What I didn’t get round to writing about in 2009

A lot of people send me ideas and suggestions for the blog, for which I’m very grateful indeed, but which I don’t always get round to investigating or posting or dealing with in a timely manner. Or sometimes I note them, use them as examples elsewhere, or in conversation with people, but never actually get round to posting about them. I apologise for all this, and I apologise if you’ve sent stuff and never got a reply, or got a very late reply. I have a very very inefficient workflow and it is sometimes embarrassing. It’s something I need to fix in 2010 if I’m going to get a PhD thesis done by the summer.

But as as a bumper end-of-2009 post, here’s a roundup of some really interesting examples, ideas, projects, and other tit-bits. If yours isn’t here, I further apologise: it may resurface at some point soon.

Transparent toilet in Lausanne

George Preston sent me a link to this video of a very interesting public toilet in Lausanne, Switzerland. As George puts it:

There’s a central quite modern district [in Lausanne] called Flon, and the toilets have an intriguing way of grabbing your attention/dissuading vandals….the walls are made of glass. But when you pay and enter, a current running to an LC layer in the glass is cut off, rendering it opaque. For people not familiar with them, they are baffling!

The tell-tale pill bottle

Ralph Borland – responsible for the impressive Suited for Subversion – and who must be just about finished with his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin – sends me this story about tuberculosis pill bottles equipped with a SIM card, which can text a patient, his or her carer, or indeed the health authorities if the pills aren’t taken, “achiev[ing] a 94% compliance rate for a TB trial in South Africa”. The SIMpill Medication Adherence Solution is a clever product, a neat technology intervention in patient compliance, an area designers are increasingly being asked to address.

From the SIMpill website:

The SIMpill® Medication Adherence Solution offers detailed compliance data and corresponding statistics, and the patient or pre-approved healthcare professionals or analyst, can gain access to real-time information regarding medication use and compliance through a private secure account on the SIMpill® website. Via the web account the healthcare providers can monitor the medication use of their patients in real-time, and can decide on type of intervention to meet the patient’s ongoing adherence schedule.

As Ralph points out, though:

Put that together with the fact that you can be imprisoned in SA if you have a drug-resistant TB strain and you have something more like a coercive technology than persuasive, interfacing directly with authority structures etc. Thought it’s an interesting cross-over of developing world design and persuasive design…

Narrower supermarket aisles

Brian Cugelman of AlterSpark sent me the following rather coercive idea he overheard, along the lines of Monkeon‘s Leonard Ball bench:

On BBC radio some caller made a proposal relevant to your research. To cope with the UK’s obesity epidemic, with 25% of the population considered obese, a caller proposed making grocery stores aisles very narrow so people of average weight could shop and obese people would not fit.

Punishing users for Alt-tabbing away

From a comment on Jeff Atwood’s 2007 ‘Please don’t steal my focus’ post (which I found again when searching for how to stop an application stealing focus):

One of the old MMOs I used to play (Rubies of Eventide) would log you out of the game if you alt tabbed, supposedly to prevent cheating. This was back in the days when web browsers on windows would steal focus back any time a script on the page reloaded.
I died so many times to those damn page reloads.

Mike on December 5, 2007 4:08 AM

Obstacles speed up exiting crowds

Tjebbe van Eemeren of the University of Twente – a student of Peter-Paul Verbeek of What Things Do fame – sends me a link to this story about the use of obstacles to speed up the passage of crowds:

Even when exits are wide open, people seem to jam up in front of it. Then they tried something goofy. They put something in the way of the people trying to get out. Not so big that it blocked the way, but big enough that people had to detour around it. And it had to be in just the right place. Guess what? Everybody got out faster.

The actual research isn’t referenced in the story, but this article goes into a lot more detail. There’s a preprint of the paper by Daichi Yanagaisawa et al here. There’s also discussion of the story and the phenomenon on Derren Brown’s blog.

Opower

Opower
Robert Cialdini gets name-checked quite a lot on this blog, and rightly so: his work on persuasion and the psychology of influencing behaviour across many different domains underpins many of the design patterns and explains many of the examples we’ve looked at (particularly what I characterised as the ‘cognitive lens’ of design with intent). He’s something of a model for how to be a respected academic researcher at the forefront of his field (who actually tries things out rather than simply theorising), a consultant in high demand from industry, and also a bestselling popular author.

