Slanty design

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.

Review: Architecture as Crime Control by Neal Katyal

Concrete

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design principles

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

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

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

Image from Headphonaught’s Flickr stream

Elevator (lift) numerals positioned to avoid eye contact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design should:

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

    Security door propped open

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

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

    Natural surveillance

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

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

    [In the first image] the informal areas are blocked form sight and far from school grounds. Because no central place for congregation exists, students are spread over the grounds, and there is insufficient density for monitoring. The four open entrances and exits facilitate access to the school and escape.

    [In the second image,] through the designation of formal gathering areas, other places become subtly off-limits to students. Indeed, those who are present in such areas are likely to attract suspicion…. the formal gathering areas are naturally surveilled by building users… [and] are long and thin, running alongside the school windows, and two hedges prevent students from going fuarther away. Moreover, the west entrance, which had the least potential for surveillance, has been closed…

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

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

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

    Territoriality

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

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

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

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

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

    Addition of archway to discourage use as through-route

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

  • Building community

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

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

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

    Strengthening targets

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

  • Placing deadbolts lower on door frames

    (presumably to make kicking them open more difficult)

  • Having doors in vulnerable locations swing outward

  • Raising fire escapes to put them out of easy reach

  • Reducing the size of letter-box openings

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

  • Prickly shrubs placed outside of windows can also deter crime

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

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

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

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

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

    Modern technology permits targets to be hardened in ways that are not obvious to the public. Strong plastics, graffiti-resistant paint, and doors with steel cores are a few examples. These allow architects to disguise their efforts at strengthening targets and thus avoid sending a message that crime is rampant.

    Some forms of target hardening are suboptimal in that visibility evinces a fear of crime that can cause damage to the fabric of a community and even increase crime rates.

    He again later returns to this point:

    Subtle architecture that gently reinfoces law-abiding norms and prevents a degree of intrusion is to be preferred to explicit and awkward physical barricades that reflect the feeling that a community is under siege. Cheap wire fences do not express a belief in the power of law or norms; rather, they reflect the opposite. The same can be said for ugly iron bars on windows, which express the terror of crime as powerfully as does any sign or published crime statistic.

    A whole host of architectural strategies – such as the placement of doors and windows, creation of semipublic congregation spaces, street layout alterations, park redesign, and many more – sidestep creating an architecture dominated by the expression of fear. Indeed, cheap barricades often substitute for these subtler measures. Viewed this way, gated communities are a byproduct of public disregard of architecture, not a sustainable solution to crime.[my emphasis]

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

    Other aspects

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

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

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

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

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

    Psychological evidence shows that criminals decode environmental ‘cues’ to assess the likelihood of success of a given criminal act… the design of a meeting table influences who will speak and when, and who is perceived to have a positionof authority. It is therefore no great shock that the eight months of negotiation that preceded the 1969 Paris Peace Talks largely centred on what the physical space of the negotiating table would be. It is said that Machiavelli designed a political meeting chamber with a ceiling that looked asif it were about to collapse, reasoning that it would induce politicians to vote quickly and leave.

    Winston Churchill… went so far as to claim that the shape of the House [of Commons] was essential to the two-party system and that its small size was critical for ‘free debate':

    “The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of chamber… the act of crossing the floor is one which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice.”

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

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

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

    More specific examples

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

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

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

    (See also discussion here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Summary

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

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

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

    Tower A, Brunel University

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

    The future of academic exposure?

    Too many papers
    A lot of research is published each year.

    Now that I’m a student again, I’ve got access (via Athens) to a vastly increased amount of academic journals, papers and so on. Far more than I could have done ‘legitimately’ without that Athens login, aside from travelling from library to library to library. And while it’s good for me to have that login, right at this moment, the necessity for such a login is hardly good for society as a whole. As an independent researcher, I simply could not keep on top of my subject properly.

    I think it’s fairly clear that open access is the way to go, and certainly where research has enjoyed any degree of public funding there should be no case otherwise. But even where research is freely or easily available, its impact, as a result of limited exposure, is often also very limited or nonexistent, even within academia.

    This is surely an omnipresent worry/headache/frustration for many researchers, and the issue was brought home to me the other day. I was reading a (fairly academic) book, published in the UK in 2005, written by a design professor at a university about 50 miles from here, and found a comment, within a discussion of a particular issue, along the lines of “no research has been done on the issue of to what extent A relates to B in the field of C, but it is safe to assume D” and yet, in front of me on the desk, was a PhD thesis completed in 2003, at my university, addressing not only the exact issue specified, but also showing D to be incorrect. Now, a paper was written based on this thesis, and published in an engineering journal, and also presented at a conference, but it clearly escaped the notice of the author of the book.

    Now, of course, this probably happens a thousand times a day in academia. It’s not an especially interesting example, and there may be many possible explanations, the book maybe having taken a long period to go from being researched to publication being somewhat likely. But assuming it didn’t, and assuming the book’s author, despite being, by all accounts, an ‘expert’ in his field, really was unaware of research going on not too far away, then there is a failure of communication. (In this case, there might also be the often self-imposed disconnect between the ‘design’ community, and the ‘engineering’ community: the assumption that research done in a different field is irrelevant or likely not to be understandable. That, perhaps, is another problem again.)

    This type of communication failure is not necessarily entirely the fault of either side, but it is a problem, across all fields of knowledge and endeavour. So what’s the answer?

