Design & Punishment

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.


  1. Your Web site appears to have been attacked and defaced.

    The affected URL is

    As of 4:30 central time clicking it results in an incorrect response.

    Expected behavior: the Web server sends a page consisting of “Another Charging Opportunity” and its comments, similar to the page where this comment is being entered.

    Actual behavior: the Web server either does nothing or sends the wrong page (i.e. one not containing “Another Charging Opportunity” and its comments).

    Alarmingly, the “wrong page” appears to contain text directed at the system administrator and discussing passwords, text which presumably should never be displayed to normal surfers, implying a security breach.

    Get your server patched up to date on security hotfixes pronto! Whoever did this appears to have made an affirmative effort to expose privileged parts of the system administrator’s interface to the server, perhaps to assist in further intrusions or throw the site wide open to intrusion by anybody.

    Most likely on behalf of one of the nastier DRM-using user-hostile corporations that don’t like your shedding a light on some of their “architectures of control”.

    Unfortunately you probably have some powerful enemies so you will need top-notch site security now. There seems to be no loss beyond the one article and its comments thus far; compared to what might await, it’s just a warning shot (or maybe a test). You don’t want to face the brunt of a really determined attack without beefier security given that the warning shot managed to do real damage with your current setup. If it was indeed a test, there’s now blood in the water and probably sharks about. Patch the hole and harden everything before it’s too late.

  2. Dan

    The site has been having a few problems this evening; the hosting company assures me it’s down to an excessive amount of simultaneous requested PHP connections to the database causing things to time out for a lot of visitors, and that it’s something only I can fix, so I’m endeavouring to do so in a number of ways.

    I don’t think there was any security breach (the WordPress “Error establishing a database connection” message which does indeed mention passwords scared me somewhat initially) but I will be trying various things to improve the stability and security of the site. Along with some changes (improvements) to layout, etc, that I intend to make over the next couple of weeks, the site may occasionally look strange, wrong or broken, and I apologise for that in advance.

  3. Part of the problem could be that for some reason Firefox refuses to cache individual article pages at this site, and always goes back to the server for them.

  4. Test — is something broken with posting? It doesn’t seem to work anymore, or else your damned spam filter has decided to kill “None of 2” the way it did the original “None of” 😛

  5. Dan

    Does Ctrl + F5 force Firefox to refresh the page? Even so, the comments may now take a few hours to appear because of the extra caching I’ve enabled on the site to try and reduce the number of queries to the database (it’s a separate but concurrent delay to any delay caused by spam-filtering!)

    I am investigating the max_user_connections problem and at present everything seems to be behaving itself – just need to monitor all the processes at the point when the problem recurs.

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