Cialdini is now Chief Scientist of Opower, an energy monitoring and smart metering startup which started life as Positive Energy (thanks to Mike Stenhouse for sending me details earlier in the year) and has already had significant success partnering with utility companies in the US to give customers better feedback – using personalised messages based on social proof and norms to suggest actions for householders to take to reduce their consumption:

Step 1: Customer reads report: “You used 72 percent more than your efficient neighbors.”
Step 2: Customer reads targeted tip: “Most people in your area keep their AC at 78 degrees”
Step 3: Customer turns down thermostat and takes other energy-saving actions.

I think it’s worth keeping an eye on Opower‘s development: they’re taking a different, but complementary approach to other innovators such as Onzo in the UK, and seem to be putting into practice (on a huge scale) some of the ideas that projects such as CHARM are also investigating. As I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of opportunity for design to influence behaviour in this area, and help users as well as reducing environmental impact.

What’s happening with the toolkit (Part 2): Interaction design: how you can be part of it

Following on from part 1, here are a few of the ‘new’ design patterns that are going to be in v.0.95 of the Design with Intent toolkit, but for which I don’t yet have very good ‘design’ examples.

Any suggestions, or photos / screenshots would be very much appreciated, whether they’re your own projects, things you’ve come across elsewhere, or just ideas that occur to you. If you’re happy for me to use them in the toolkit (cards & wiki)* then of course you’ll get a credit and if your photo’s used, I’ll send you a pack of the cards when they’re done.

Remember, for each of these patterns, the idea is that it can be used intentionally to influence user behaviour, via the design of an interface, product, service, environment, or other kind of system.

Similarity

Can you make elements look similar so users perceive them to share characteristics, or that they should be used together?

This – a Gestalt principle applied with the intent of influencing behaviour – seems like it should be an easy pattern to find examples for, but I’m struggling. The basic idea is that a design intentionally has some elements which look alike, or similar, or to be in a group, so that a user perceives them to share some properties or characteristics (and so acts accordingly – perhaps using two controls together).

In its most trivial sense, this is present everywhere in interaction and web design – the design of menus, groupings of controls, and so on, to suggest that those particular functions are related – but I’m finding it difficult to think of examples where there is a more explicit behaviour-influencing intent behind it. There are instances such as Adobe’s ‘Send to FedEx Kinko’s’ button (below left), styled and positioned in the toolbar as if it were a normal button, but actually propelling the user into a business transaction when pressed – or even the use of text ads and sponsored links in search engine results (below right), styled closely to resemble the main content, in the hope that users will perceive them to be of the same value, and hence click on them – but can anyone think of a more interesting example? Preferably one designed to help users rather than trick us into clicking on things we don’t necessarily want to?

Adobe Reader Send to FedEx Kinko's buttonSponsored text links

Mimicry & mirroring

Can your system mirror or mimic a user’s behaviour in some way, to increase the engagement a user feels?

Mirroring body language or speech patterns is often promoted as a technique for establishing rapport in pop-psychology advice, but are there examples where a similar idea has been (or could be) used in design to achieve a similar effect – engaging a user so he or she follows the advice or directions given, or responds more ‘in person’ towards the system (in a computers-as-social-actors context)? (Something like ELIZA (nice online version here) might count if it were specifically intended to influence a user’s behaviour (e.g., as a ‘therapist’), but mirroring / mimicry doesn’t seem to be the main mechanism there.)

Partial completion

Can you show that the first stage of a process has been completed already, to give users confidence to do the rest?

What I’m thinking of here are things like partly pre-filled application forms, which reduce the amount of effort a user needs to put in to proceed with applying for whatever it is (and, at least with credit card applications, must be a significant vector for fraud), but also exams or learning materials where there’s enough of a worked example actually to give users confidence (building perceived self-efficacy) that they can complete the rest successfully.