    I don’t know, from that kind of distance, but closer up, I have a hunch that broad subject blog families, such as Scienceblogs, ‘research digest’ blogs such as the British Psychological Society‘s, and individual blogs with a fairly wide scope, such as Mind Hacks (these latter two both examples from the same field) are going to become increasingly important mechanisms for disseminating research advances to both an academic and a wider audience. Whether the actual awareness of a particular new piece of research comes directly by a researcher reading the site, or by a colleague or friend-of-a-friend referring the researcher, the path from ignorance to awareness is (potentially) shorter and easier than before. It’s (potentially) less likely that anyone reasonably well-informed about a field will not have had an opportunity to learn about other research in the field, at least that which is either newly published or which somehow comes to the attention of the bloggers (so the bloggers’ filtering and discriminatory abilities are very important, in this sense).

    Something I’m planning to do, on this blog, from now on, is to review useful or interesting academic papers or journal articles (or books, of course) I come across, from a variety of academic areas, which are relevant to the field of architectures of control, and design for behaviour change in general – shot through the lens of my PhD research focus, extracting pertinent arguments, quotes, following up references, and so on. I hope, in some small way, this will also bring particular areas of research to the attention of researchers from other disciplines, in the same way (for example) that Lawrence Lessig’s “code is law” concept made me think more about constraints and behaviour-shaping in product design in the first place.

    From a practical point of view, this approach also seems like it might be a very useful way to document the process of getting to grips with the literature on a subject – helping immensely when it comes to putting together my actual literature review for the PhD – and allowing input (commentary, recommendations, suggestions) from a very diverse set of readers worldwide, in a way which the traditional ivory tower or even open-plan research office doesn’t, or can’t, at least during this stage of the research. While I’m sure there are plenty of other people who’ve had a similar idea (any links would be very interesting: I love seeing how other people structure their research), this approach seems quite excitingly fresh to me, imbuing the literature review process with a vibrancy and immediacy that simply wouldn’t have been as easy to do in the past.

    Persuasion & control round-up

  • New Scientist: Recruiting Smell for the Hard Sell
    Image 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!
  • Bye-bye 9rules

    Around ten months ago, this site was accepted into 9rules, a diverse network of blogs which, at the time, had this aim:

    9rules is a community of the best weblogs in the world on a variety of topics. We started 9rules to give passionate writers more exposure and to help readers find great blogs on their favorite subjects. It’s difficult to find sites worth returning to, so 9rules brings together the very best of the independent web all under one roof.

    It was a great honour to be accepted, given the quality of the other blogs involved and the number that applied during the 24 hour ‘submission window’. I remember sitting in a coffee shop on Lothian Road in Edinburgh having taken my laptop away on holiday purely to do the 9rules submission at the right time: some ‘recognition’ on this level meant a lot to me, and it still does.

    And the site’s got a lot of new readers through 9rules: the start of every new post appeared, within a couple of hours, in both the ‘Design‘ and ‘Technology‘ feeds on the 9rules site, and a lot of people clicked through to read the full things, and then (often) stayed to read other posts. Equally, I found some truly amazing new blogs and interesting voices through perusing other members’ feeds: there is a wealth of passionate talent and opinion out there, and 9rules’ members never failed to impress. To a large extent I was a passive consumer of what 9rules brought me; I didn’t get involved with the ‘my.9r‘ social networking feature of the site, nor write any ‘Notes‘ (if I’m going to write something intelligent, I’ll write it on the blog, was my reasoning, but I certainly read a number of interesting discussions in the Notes section, and enjoyed doing so).

    Bye bye 9rulesHowever, 9rules is changing its membership policy (compare the current ‘About’ page) and yesterday I received an email from 9rules’ Tyme White indicating that, effectively, any members who don’t participate in the community aspects of the site are no longer welcome:

    Members spoke out about their displeasure concerning members that they never interact with and never hear from, yet all member entries carry the same weight on 9rules, which is not fair. After talking it out in Clubhouse, we made participating either in the private member area or my.9rules a requirement, part of the membership agreement… If you feel you are contributing by your entries being shown, 9rules is no longer a good fit for you, decline the agreement (or do not respond), remove the leaf from your site and we will remove your site from displaying on 9rules. If you agree but don’t have the time to interact or don’t feel you should (or don’t want to), the participation will become a chore, something you didn’t want to do in the first place. It just won’t work in the long-term so it would be best to decline now…

    Let me be clear – participation in either the new member area or my.9rules is required for all members, requested by members.

    I understand what she’s saying, and I’m not going to argue – but it’s a shame: forced participation would certainly “become a chore” and I’m not going to agree to commit to anything along those lines (I wonder how the level of participation will be measured or assessed?), so this site will be leaving 9rules, sadly, in due course.

    Taking a broader view, in internet terms, 9rules’ move – to more of a ‘walled garden’, turned in on itself – seems very much at odds with the increased openness which has driven the dramatic growth of, say, Facebook. Perhaps 9rules wants ‘quality’ rather than ‘quantity’, but defining ‘quality’ as ‘frequency of participation’ seems to be rather arbitrarily quantitative, if that makes sense. I’m not sure there’s actually any correlation between time spent on interactive banter within a closed community, and creating worthwhile blog content that people want to read: it would seem that time spent on one precludes spending time on the other.

    I hope some of the readers who originally found this site through 9rules will continue to read it (the RSS/Atom feed links are in the sidebar on the right), and I thank 9rules for the extra exposure it gave this site during my time as a member.