko Hayakawa notes in the original article:

    The hard curved surface of this stainless-steel bench, too hot in summer, too cold in winter, repels all but one visitor to Ikebukuro West Park.

    We might also think of positioning a street lamp right above a bench - to make it took bright to sleep there easily at night - as a similar tactic in this vein, 'local illumination change'.

    What about the other relevant physical mechanisms? Change of material characteristic could mean a bench that deforms in some way when someone lies on it, or maybe has an uncomfortable surface texture (nails?). But both of these would probably preclude the bench's use for sitting, in addition to sleeping. Movement or oscillation could suggest a bench which is balanced somehow so that it requires the user's feet to be on the ground, in a normal sitting position, to keep it stable, and which would fall over (extra degree of freedom introduced) when someone tried to lie down on it, or maybe a bench which is sited on a turntable continually rotating, or a vibrating base, so that the user's feet on the ground are again needed for stabilising, and someone lying down would fall off. None of these is an especially realistic 'solution', but would all address the 'problem' even if simultaneously introducing others.

    (At this point, we might consider that if the 'problem' mainly occurs at night, we might want a bench that only becomes un-sleepable on - or unusable - at night. This would be best addressed by general target behaviour C, 'User provided with functionality only when environmental criteria satisfied' - many of the suggested mechanisms will be similar, but with conditional elements to them - if it is dark, or after a certain time, the bench might automatically retract into the ground, or become uncomfortable, if it weren't already.)

    As noted on the diagram (PDF, 25k), I've (so far) had a bit of a mental blind-spot in coming up with wider-scope physical mechanisms to address this general target behaviour. The only sensible ones so far relate to applying the placing of material on the approach to the system, so in this case, it might mean putting the bench on an island surrounded by mud, water or spikes and so on, which doesn't really seem useful. This wider-scope line-of-thinking needs much further development for some types of mechanisms, although it's fairly obvious where it relates to making an alternative system more attractive.

    Mechanisms close-up, v.0.1
    Narrow-scope psychological mechanisms

    Turning to psychological mechanisms, with both narrow and wider scopes, the emphasis pretty much comes down to a 'stick' or 'carrot' approach: either scare/warn/otherwise put off the user from sleeping on the bench, or make an alternative more attractive/available. It's about creating unattractive perceived affordances, perhaps, where the physical mechanisms are about removing real affordances.

    From the narrow scope point-of-view, some of the applicable psychological 'solutions' might include: 'warning' potential sleepers off with signage or colour schemes (not that this would do much; it's more likely to provoke amusement, as in the photo below); making benches which look uncomfortable (whether or not they are); paying(?) scary or unattractive other 'users' to hang around the bench to scare people away (which perhaps defeats the object slightly); or, probably most likely, using overt surveillance of the bench, by humans or cameras, which brings in considerations of the legal mechanisms too (and maybe economic, in the form of fines). Another aspect of surveillance is making the (unwanted) interaction visible to other users - using the pressure of social norms to 'shame' people into not doing something (positioning the sink outside the bathroom, in a kind of ante-room visible to others, is a good example), but it's difficult to see how to apply this to the bench example - even if the bench is, say, positioned where lots of people will see the user sleeping on it, the pressure to vacate it is pretty low. This is a kind of 'public' feedback; feedback itself is an extremely important psychological mechanism in interaction design, but seems (from my research so far) to be much more applicable to some of the other general target behaviours.

    Sign in bushes, photo from Tacky Fabulous Orlando Mechanisms close-up, v.0.1
    A genuine sign in Orlando, via Boing Boing; and some applicable wider scope psychological mechanisms.

    The wider scope psychological mechanisms are much more positive - indeed, more positive than anything else so far in this example. Here, the aim is to make alternative systems - i.e. an alternative to sleeping on the park bench, whatever it might be - more attractive. This is where this sort of thing comes into play:

    Sean Godsell, House in a Park Sean Godsell, House in a Park
    Sean Godsell's 'House in a Park', a bench that folds out into a rudimentary shelter (above) and (below) Bus Shelter House, which "converts into an emergency overnight accommodation. The bench lifts to reveal a woven steel mattress and the advertising hoarding is modified to act as a dispenser of blankets, food, and water."
    Sean Godsell, Bus Shelter House

    Note that at this level, the alternative systems themselves are attractive (more attractive than sleeping on the park bench) by simply fulfilling users' needs rather than any psychological 'tricks'. There is a lesson there.