And, by extension, an interface of some kind which demonstrates this sort of technique in action would be a great example to include in the toolkit, but I can’t think of one. Can you?

Role-playing

What happens to user behaviour if your design gives users particular roles to play, or makes them feel that they’re someone else?

This is a pattern I noted down during Sebastian Deterding‘s talk at DiGRA 2009, in which he discussed applying some of Erving Goffman‘s work to game design. It seems intuitively effective as a way of influencing behaviour – e.g. a dad telling his young son “I’m appointing you the man of the house while I’m away” (to suggest that he should be well-behaved and look after his mum) or a police officer visiting a school and giving some children little police badges so they hopefully ‘take on’ whatever characteristics are associated with the role (taken to the extreme, perhaps, this sort of pattern can lead to the results found in the Stanford Prison Experiment).

But are there examples where this pattern has been used in the design of something – where users are given or assigned (or choose) a kind of role, which then (due to commitment & consistency biases) they stick to, and behave accordingly? Perhaps applying the role-playing aspects of games to a real-life interface or product or campaign? Tim Holley’s Tio project has the express aim of turning children into ‘energy champions’ for their families, so this may well be the example I use, but is there anything else that does this more explicitly?

Storytelling

Can you tell a story via your design, which interests users and keeps them engaged?

Storytelling is clearly a significant technique for drawing users into an experience, and that engagement necessarily leads to different behaviour. Richard Sedley has talked about this in the context of persuasion for digital effectiveness (and if you haven’t seen this video, it really is worth setting aside 5 minutes), and some of Eugene Schwartz’s classic Breakthrough Advertising copywriting principles and examples are in this kind of area too, but I’m struggling a bit with ‘design’ examples which would quickly and clearly demonstrate the idea in the toolkit.

Are there websites which present the user experience as a kind of story? (I’m sure there must be.) Or, maybe better, environments (theme parks? museums?) which take the visitor through a series of sections or exhibits in a story-like way, with some kind of intent behind the design?

James Dyson’s original ‘The Story of Dyson’ mini-booklets, which were attached like tags to the vacuum cleaners on display in showrooms, and explained the background to the invention (and the inventor) and the 5,127 prototypes, etc, and thus made the potential purchaser feel like he or she was becoming part of that story seem like they might be a good example, but I don’t have one of them to photograph and I can’t find a picture online.

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions or photos are very much appreciated – over to you!

(The above patterns are explicitly interaction design-related, while there are a few more new ‘strategic’ behavioural patterns which I’ll discuss in another post.)

*To be Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike licensed, except for any images which are separately licensed already

What’s happening with the toolkit (Part 1)

Design with Intent cards v.0.9

It’s 8 months since the Design with Intent Toolkit v.0.9 went online and I’ve had incredibly useful feedback from a whole range of people who’ve tried it out on different kinds of briefs and problems. As mentioned a couple of months ago, the toolkit poster PDF (which has 12 ‘headline’ design patterns, compared with the 47 in total online) reached a very high number of downloads from Brunel’s research archive website (before the admins removed the statistics package!), which is immensely pleasing and kind of humbling. If you downloaded it and found it useful (or not useful), please do get in touch and tell me why.

Design with Intent cards v.0.9Design with Intent cards v.0.9

Latterly, a few people have been trying out an IDEO Method Card-style card deck version of the toolkit (as pictured here), including all the patterns, colour-coded by lens, with a simplified bit of text about each one. I haven’t made these available publicly mainly because the quality isn’t great (most of the images are only 72dpi, coming from the website, and poorly cropped for the card format), and I’ve been trying a couple of variations of text, card size, etc. Initially I put these together primarily for quick card-sorting exercises as part of the workshop trials I’ve been running, but they ended up more popular than the poster format. Thanks to brainstorming sessions at IDEO London and the RSA, exercises with Brunel’s MSc Integrated Product Design and BSc / BA Design students (as part of the Sustainable Design and Environmentally Sensitive Design modules), and a trial as part of Design for Conversion kindly organised by Arjan Haring, I now have a better idea of what would make the cards more useful. In parallel, I’ve also been trying to ‘patternize’ some additional design techniques which have been used to influence behaviour, to increase the scope of the toolkit.

