Security is about preventing adverse consequences from the intentional and unwarranted actions of others. What this definition basically means is that we want people to behave in a certain way… and security is a way of ensuring that they do so.
Bruce Schneier, Beyond Fear
A simpler way of thinking about Interaction Designers is that they are the shapers of behavior. Interaction Designers… all attempt to understand and shape human behavior. This is the purpose of the profession: to change the way people behave.
Jon Kolko, Thoughts on Interaction Design
(Italic emphases are original; bold emphases are mine)
It’s interesting to see such similar language used in two fields which are rarely seen as related. But they are, of course: they are about human interaction with technology. To some extent, security – certainly the design of countermeasures – may be a rigorous, analytical subset of interaction design, just as interaction design is a subset of the intersection of technology and psychology. Designers in one field ought to be able to learn usefully from those in others.
Interaction design is not commonly defined as Jon Kolko does above – it was reading that specific quote on his website which persuaded me to buy his book – but it’s pretty close to the idea of design with intent.
This is a communal rubbish chute serving a block of flats. The cross-sectional area of the aperture revealed by opening the hatch should be smaller than the cross-sectional area of the chute itself, so there’s less chance of rubbish bags getting stuck, even when someone crams one in.
That aperture dimension is important. It (to a large extent) determines the volume of rubbish that can be thrown away in one go. That in turn determines the size of the bins that users of this chute will (probably) have in their houses or flats, and thus how often the bin will have to be emptied. Taking the rubbish out can be a chore; halving the bin size doubles the number of trips to the chute, doubles the inconvenience.
It is, therefore, more desirable not to throw too much away. At the very least, having a smaller bin will make users aware more often of just how much waste they’re generating.
But does that have any measurable effect on purchasing decisions in the first place, assuming that more minimally packaged products are available as an alternative to those with excess packaging? How strongly coupled are the (limited) affordance of a smaller bin, and, at a couple of removes, in-store decisions? Is that rubbish bin, or indeed the chute aperture itself a social actor, a messenger, capable of persuading people to change their behaviour purely by existing with one set of dimensions rather than another?
Effectively, do people with smaller rubbish bins in their houses consciously buy items with less packaging?
Where else is this modified affordance -> inconvenience -> behaviour change pattern used as a strategy? As with making parking spaces deliberately smaller to make owning a large vehicle less convenient, the strategy may have some potential.
Back in September we looked at Mentor Teaching Machines, a clever type of non-linear textbook from the early 1970s which guides/constrains the user’s progression, in the process diagnosing some common types of misunderstanding and ‘remedying’ them. The comments were enlightening, too: there’s a lot more history to programmed teaching texts and programmed instruction than I realised, and I will certainly be covering some of this, and what useful design principles and inspiration can be drawn from it, at some point.
Now, this is not in the same league, but interesting nonetheless: a ‘game’ to teach children (4 years onwards) spelling using a poka-yoke technique. The Spellmaster, from J W Spear & Sons – the example here is from 1980 (the Enfield factory was closed after a Mattel takeover in 1994) featured eighty plastic letter tiles, Scrabble-like but larger, with raised pegs underneath, a different pattern for each letter.
The letter tiles are used to spell the names of objects and concepts (colours, numbers) illustrated on punched cards which fit onto a backing board, the tiles only fitting in their spaces correctly if the pegs pattern aligns perfectly with the punched holes. If the wrong letter is used, the tile doesn’t fit properly and sits at an angle rather than snapping neatly into place. The ‘snap’ of a correctly positioned letter is actually pretty satisfying – surprisingly so, given the combination of plastic (urea formaldehyde, I think) and 30-year old cardboard.
Left: The wrong tile – the pegs do not align with the punched holes. Right: The correct tile – everything lines up. Below: The wrong tile here – note the extra peg on the left-hand edge of the tile, which doesn’t match up with the punched hole, and leads to the tile not sitting down properly.
Letters which could work either way up, such as ‘o’ and ‘s’ have – as would be hoped – symmetrical peg patterns. It’s a simple system, but it’s clever and while not offering any ‘remedial’ function to the child, I would think it’s not too likely that many children would try all 25 other letters assuming the first one didn’t fit. Hence, there is some bias against pure trial-and-error. It’s interesting to think how immediately we might consider a computer-based solution to this kind of design brief today, where a purely physical one would work very well and give a different kind of tactile satisfaction.
Over at the brilliant Ballardian, editor Simon Sellars has just published my article ‘J.G. Ballard & Architectures of Control‘, where I take a brief look at how Ballard’s work repeatedly examines ‘the effect of architecture on the individual’ – something central to both the physical and psychological aspects of my research. Many thanks are due to Simon for giving me the opportunity to write for this (very knowledgeable) audience, and I hope I’ve done the subject justice.
Surveillance cameras hung like gargoyles from the cornices, following me as I approached the barbican and identified myself to the guard at the reception desk… High above me, fluted columns carried the pitched roofs, an attempt at a vernacular architecture that failed to disguise this executive-class prison. Taking their cue from Eden-Olympia and Antibes-les-Pins, the totalitarian systems of the future would be subservient and ingratiating, but the locks would be just as strong.
Super-Cannes, chapter 15.
Norwich City Council is introducing a system of parking permit charges determined by the length of the vehicle:
The move away from flat-fee permits will penalise drivers who own vehicles more than 4.45 metres (14½ft) in length, such as the Vauxhall Vectra.
Brian Morrey, vice-chairman of the Norwich Highways Agency Committee, a joint initiative between the city council and Norfolk County Council, said: “We want to encourage more people to drive smaller cars. It is far more environmentally friendly and would also generate more parking space on the roads.”
(Quote from the Times; image from the Daily Mail)
Media reactions have largely been negative, with the measure being seen as a stealth tax, penalising larger families with larger vehicles, and so on; even the Green Party’s Siân Berry (London mayoral candidate and anti-4 × 4 activist) criticised the measure on the BBC News this morning for not being linked to the cars’ CO2 emissions.
Nevertheless, from a ‘design with intent’ point of view, this is an interesting strategy. The Council is clearly addressing the problem which it perceives – too many large cars in a city with “narrow, mediaeval” streets, rather than the ‘wider’ problem of CO2, and it’s addressing it directly, by making it less desirable to own a larger vehicle in Norwich if you’re going to park it on the street. Whether that’s ethical, sensible, or anything else is another matter: there are always unexpected consequences, and if, for example, more people decided to lay tarmac over their front gardens to avoid having to pay to park on the road outside, the impact of the permit costs might be felt long after the price had been forgotten (much like the window tax). While legal/economic/policy mechanisms for changing user behaviour, such as fines and permits, are perhaps outside the usual purview of ‘design with intent’, the idea here is still relevant: it’s a rather rare example of a direct response to a problem, and it – potentially – has that ‘trimtab‘ characteristic that is so fascinating about certain solutions.
An obvious physical-psychological mechanism analogous to the permit pricing structure might be to construct city car parks and parking spaces so that there were only a few spaces long/wide enough to take larger vehicles (making this very obvious), thus adding a little extra inconvenience every time a driver of a larger vehicle wants to park. Over time, that thin end of the inconvenience wedge might have an effect, even if it simply means that when the owner comes to replace the car, he or she thinks “Driving a big car’s so inconvenient nowadays; I’ll get something smaller.” On a large scale, those small decisions can have a significant impact. Has this been done anywhere?