    'Guerrilla' responses by users frustrated at heavy-handed anti-user measures don't directly have a place in the DwI Method, at least as currently constituted, but in this case, for example, providing temporary cardboard seating (/sleeping benches) or even parts that fit over benches with central armrests to permit sleeping once again, as Crosbie Fitch suggests, are worth thinking about:

    Perhaps also, for each anti-sit seat design, one could come up with cardboard add-ons that re-enable long-term seating and recumbence. These could be labelled “Temporary Seat Repairs”, “Protective Seat Covers”, “Citizen City Seats”, or something far wittier.

    Mechanisms close-up, v.0.1

    It's the structural mechanisms which suggest the more large-scale 'solutions', from provision of alternative systems (as in the Sean Godsell examples above) to actually removing the need for anyone to sleep rough. Ultimately, of course, that's a better goal than any of the above - anything discussed in this article - but it's not really a 'solution', rather a desirable aim, or even an intended target behaviour in itself, addressing a social issue rather than a 'design' one. Addressing the 'disease' rather than merely disguising the symptoms is surely preferable in the long-term.

    Alternatively, some cities have simply removed benches altogether where there is a 'homeless problem...

    Benches removed - photo by Fredo Alvarez
    Benches stripped in Washington DC - "A small homeless population [had grown] there within the past few months". photo by Fredo Alvarez.

    ...'removal of system entirely' being the structural mechanism there: doing absolutely nothing to help the homeless users, and in the process removing the benches for everyone who uses the park.

    Conclusions

    The choice of such a negative example for demonstrating this very early version of the Design With Intent Method - where almost all the 'solutions' suggested are anti-user and generally unfriendly - reflects, pretty much, where my 'architectures of control' research came from in the first place. Most of the examples posted on the site over the past couple of years have generally been about stopping users doing something, forcing them to do something they don't want to do, or tricking them into doing something against their own best interests - certainly more than have been about more positive efforts to help and guide users.

    I thought that using the DwI Method initially to see if I could 'get inside the head' (possibly) of the 'they' who implement this kind of disciplinary architecture would be a useful insight, before applying the method to something more user-friendly and worthwhile - which willl be the next task.

     

    *As 'Silverman' cautioned before, the aim must not be to remove the use of engineering/design intuition - most creative people would not respond well to that anyway - but primarily to inspire possible solutions.

    Destroy everything you touch by Dan Lockton

    The sandpaper cover of Debord's Memoires. Images from eBay We can't help but be familiar with the concept of 'malicious code' in the context of computer security and programming, but in general the idea of products or technology which, as they're used, sabotage or degrade the performance of a 'rival', is intriguing and not well-explored. Scott Craver's Underhanded C contest is a fascinating example from the 'white hat' side of the fence; Microsoft's use of deliberately targeted style sheets on MSN.com to degrade Opera's performance is another; and the CIA's alleged planting of software bugs in Russian pipeline control software is a third. The Sony DRM rootkit might also fall into this category (as would this!)

    But on a much more concrete level, we have this playful example: Memoires by Guy Debord, psychogeographer and Situationist, was originally published with a rough sandpaper cover:

    Memoires was written, or rather assembled, by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn in 1957. Debord himself often referred to Memoires as an anti-book, and the original edition was bound in sandpaper, that it might destroy other books. The text is entirely composed of fragments taken from other texts: photographs, advertisements, comic strips, poetry, novels, philosophy, pornography, architectural diagrams, newspapers, military histories, wood block engravings, travel books, etc. Each page presents a collage of such materials connected or effaced by Jorn's structures portantes, lines or amorphous painted shapes that mediate the relationships between the fragments.

    (from an article by David Banash)

    Debord's Memoires. Images from eBay

    And from this article by Christian Nolle:

    The book is most famous for its sandpaper cover. An auto-destruction feature that enabled it to damage not only the book it might be standing next to in the bookshelf, but also the person who would be reading it. An anti-book to destroy all other books.