Design with Intent cards v.0.9 in use at Design for ConversionDesign with Intent cards v.0.9 in use at Design for Conversion
The DwI cards in use at Design for Conversion – photos by haijeson on Flickr (1, 2)

Inspired partly by Crumlish & Malone’s Designing Social Interfaces which is a great book (a neat companion to Jenifer Tidwell’s incredible Designing Interfaces, also from O’Reilly) with a companion wiki, I’ve decided to go down the route of producing v.0.95 of the toolkit as a Creative Commons-licensed set of 100 downloadable cards, with a printed version available to buy, and an accompanying wiki with a page on each pattern, serving as an evolving, referenceable container for new examples, tips on implementation, data on effectiveness, and so on, as they come to light, as well as new patterns, new ways of grouping them and new uses for this kind of approach.

The cards will be relatively simple, with each pattern posed as a question, as used in Nedra Weinreich’s DwI-based worksheet. The intention is that the cards can actively provoke innovative behaviour change design ideas, with a single (hopefully photogenic) example on each, while the wiki can act as a kind of ‘further reading’ resource. A future version (v.1.0?) of the cards will include this extra information on the back of each card (and then binding the cards together would pretty much produce a book), but at this stage – if I’m ever going to get this PhD finished in time – the extra info will be added to the wiki over time rather than being on the v.0.95 cards themselves, to reduce the time pressure on getting it all done.

As v.0.95 more than doubles the number of patterns in v.0.9 – a mixture of splitting up existing patterns into more finely-grained variants, and adding ideas which people have suggested or pointed out since I put v.0.9 together – there are quite a few where I don’t (yet) have a very good example or image. As such, there are opportunities for anyone with good photos or suggestions for examples to have an input and be involved – as the next post will explain in more detail.

Design with Intent cards v.0.9Design with Intent cards v.0.9
A version of the card deck I (rather laboriously!) spray-mounted onto Post-It backing, so the cards could be used to annotate sketches or ideas recorded during a brainstorming session.

User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings: TSB competition

The deadline’s fast approaching (mid-day 17th Dec) for the UK Technology Strategy Board‘s ‘User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings’ competition [PDF] – there’s an introduction from Fionnuala Costello here.

This is an exciting initiative which aims to bring together (in a 5-day ‘sandpit’) people from different disciplines and different sectors to address the problems of influencing user behaviour to improve the energy efficiency of offices and other non-domestic buildings, and generate commercially viable collaborative solutions to develop, some of which will then be part-funded by the TSB. Fionnuala’s blog, People in Buildings has some great posts and discussions exploring aspects of how human factors and technology together might be used to help people use energy more effectively. If you or your organisation are interested in these kinds of issues – and using design to address them – it’d be well worth getting an application in over the next few days.

Through London with the DwI goggles on

As I’ve admitted before, having the idea of ‘design that’s intended to influence behaviour’ on my mind a lot of the time does sometimes lead to seeing everything with that filter in place:

[It’s] a kind of conspiracy bias, ascribing to design intent that which is perhaps more likely to be due to situational factors (a kind of fundamental attribution error for design), or inferring the intention behind a design by looking at its results.

Nevertheless, it’s not unexciting. Noticing things I’d never have noticed before I started doing this research – often details or tricks that have been pointed out by commenters here on the blog – can give you a feeling of deeper connection to the design of the products and systems and environments around us. Things are designed to influence how people use them, what people do and don’t do, whether we are conscious of it or not. So here are some observations – none of them terribly amazing! – from a recent day in London with a camera and my long-suffering girlfriend. There are hundreds more I could have included – everything from elements of the websites we looked at before travelling, to the layout of stations and streets and buildings and tables and chairs and the wording and order of menus and adverts and just about everything that’s been designed to elicit some kind of behavioural response. But we just don’t notice most of this: it’s only occasionally that things attract our attention, which is what happened with the following examples.

