Thanks to Cory, this site has a lot of new readers today, so I thought I’d try to explain briefly what it’s all about.
‘Architectures of Control’ are features designed into things which intentionally attempt to restrict or enforce certain behaviour on the part of the users. The most prevalent examples are DRM and other attempts to control how users can interact with software and data, but similar thinking (in different degrees) is evident in many aspects of the built environment – such as anti-loiter and anti-homeless benches – and in product design in general. The term ‘architectures of control’ is used by Lawrence Lessig in the seminal Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, although the basic idea has been expressed in a number of fields by many different people.
The two most popular posts – by far – in the 18 months the blog’s been running are on water detection stickers on phones and the Teen Buzz / Mosquito ringtone, but there’s much more to the idea of architectures of control than this. Most architectures of control result from commercial or political agendas, often to enforce a razor-blade model, stifle disruptive innovation, or curtail freedoms in public space. Sometimes these are underhanded; other times blatant. As such, this blog generally takes a critical, but interested, line on these, since they restrict the liberties of users without offering then any real benefits in return.
However, in the context of educating or guiding users, preventing mistakes, preventing accidents and encouraging more environmentally friendly behaviour, there are numerous ways that aspects of these ‘control’ techniques can be applied in a less deleterious, less controlling, more positive way. In manufacturing industry, Shigeo Shingo’s poka-yoke methods improve efficiency and safety; in product design, behaviour-shaping constraints (forcing functions, interlocks, etc) as articulated by Don Norman, are commonly used for safety and to help users operate products correctly; and B J Fogg’s captology research at Stanford investigates the possibilities of persuasive technology in education and motivation.
I’m a freelance designer/engineer from the UK, working mainly (at present) for Sir Clive Sinclair; I started my research on architectures of control as part of a Cambridge-MIT Institute Masters in Technology Policy (my brief dissertation is here – PDF), and from this September will be taking the research into the specific area of encouraging and guiding more environmentally friendly behaviour, with a PhD studentship at Brunel University.