    Permild writes: "Long had he [Jorn] asked me, if I couldn’t find a unconventional material for the book cover. Preferably some sticky asphalt or perhaps glass wool. Kiddingly, he wanted, that by looking at people, you should be able to tell whether or not they had had the book in their hands. He acquiesced by my [Permild’s] final suggestion: sandpaper (flint) nr. 2: ‘Fine. Can you imagine the result when the book lies on a blank polished mahogany table, or when it's inserted or taken out of the bookshelf. It plans shavings of the neighbours desert goat [?]’.

    In all the literature that I have located, Debord is the person who is refered to as the inventor of the sandpaper cover. However, as it turns out Debord had nothing to do with it... Permild continues, «Asger loved - as he often expressed it, to place small time controlled bombs». This was certainly a bomb. A bomb invented by the printer, whose job is normally of a technical nature. The sandpaper cover was a really good idea, but practically it never managed to practice what it preached. It did, however, make its readers conscious about handling it or where to place it.

    One the other hand, Memoires placed itself on a shelf among precious object, something to be handled with great care... The American Hakem Bey did something similar in the 1970s. In homage to Guy Debord, Bey made a book with sandpaper on the inside. This way he rendered the book into auto-destruct mode if you would ever dare to read it. A potential bomb to go off if you would open it. Memoires, on other hand is a bomb, not a potential bomb. No matter how you would handle it, there was always the danger that it could damage your precious collection of 1920s French poetry.

    The photos above come from this French eBay listing - the copy on sale reached €3,810.

    Slanty design by Dan Lockton

    Library of Congress, Main Reading Room
    The Main Reading Room, Library of Congress. Image from CIRLA. In this article from Communications of the ACM from January 2007, Russell Beale uses the term slanty design to describe "design that purposely reduces aspects of functionality or usability":

    It originated from an apocryphal story that some desks in the US Library of Congress in Washington, DC, are angled down toward the patron, with a glass panel over the wood, so when papers are being viewed, nothing harmful (like coffee cups, food and ink pens) can be put on top of them. This makes them less usable (from a user-centric point of view) but much more appropriate for their overall purpose. ... [S]lanty design is useful when the system must address wider goals than the user might have, when, say, they wish to do something that in the grander scheme of things is less than desirable.

    New Pig cigarette binCone cup
    The angled lid on this cigarette bin prevents butts being placed on top; the cone shape of cup subtly discourages users from leaving it on the table.

    We've looked before on this site at a couple of literally 'slanty' examples - notably, cigarette bins with angled lids and paper cone cups (above) - and indeed "the common technique of architects to use inclined planes to prevent people from leaving things, such as coffee cups, on flat spaces" is noted on the Designweenie blog here - but in his article, Beale expands the scope of the term to encompass interfaces or interaction methods designed to prevent or discourage certain user behaviour, for strategic reasons: in essence, what I've tried to corral under the heading 'architectures of control' for the last few years, but with a different way of arriving at the idea:

    We need more than usability to make things work properly. Design is (or should be) a conversation between users and design experts and between desired outcomes and unwanted side effects... [U]ser-centred design is grounded in the user's current behavior, which is often less than optimal. ... Slanty design incorporates the broader message, making it difficult for users to do unwanted things, as well as easy to do wanted things. Designers need to design for user non-goals - the things users do not want to do or should not be able to do even if they want to [my emphases]. If usability is about making it easy for users to do what they must do, then we need to have anti-usability as well well, making it difficult for them to do the things we may not want them to do.

    He gives the example of Gmail (below), where Google has (or had - the process is apprently not so difficult now) made it difficult for users to delete email - "Because Google uses your body of email to mine for information it uses to target the ads it delivers to generate revenue; indeed, deleting it would be detrimental to the service" but that in fact, this strategy might be beneficial for the user - "By providing a large amount of storage space for free, Gmail reduces any resource pressure, and by making the deletion process difficult it tries to re-educate us to a new way of operating, which also happens to achieve Google's own wider business goals." This is an interesting way of looking at it, and somewhat reminscent of the debate on deleting an Amazon or eBay account - see also Victor Lombardi's commentary on the where the balance lies.