Door buttons, First Great Western

The ‘Open Door’ buttons on First Great Western’s Class 165/166 trains (going into Paddington) are much larger than the ‘Close Door’ buttons (which rarely need to be pressed anyway, since the doors are closed automatically before the train departs). I’m assuming they’re intentionally more prominent because it’s the button that people need to see and press in a hurry if they need to get off and the vestibule(?) area’s crowded (and it often is on this service), and larger for a kind of Fitts’ Law reason: reducing the time taken to ‘acquire the target’. It’s also large enough to be able to elbow it or press it with a shoulder if you’re carrying things in both hands.

Escalators, Canary Wharf station

The escalators at Canary Wharf underground station, as at many others, have raised obstructions (often masquerading as “Stand on the right” signs) every couple of feet to prevent people sliding down the panelling between the handrails. When I looked at this before – the slightly more extreme spikes at Highbury & Islington station – there were some great comments including a story about what can happen when they obstructions aren’t present (or rather when just one is – a large sign at the bottom). It did occur to me that the kind used at Canary Wharf would actually work quite well as hand-holds for climbing up, should you want to.

Look Right marking on road, Canary Wharf

All over the UK, but particularly in urban areas with complex traffic movements, one-way systems or lots of visitors, such as here outside the DLR station at Canary Wharf, some pedestrian crossings are marked with “Look Right”, “Look Left” or “Look Both Ways” on the road, to suggest to pedestrians (at just the right moment) which way they should look to watch out for oncoming traffic. Richard Thaler has mentioned this as a ‘nudge’ example before. It doesn’t always get implemented correctly; there are also other design tricks for influencing pedestrians to face the right way at crossings.

I might be going beyond my expertise here, but it seems like it’s actually relatively unusual in much of Europe (perhaps because of the Vienna Convention) to have instructional ‘injunctive’ text on traffic signage (including markings), compared with some other parts of the world. For example, in the UK, since the 1960s at least we very rarely have signs such as “Wrong Way, Go Back” – there would more likely be a “No Entry” sign, with no text. If you’re interested in British road signage, this is one of the best articles on the subject.

Gate at Mudchute Park

Here’s a ‘kissing gate’ at Mudchute Park presumably intended to prevent bicycles (though I would have thought a bike could fit through the gate next to it). As we’ve seen before, trying to stop cyclists using awkward gates doesn’t always work. Given the location of this gate, it may also help prevent any animals which have escaped from the the farm from running out onto the road.

Anti-climb paint, Mudchute allotments

Also at Mudchute, these allotments have anti-climb paint applied to the fence – a slippery paint that stays ‘wet’ (here’s a nice publicity photo). I’ll be honest, I’ve often wondered how much effect this stuff really has against someone equipped with, say, rough-textured gloves who could, at least on a fence like the one in the picture, probably get his/her hand all the way round both the horizontal and vertical parts of the fence. Or just a loop of rope, or a hook, along with black clothes (to hide the paint that comes off) or disposable overalls plus some kind of disposable blanket or rug to cover the spikes and flatten the barbed wire would seem to be all you need. I’m not condoning this, of course – as an allotmenteer myself, I appreciate that they can well be an attractive target.

As an alternative to anti-climb paint, spikes, etc, these roller bars seem quite interesting.

Bird bin, Mudchute farmBird bin, Mudchute farmBird bin, Mudchute farm

The yard of the Mudchute Kitchen, part of the farm, has these friendly rubbish bins – a great example of affective engagement, particularly somewhere where there are going to be lots of young children visiting on school trips or with families. The open beaks are an invitation, a perceived affordance that they should be ‘fed’. Whether it’s a good idea to ‘teach’ children to feed litter to birds is another matter…

Recessed alarm, DLR
 
 
 
 
 
Unlike the ‘Open Door’ button above – which doesn’t matter if it’s accidentally pressed since it only operates when the train is stationary and alongside the platform – passenger emergency alarms such as this type on the Docklands Light Railway need to be prominent and visible, yet protected against accidental operation due to, for example, someone leaning on the button when the train is crowded. So, not only recessing it, but mounting it at the top of the recess, where even an inadvertent poke from an umbrella or elbow is less likely to make contact, is a clever errorproofing solution.

