Mosquito controversy goes high-profile

Mosquito - image from Compound Security

The Mosquito anti-teenager sound device, which we’ve covered on this site a few times, was yesterday heavily criticised by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, launching the BUZZ OFF campaign in conjunction with Liberty and the National Youth Agency: Buzz Off logo

Makers and users of ultra-sonic dispersal devices are being told to “Buzz Off” today by campaigners who say the device, which emits a high-pitched sound that targets under 25 year olds, is not a fair or reasonable solution for tackling anti-social behaviour. The campaign… is calling for the end to the use of ultra-sonic dispersal device. There are estimated to be 3,500 used across the country.
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Persuasive 2008

Persuasive 2008 header

I’m pleased to say that I’ll be presenting a short paper, Design With Intent: Persuasive Technology in a Wider Context* at Persuasive 2008, the 3rd International Conference on Persuasive Technology, taking place from June 4th-6th in Oulu, Finland.

The paper’s a (very) brief introductory review of some of the different approaches to ‘Design with Intent‘ from various disciplines, many of which have been discussed to some extent on this website, with an attempt to relate them to persuasive technology, the field started by Stanford’s B J Fogg and his team and now rapidly developing worldwide at the intersection of interaction design and behaviour change. (The paper doesn’t get as far as the DwI Method on which I’m currently working and hoping to test in the next few months.)

This is my first stab at a conference paper, and I’m incredibly excited (and lucky) to have had it accepted; there are a lot of very helpful comments and suggested revisions from the reviewers which I will endeavour to incorporate. I’m not sure what the conference organisers’ position is on making the paper available here; certainly authors from previous Persuasive conferences have put papers on their own websites after the conference, so I expect I will do the same. The proceedings will be available as part of Springer’s Lecture Notes in Computer Science series.

Many thanks to everyone who’s helped with my research via this site, suggesting angles to investigate and helping to clarify my thinking in this area, and to my PhD supervisors at Brunel, Professors David Harrison and Neville Stanton, for their help and support.

*Lockton, D., Harrison, D.J., Stanton, N.A. ‘Design With Intent: Persuasive Technology in a Wider Context’.

Abstract: Persuasive technology can be considered part of a wider field of ‘Design with Intent’ (DwI) – design intended to result in certain user behaviour. This paper gives a very brief review of approaches to DwI from different disciplines, and looks at how persuasive technology sits within this space.

UPDATE (21 April): Following the precedent of some other Persuasive authors, I’ve uploaded a preprint version of the paper here: Design With Intent: Persuasive Technology in a Wider Context [PDF, 169kb]. As required to be stated, this is a self-archived preprint version of the paper, to be presented at Persuasive 2008, June 4-6, Oulu, Finland, and published in H. Oinas-Kukkonen et al. (Eds.): PERSUASIVE 2008, LNCS 5033, pp. 274 – 278, 2008.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008

Home-made instant poka-yokes

Everyday poka-yoke

Update: Also known as Useful Landmines in the 43 Folders world – thanks Pantufla!

Mistake-proofing – poka-yoke – can be as simple as encouraging/forcing yourself to do things in a sequence, to avoid forgetting or avoiding intermediate steps. If you’re the sort of person who hangs a jacket or bag on the door handle, so it can’t be forgotten on the way out, puts things in front of the door so you can’t forget them when you’re going out, or at the top or bottom of the stairs so you’ll remember to carry them to their intended destination next time you’re using the stairs, you’re engaged in mistake-proofing. You’re introducing a behaviour-shaping constraint to assist your own effectiveness.

In the above photo, putting the mobile phone (on-charge) inside a shoe makes it more likely that it will be remembered when going out: the act of putting the shoes on requires the user to pick up the phone, which could otherwise be easily forgotten. Similarly, Mark Hurst (of Good Experience and ‘Broken’ fame) regularly features two very simple poka-yoke procedures in his Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide & Almanac:

How to remember if the batteries aren’t in your camera

Summary: If the batteries are dead, or aren’t in the camera, keep the battery compartment open.

Description: When you’re charging your camera batteries (in a wall charger, say), keep the camera’s battery compartment open. That way, if you pick up your camera to put it in your pocket or purse, you’ll see that the battery compartment is open and will remember that the batteries aren’t in it.