    How to delete an email in Gmail

    However, from my point of view, if there's one thing which has become very clear from investigating architectures of control in products, systems and environments, it's that the two goals Beale mentions - "things users do not want to do" and things users "should not be able to do" - only coincide in a few cases, and with a few products, and a few types of user. Most poka-yoke examples would seem to be a good fit, as would many of the design methods for making it easier to save energy on which my PhD is focusing, but outside these areas, there are an awful lot of examples where, in general, the goal of the user conflicts with the goal of the designer/manufacturer/service provider/regulator/authority, and it's the user's ability which is sacrificed in order to enforce or encourage behaviour in line with what the 'other' party wants. "No-one wakes up in the morning wanting to do less with his or her stuff," as Cory Doctorow puts it.

    Beale does recognise that conflicts may occur - "identify wider goals being pursued by other stakeholders, including where they conflict with individual goals" - and that an attempt should be made to resolve them, but - personally - I think an emphasis on using 'slanty' techniques to assist the user (and assist the 'other party', whether directly or simply through improving customer satisfaction/recommendation) would be a better direction for 'slanty design' to orient itself.

    Slanty carousel - image by Russell Beale
    "Slanty-designed baggage carousel. Sloping floor keeps the area clear". From 'Slanty Design' article by Russell Beale.

    Indeed, it is this aim of helping individual users while also helping the supersystem (and actually using a slant, in fact) which informs a great suggestion on which Beale elaborates, airport baggage carousels with a slanted floor (above):

    The scrum of trolleys around a typical [carousel] makes it practically impossible to grab a bag when it finally emerges. A number of approaches have been tried. Big signs... a boundary line... a wide strip of brightly coloured floor tiles...

    My slanty design would put a ramp of about 30 degrees extending two meters or so up toward the belt... It would be uncomfortable to stand on, and trolleys would not stay there easily, tending to roll off backward or at least be awkward to handle. I might also add a small dip that would catch the front wheels, making it even more difficult to get the trolley or any other wheeled baggage on it in the first place, but not enough to trip up a person.

    If I was being really slanty, I'd also incorporate 2 cm-high bristles in the surface, making it a real pain for the trolleys on it and not too comfy for the passengers to stay there either. Much easier for people to remain (with their trolleys) on the flat floor than negotiate my awkward hill. We'd retain the space we need, yet we could manage the short dash forward, up the hill, to grab our bags, then return to our trolleys, clearing the way for the next baggage-hungry passenger.

    There are some very interesting ideas embodied in this example - I'm not sure that using bristles on such a slope would be especially easy for wheelchair users, but the overall idea of helping both the individual user, and the collective (and probably the airport authority too: reducing passenger frustration and necessity for supervision of the carousel), is very much something which this kind of design, carefully thought out, can bring about.

    Persuasion & control round-up by Dan Lockton

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

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

    ...

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

    ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (Image from Michael_L's Flickr stream)

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

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

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

    (Thanks to Katrin for this)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    On the level by Dan Lockton

    Patent image of Tilt sensor
    A tilt-detector from this 1984 US patent, with intended application on a packing box. The liquid detection stickers in mobile phones, which allow manufacturers and retailers to ascertain if a phone has got wet, and thus reject warranty claims (whether judiciously/appropriately or not), seem to be concerning a lot of people worldwide. Around a quarter of this site's visitors are searching for information on this subject, and the comments on last October's post on the subject contain a wealth of useful experience and advice.

    This current thread on uk.legal.moderated goes into more depth on the issue, and how the burden of proof works in this case (at least in the UK). While informed opinion seems to be that the stickers will only change colour when actual liquid is present within the phone, rather than mere moisture or damp, this may well include condensation forming within the casing, as well as the more obvious dropping-of-phone-into-puddle and so on. The main point of contention seems to be that the sticker may change colour (perhaps gradually) and the phone continue working perfectly, but when an unrelated problem occurs and the phone is taken in for repairs under warranty, the presence of the 'voided' sticker may be used as a universal warranty get-out even if the actual problem is something different.