A 'Norman' door, Canary Wharf

The shopping mall at Canary Wharf features ‘Norman doors‘ that despite having prominent, elegant, no doubt expensive stainless steel handles, must actually be pushed open, hence the necessity of the ‘Push’ labels. Other than being able to pull the doors closed if necessary, or simply because it’s cheaper to make doors with the same fittings on both sides so they can be hinged either way, I’m not sure why this particular category of false affordance is so common. Making the handles flatter on the ‘push’ side would preserve a similar style visually but signal that they need to be pushed without needing to resort to a sign.

Couple of other observations: the comprehensive row of prohibition signs on the doors almost forms a design element itself, echoing the pattern of squares further down. You’re not allowed to do much other than spend money in this particular mall. Also, printing the word STYLE on posters in reflective foil does, unfortunately, mean that from some angles, the L and E will disappear.

ATM forcing function

Getting some money out: we’re so used to ATMs returning the card before dispensing the cash that we often don’t even think about this interlock forcing function. In fact it may even momentarily surprise us when ticket machines (for example) don’t work like this.

But ATMs didn’t always operate like this either, and when the cash was returned first, the card was often forgotten. So the order was changed – as Phillip Chung & Michael Byrne put it “to place the hanging postcompletion action ‘on the critical path’ to reduce or eliminate [its] omission” – although this card-then-cash format is by no means universal.

I looked at some possible alternative solutions for the problem in this paper for Applied Ergonomics (e-mail me if you’d like a copy), as a kind of test / demonstration of the Design with Intent toolkit.

(The above is actually a photo of a different machine to the one I used on this particular day, since there was a queue of people behind me)

Spikes, Southwark

These friendly anti-sit spikes (including a slightly crooked one on the left) outside the headquarters of London Councils in Southwark just scream “We love the public!”. I guess the alcove could provide a useful hiding place for someone to jump out on passers-by or something.

Eat, South Bank

Further along the South Bank, this branch of Eat reminded me that B J Fogg used a photo of the Eat sign in his talk at Design for Persuasion, as an example of what he calls hot triggers: cues or calls to action which actually prompt a behaviour, assuming that the motivation and ability are there already. Someone walking along, hungry (motivated), with enough money to buy food (ability) needs a trigger, and a sign pretty much instructing one to eat is a particularly clear one. We didn’t eat there, of course – there are better places – but it’s an interesting tactic.

Gearstick, Reliant Scimitar SST

Finally, as we were about to drive home from the station, I thought about the reverse gear ‘gate’ – a kind of lock-out – which prevents the driver changing accidentally directly from a forward gear into reverse (though it’s usually possible the other way round). Depending on the gearbox, you generally need to lift the gearstick over the ‘gate’ or press a button while moving the stick, or in the case of my Reliant Scimitar (which has a 1980s Ford Sierra gearbox), press the gearstick itself downwards.

 
What do you see everyday that makes you think “they designed it like that so that people would do this”?

Three quotes from clever people

Herbert Simon“Engineers are not the only professional designers. Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artefacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state.”

Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969 (p.129 of 1981 MIT press 2nd edition)

BF Skinner“[W]e need to make vast changes in human behaviour, and we cannot make them with the help of nothing more than physics or biology, no matter how hard we try… What we need is a technology of behaviour.”

B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971 (p.10 of 1973 Pelican edition)

 
 

Jay Forrester“People may dislike the idea of ‘designing’ social systems. Designing social systems may seem mechanistic or authoritarian. However, all social systems have been designed… People have designed the systems within which they live. The shortcomings of those systems result from defective design, just as the shortcomings of a power plant result from erroneous design.”

Jay W. Forrester, ‘Designing the Future’, talk at University of Seville on December 15th 1998 (p.6 of this PDF)

Emphases in the above are mine. Arguably, in the Forrester quote, we have not consciously/intelligently enough designed the systems in which we live (hence the shortcomings), which I think is partly the point he’s making based on the rest of the talk.

I still think my favourite ‘Design with Intent’-related quote is this one from Buckminster Fuller. It has an attractive blend of humility and confidence, seeing people not as the problem but as part of the solution.

Image sources: Herbert Simon; B.F. Skinner; Jay Forrester.