Leaving the camera battery door open

There’s also this:

How to make sure they see the papers you dropped off

Summary: Put the papers on their chair.

Description: Here’s a tip I learned years ago and have used ever since. If you want to make sure that someone sees the papers you dropped off at their desk, put the papers on their chair. The natural inclination is to drop the files on the keyboard, or beside the mousepad. What’s the first thing the person does when they get back to their desk? They shove the papers aside, onto a nearby pile. They want to check their e-mail immediately, and those papers are in the way!

But put the papers on their chair, and watch what happens: the person refuses to sit on them! They take a second to pick them up, and while they’re in-hand, the person takes a look at the files while they get comfortable in the chair. Bingo: you guarantee attention to your drop-off.

Papers on chair

Of course the papers-on-chair method can also be used to remind (or discipline) yourself about dealing with important papers.

This kind of very simple sequencing poka-yoke comes almost naturally in our everyday lives, at least with certain tasks. Sometimes it’s simply reminding ourselves to do something (e.g. putting a Post-It note somewhere we can see it); other times it’s trying to prevent us proceeding until some action has been taken (e.g. putting a Post-It note right in the middle of the computer screen so we can’t ignore it). Donald Norman’s Things That Make Us Smart has some interesting discussion of the power of Post-It notes and their importance as “information in the world”, disburdening some of our mental load – also part of the whole Getting Things Done phenomenon.

Sometimes we even (consciously or otherwise) try to ‘trick’ ourselves into behaving how we want to (or know we should) – the random offset alarm clock (patent; Halfbakery discussion) and Gauri Nanda’s “runaway success” Clocky being examples that spring to mind. (I once had a bedside clock radio where the button to set the minutes no longer worked, which meant that I could only set it either on-the-hour, or, because I forgot to do it at the right moment, set it maybe between 5 and 30 minutes fast. That meant that there was an uncertainty built into every time I glanced at the display, and indeed every time the alarm went off. I was rarely late, as a result.)

I have a hunch that almost trivially simple sequencing poka-yokes (in particular) could be important in designing for sustainable behaviour, such as reducing energy use and waste generation. For example, if your rubbish bin had a recycling box built into the top, so that you had to lift it out of the way (hinged, perhaps, to make it hassle to remove entirely) before putting anything into the main bin, it would be difficult to ignore the recycling box. Hence, learning as much as possible about different methods people use to mistake-proof themselves, or shape their own everyday behaviour, is likely to be useful in exapnding this line of research.

So, what are the everyday home-spun (or otherwise) tricks you use to help mistake-proof yourself?

1st Ballardian Festival of Home Movies

Langley

Simon Sellars, proprietor of the endlessly fascinating Ballardian, has organised a ‘Festival of Home Movies’, inviting mobile phone videos on the ‘Ballardian’ theme, including but not limited to “dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”:

In 1984 J.G. Ballard called for a ‘Festival of Home Movies’ and 24 years on we’re happy to oblige: announcing our latest competition, to promote JGB’s forthcoming autobiography, Miracles of Life.

Closing date for submissions: February 20.

Selected entries will be hosted on the site and the winner will receive a copy of Miracles of Life along with the forthcoming HarperCollins reissues of Ballard’s Millennium People, The Drought, The Crystal World, The Drowned World and The Unlimited Dream Company.

I’ve been reading Miracles of Life over the last few days, though not in a strictly chronological order (rather, like The Atrocity Exhbition, opening it, finding a paragraph that catches the eye, and continuing in that way). It’s quite poignant, given JGB’s current illness, but somehow very inspiring.

Digital control round-up

An 'Apple' dongle

Mac as a giant dongle

At Coding Horror, Jeff Atwood makes an interesting point about Apple’s lock-in business model:

It’s almost first party only– about as close as you can get to a console platform and still call yourself a computer… when you buy a new Mac, you’re buying a giant hardware dongle that allows you to run OS X software.

There’s nothing harder to copy than an entire MacBook. When the dongle — or, if you prefer, the “Apple Mac” — is present, OS X and Apple software runs. It’s a remarkably pretty, well-designed machine, to be sure. But let’s not kid ourselves: it’s also one hell of a dongle.