    Tilt detection Along these lines, one of the posts tells of a similarly interesting design tactic - tilt-detectors on larger hardware:

    30 years in the IT industry and associated customer service tells me they are trying it on and most people buy it. In the olden days, hardware used to come with a similar red dot system indicating the kit had been tilted more than 45 degrees and the manufacturers claimed the kit could not be installed and had to be written off.

    Of course, 99.9% of the time the kit was fine, but they had a get-out from a warranty claim or so they thought. When the buyers tried to claim on their insurance or against the transport companies insurers the loss adjusters got involved and invariably the kit was installed and worked fine for years rather than the insurers paying out.

    In some cases, of course, tilt-detectors were (are still?) necessary in this role. A piece of equipment with multiple vertically cantilevered PCBs laden with heavy components - relays, for example - might well be damaged if the PCBs were tilted away from the vertical. Certainly some devices with small moving coil components would seem as though they may be damaged by being turned upside down, for example. (Do the ultra-fine damper wires on an aperture-grille CRT monitor such as a Trinitron need to be kept in a particular orientation when handling the monitor?)

    This patent, published in 1984, from which the above images were extracted, describes an especially clever 'interlock' system using two liquid-based detectors arranged so that if the device/package is tilted and then tilted back again, the second detector will then be triggered:

    ...it is desirable that the tilt detectors not be resettable. In particular, it must be possible to combine a package with at least a pair of the tilt detectors such that attempting to reset one would cause the other to be tilted beyond its pre-determined maximum angle so that the total combination would always afford an indication that the tilt beyond that allowed had been effected.

    This is something of a poka-yoke - but as with the phone liquid-detection stickers, it's being used to detect undesirable customer/handler behaviour rather than actually to prevent it happening. Other than making a package too heavy to tilt, I am not sure exactly how we might design something which actually prevents the tilting problem, aside from rectifying the design problem which makes tilting a problem in the first place (even filling the airspace in the case with non-conductive, low-density foam might help here).

    But there's certainly a way the tilt-detector could be improved to help and inform the handler rather than simply 'condemn' the device. For example, it could let out an audible alarm if the package or device is tilted, say, 20 degrees, to allow the handler to rectify his or her mistake before reaching the damaging 45 degrees, whilst still permanently changing colour if 45 degrees is reached. In the long run, it would probably help educated users about how to handle the device rather than just 'punishing' them for an infraction. I'm sure that mercury-switch (or whatever the current non-toxic equivalent is) alarms have been used in this way (e.g. on a vending machine), but how often are they used to help the user rather than alert security?

    The patent description goes on to mention using tamper-evident methods of attaching the detectors to the device or packaging - this is another interesting area, which I am sure we will cover at some point on the blog.

    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.

    Dishonourable discharge? by Dan Lockton

    Nokia phone with battery visible Long overdue, I'm currently reading Bruce Schneier's excellent Beyond Fear, and realising that in many ways, security thinking overlaps with architectures of control: the goal of so many systems is to control users' behaviour or to deny the user the ability to perform certain actions. I'll post a fuller comparison and analysis in due course, but one example Bruce mentions in passing seemed worth blogging separately:

    Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.

    Nokia is prepared to spend a considerable amount of money solving a security problem that it perceives - it loses revenue if customers buy batteries from someone else - even though that solution is detrimental to consumers.

    As a battery authentication method, this is more subtle than the systems we've looked at before, which actually refuse to allow the device to operate if a non-original-manufacturer battery (or perhaps charger) is used.

    Nokia's system attempts to persuade the customer that the new (cheaper) battery he or she has bought is "no good" by making the phone discharge the battery more quickly - in an extremely underhanded way. From the point of view of the (uninformed) consumer, though, it makes Nokia look good. "Oh, that cheap battery I bought is rubbish, it doesn't seem to hold its charge. Nokia make them so much better, guess I should stick to them in future."

    But if the Nokia batteries were genuinely 'better' than the cheap replacement ones, surely this kind of underhanded tactic wouldn't be necessary?