If the above sounds disapproving in tone, perhaps it is. There’s something distasteful to me about dongles, no matter how cool they may be.

Of course, as with other dongles, there are plenty of people who’ve got round the Mac hardware ‘dongle’ requirement. Is it true to say (à la John Gilmore) that technical people interpret lock-ins (/other constraints) as damage and route around them?

Screenshot of Mukurtu archive website

Social status-based DRM

The BBC has a story about the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive, a digital photo archive developed by/for the Warumungu community in Australia’s Northern Territory. Because of cultural constraints, social status, gender and community background have been used to determine whether or not users can search for and view certain images:

It asks every person who logs in for their name, age, sex and standing within their community. This information then restricts what they can search for in the archive, offering a new take on DRM.

For example, men cannot view women’s rituals, and people from one community cannot view material from another without first seeking permission. Meanwhile images of the deceased cannot be viewed by their families.

It’s not completely clear whether it’s intended to help users perform self-censorship (i.e. they ‘know’ they ‘shouldn’t’ look at certain images, and the restrictions are helping them achieve that) or whether it’s intended to stop users seeing things they ‘shouldn’t', even if they want to. I think it’s probably the former, since there’s nothing to stop someone putting in false details (but that does assume that the idea of putting in false details would be obvious to someone not experienced with computer login procedures; it may not).

While from my western point of view, this kind of social status-based discrimination DRM seems complete anathema – an entirely arbitrary restriction on knowledge dissemination – I can see that it offers something aside from our common understanding of censorship, and if that’s ‘appropriate’ in this context, then I guess it’s up to them. It’s certainly interesting.

Neverthless, imagining for a moment that there were a Warumungu community living in the EU, would DRM (or any other kind of access restriction) based on a) gender or b) social status not be illegal under European Human Rights legislation?

Disabled buttonsDisabling buttons

From Clientcopia:

Client: We don’t want the visitor to leave our site. Please leave the navigation buttons, but remove the links so that they don’t go anywhere if you click them.

It’s funny because the suggestion is such a crude way of implementing it, but it’s not actually that unlikely – a 2005 patent by Brian Shuster details a “program [that] interacts with the browser software to modify or control one or more of the browser functions, such that the user computer is further directed to a predesignated site or page… instead of accessing the site or page typically associated with the selected browser function” – and we’ve looked before at websites deliberately designed to break in certain browers and disabling right-click menus for arbitrary purposes.

“It’s a weak society that sees removing them as the solution”

West Hampstead Library - photo by Pashmin@ Following on from our recent look at the strategic design of public benches, BBC London’s Jimmy Tam let me know about this story in the Camden New Journal:

A public bench has been removed from outside West Hampstead Library [photo from Pashmin@'s Flickr] after it became a magnet for street drinkers.
The Town Hall now plan to use “perch” benches in the area in a bid to cut anti-social behaviour.

Singer-songwriter David Thompson, 52, of Sumatra Road, has penned a song called Menches on Benches, celebrating the camaraderie among users of public benches. He said: “A lot of people who are down and out or just high on drugs sit there at night which might be the reason they took them away, but it’s a weak society that sees removing them as the solution. You have a fellowship on the bench.”

Norma Sedler, who lives in Hillfield Road, added: “Just because a few druggies and winos started ­sitting on the seats the KGB come along and take away our lovely seats with proper backs and slats and all we have left is to sit on the pavement. When I was a kid there were always old people watching the world go by. Now I’m old myself, it’s nice if you’re going on an errand to sit down on a bench.”

Is it not the council’s action which is the anti-social behaviour here?

Rolling bench

On completely the other side of the coin, this (via) – thanks to Ray Stone for telling me about it – seems a clever piece of design which actually benefits the user: the bench surface can be rotated after it’s rained, so that a user need not sit on a wet surface. Some of the comments at YankoDesign do suggest that the underside could actually get wetter due to water running down the surface and not evaporating in the sunlight; this might be a valid concern.

Rolling Bench

Interesting, though, how quickly it was before someone commented “How long would it take before somebody rolled a homeless guy off the bench?”

Bench design by Sungwoo Park, Yoonha Paick, Jongdeuk Son, Banseok Yoon, Eunbi Cho & Minjung Sim.