    P.S. I have no idea whether this Nokia 'trick' is real/common/still used, as Beyond Fear has no references, or whether other manufacturers do something similar (as opposed to outright battery authentication-and-denial). I'll ask a friend at Nokia.

    P.P.S. Jason Kottke also noted this tactic back in 2003.

    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?

    Design & Punishment by Dan Lockton

    Design & Punishment chair, by Ben Cunningham
    Design and Punishment, by Ben Cunningham. Photo from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth's 2007 Three Dimensional Design graduate directory. Very neatly linking the themes of the last two posts (devices to make users aware of their energy use, and intentionally uncomfortable seating) is the Design and Punishment chair by Ben Cunningham, a Three Dimensional Design graduate from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth.

    Simply, the concept is a chair which progressively collapses as the user's home energy use becomes excessive, and restores itself when corrective action is taken (such as turning devices off):

    Chairs are designed to support a person's weight: this is taken for granted, but what if that feature were taken away from the user until they have done their bit? This is a way of forcefully highlighting the issue, so they cannot ignore it any more.

    The idea is for a range of products with similar ideas - one of Ben's lecturers, Christian McLening, also mentioned to me the idea of a light cord that retracts gradually the more energy is used, and a bookshelf that similarly tilts gradually. The light cord sounds intriguing, but by making the cord more difficult to reach (to turn it off), it perhaps signifies the opposite of what's intended. Along the lines of what Crosbie Fitch suggested here, lights which gradually dimmed as the house's energy consumption increased might be an interesting alternative. But Ben's aim was very much to play with the 'punishment' aspect:

    Design and Punishment was, to begin with, a look at designing a product that could make saving energy in the home easier through better awareness. The products force the user to cut down on their energy consumption. Instead of trying to make energy saving easier, the range of products forces the user to save [energy] or suffer a punishment.

    Again, the line between forcing the user (physically) to behave in a certain way, and persuading him or her to change behaviour, is not a distinct one; as Toby commented here, both are methods of control, and both are powerful, but in cases such as this where the user would have to choose to purchase the chair voluntarily (Ben's chair is only a concept product, but the principle stands), the persuasion/coercion would be two/three-pronged: inspiring the purchase in the first place/motivating the user to use it where more convenient alternatives are available, and the actual forcing aspect when the user's behaviour is changed, rather than the product being abandoned in frustration/annoyance.

    (Anti-)public seating roundup by Dan Lockton

    Photo by Ville Tikkanen
    Single-occupancy benches in Helsinki. Photo by Ville Tikkanen Ville Tikkanen of Salient Feature points us to the "asocial design" of these single-person benches installed in Helsinki, Finland. In true Jan Chipchase style, he invites us to think about the affordances offered:

    As you can see, the benches are located a few meters away from each other and staring at the same direction. What kind of sociality do particular product and service features afford and what not?

    Comments on Ville's photo on Flickr make it clear that preventing the homeless lying down is seen as one of the reasons behind the design (as we've seen in so many other cases).

    Bench in Cornmarket, Oxford
    The street finds its own uses for things. Photo from Stephanie Jenkins

    Ted Dewan - the man behind Oxford's intriguing Roadwitch project, which I will get round to covering at some point - pointed me to a fantastic photo of the vehemently anti-user seating in Oxford's Cornmarket Street, which was covered on the blog last year. When I saw the seating, no-one was using it (not surprising, though to be fair, it was raining), but the above photo demonstrates very clearly what a pathetic conceit the attempt to restrict users' sitting down was.

    As Ted puts it, these are:

    The world's most expensive, ugly, and deliberately uncomfortable benches... Still, people have managed to figure out how to sit on them, although not the way the 'designers' expected. They might as well have written "Oxford wishes you would kindly piss off" on the pavement.

    And indeed they were expensive - the set of 8 benches cost £240,000:

    Benches in Oxford's Cornmarket Street will now cost taxpayers £240,000 - and many have been designed to discourage people from sitting on them for a long time... the bill for the benches - dubbed "tombstones" by former Lord Mayor of Oxford Gill Sanders -- has hit £240,000.

    ...

    The seats, made of granite, timber and stainless steel, are due to be unveiled next week but shoppers wanting to take the weight off their feet could be disappointed, because they will only be able to sit properly on 24 of the 64 seats. There is a space for a wheelchair in each of the eight blocks, while the other 32 seats are curved and are only meant to be "perched" on for a short time... Mr Cook [Oxford City planning] said the public backed the design when consultation took place two years ago. He added: "There's method in our madness. We did not want to provide clear, long benches both sides because we did not want drunks lying across them."

    But a city guide said the council had forgotten the purpose of seating. Jane Curran, 56... said: "When people see these seats and how much they cost, they are going to be amazed.

    "They look like an interesting design, but seats are for people to sit on... the real function of a seat has been forgotten."

    Mrs Sanders, city councillor for Littlemore, said: "I said time and again that the council should rethink the design, because I don't think it's appropriate for Cornmarket. People who need a rest if they're carrying heavy shopping need to be able to sit down. If they can't sit on half the seats it's an incredible waste of money."

    David Robertson, the county executive member for transport, said: "They have been designed so that the homeless will not be able to use them as a bed for the night."

    Bench by Matthew Hincman
    Matthew Hincman's 'bench object' installed at Jamaica Pond, Boston, Mass. Photo from WBUR website

    Following last week's post on the 'Lean Seat', John Curran let me know about the 'bench object' installation by sculptor Matthew Hincman. This was installed in a Boston park without any permission from the authorities, removed and then reinstated (for a while, at least) after the Boston Arts Commission and Parks Commission were impressed by the craftsmanship, thoughtfulness and safety of the piece.

    While this is probably not Hincman's intention, the deliberately 'unsittable' nature of the piece is not too much beyond some of the thinking we've seen displayed with real benches.

    Photo of Exeter St David's Station by Elsie esq.
    Exeter St Davids station - photo by Elsie esq.

    In a similar vein to the Heathrow Terminal 5 deliberate lack of-seats except in overpriced cafés, Mags L Halliday also told me about what's recently happened at Exeter St Davids, her local mainline railway station:

    There are no longer any indoor seats available without having to sit in the café, and the toilets are beyond the ticket barrier. So if you're there waiting for someone off a late train, after the cafe has closed, you can only sit outside the building, and have no access to the toilet facilities (unless a ticket inspector on the barrier feels kind). ... [First Great Western] are currently doing their best to discourage people from just hanging around waiting at Exeter St Davids. The recent introduction of barriers there (due to massive amounts of fare dodging on the local trains) has created a simply awful space. ... If you take a look at the stats, FGW has lost over 5% points for customer satisfaction with their facilities in the last 6 months - I wonder why!

    Waiting outdoors for late-night trains, with the cold wind howling through the station, is never pleasant anywhere, but I seem to remember St Davids being especially windy (south-south-west to north-north-east orientation). This kind of tactic (removing seats) might not be deliberate, but if it isn't, it demonstrates a real lack of customer insight or appreciation. Neither reason is admirable.

    UPDATE: Mags has posted photos (slideshow) of the recent changes at Exeter St Davids, along with notes - which also show other poor thinking by First Great Western, alongside the obvious removal-of-seating:


    Click to see more notes

    This is the only seating freely available at Exeter St Davids if you do not have a ticket (i.e. if you are waiting for someone). Note that one of the two benches is delightfully occupied.


    Click to see more notes

    Exeter St David's no longer has any freely accessible indoor seating. This is the view of the increasingly encroached concourse area where you can wait for people. The only toilets are beyond the barriers.


    Click to see more notes

    Having walked into the main concourse, you have to turn 180 degrees in order to see the departures screen, then 180 degrees back to go through the gates.

    What an attractive meeting point!

    Learned down the gambling house by Dan Lockton

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

    From 'The psychology of the slot machine':

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

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

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

    Casino design

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

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

    ...

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

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

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

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

    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.

    Ticket off (reprise) by Dan Lockton

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

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

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

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

    Dublin Bus ticket details at Dublin Airport

    An interesting case: Dublin Bus

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

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

    and Damien added this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A different strategy

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

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

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

    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?