But if we’re honest, it’s only in aggregate that behaviour change is going to have any real effect on the world outside the specifics of individual interactions. I think most people involved with design for behaviour change appreciate that it’s going to be mass behaviour change that makes the difference to humanity’s health, environment, happiness and effectiveness in the long run, whether via mass interpersonal persuasion or some other method.
The overall vision behind Stanford’s Peace Innovation work is clear – world peace could be possible in 30 years if we use innovation methods and new technology in the right way. The actual execution is something which will necessarily evolve and change as new technologies afford new possibilities and potential for connection and mass behavioural influence, and the Peace Dot project – while only a small part of this – is a great way to start and demonstrate what’s possible right now.
Initially at least, the focus is on getting a range of companies and organisations to demonstrate (via a special peace.xxxxx.nnn subdomain on their websites) how what they do is bringing people together, from different cultures, different countries, different religions, different political backgrounds etc, and encouraging understanding, cooperation and respect: a specific lens for considering corporate social responsibility in terms of contribution to peace. The ‘Peace Dot’ initiative becomes something like a hashtag for organising and making available current and past data clearly, with a certain degree of social proof to it: making it clear that stereotypes such as “X type of people don’t get on with Y type of people” are not necessarily true.
As the Peace Dot network develops – with the idea spread via Twitter, Facebook, Google Groups and so on – and more organisations get involved, I’m sure the strategies will develop too, with increasingly innovative persuasive approaches to influencing peace and cooperation. Even encouraging more people to believe that peace is possible, and believing that others believe that too, and that technology is able to help with this, is a significant development. It’s a very worthwhile project to keep an eye on, and it almost inevitably provokes us to consider the extent to which each of us has the potential to be involved, with this kind of initiative or with one of the many thousands of others that might arise: by definition, world peace needs all of us.
Design for Conversion: The Mobile Edition – taking place on 11th of December in Amsterdam – looks like a great conference. Organised by Arjan Haring, it’s described as “a mashup of persuasive design, principles of persuasion and evidence based marketing” and brings together user experience design, analytics and online marketing, with a ‘persuasion’ focus.
For this edition, it centres on using mobile technology, including speakers from Nokia, Symbian and Sagem and a multidisciplinary team-based challenge based on a real persuasive design problem – as Arjan puts it, “Design for Conversion is not for the faint at heart as there is no escaping the interactive nature of the format.” (I understand a card-deck version of the Design with Intent toolkit, not yet released, will be involved in the team challenges – it’s great to be able to help out like this, and have a different kind of audience try it out). Some of the testimonials from speakers at previous editions, such as Eric Schaffer, Andrew Chak and BJ Fogg are especially complimentary about how refreshing the interactive format is.
The Fun Theory (Rolighetsteorin), a competition / campaign / initiative from Volkswagen Sweden – created by DDB Stockholm – has been getting a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks from bothdesign-related people and other commentators with an interest in influencing behaviour: it presents a series of clever ‘design interventions’ aimed at influencing behaviour through making things “fun to do” – taking the stairs instead of the escalator, recycling glass via a bottle bank and using a litter bin. The stairs are turned into a giant piano keyboard, with audio accompaniment; the bottle bank is turned into an arcade game, with sound effects and scores prominently displayed; and the litter bin has a “deep pit” effect created through sound effects played as items are dropped into it. It’s exciting to see that exploring design for behaviour change is being so enthusiastically pursued and explored, especially by ad agencies, since – if we’re honest – advertisers have long been the most successful at influencing human behaviour effectively (in the contexts intended). There’s an awful lot designers can learn from this, but I digress…
As a provocation and inspiration to enter the competition, these are great projects. The competition itself is interesting because it encourages entrants to “find [their] own evidence for the theory that fun is best way to change behaviour for the better”, suggesting that entries with some kind of demonstrated / tested element are preferred over purely conceptual submissions (however clever they might be) which have often been a hallmark of creative design competitions in the past. While the examples created and tested for the campaign are by no means “controlled experiments” (e.g. the stats in the videos about the extra amount of rubbish or glass deposited give little context about the background levels of waste deposition in that area, whether people have gone out of their way to use the ‘special’ bins, and so on), they do demonstrate very well the (perhaps obvious) effect that making something fun, or engaging, is a way to get people interested in using it.
Going a bit deeper, though, into what “the theory of fun” might really mean, it’s clear there are a few different effects going on here. To use concepts from B J Fogg’s Behaviour Model, assuming the ability to use the stairs, bottle bank or bin is already there, the remaining factors are motivation and triggers. Motivation is, on some level, presumably also present in each case, in the sense that someone carrying bottles to be recycled already wants to get rid of them, someone standing at the bottom of the stairs or escalator wants to get to the top, and someone with a piece of litter in her hand wants to discard it somehow (even if that’s just on the ground).
(But note that if, for example, people start picking up litter from elsewhere in order to use the bin because they’re excited by it, or if – as in the video – kids run up and down the stairs to enjoy the effect, this is something slightly different: the motivation has changed from “I’m motivated to get rid of the litter in my hand” to “I’m motivated to keep playing with this thing.” While no doubt useful results, these are slightly different target behaviours to the ones expressed at the start of the videos. “Can we get more people to take the stairs over the escalator by making it fun to do?” is not quite the same as “Can we get people so interested in running up and down the stairs that they want to do it repeatedly?”)
So the triggers are what the interventions are really about redesigning: adding some feature or cue which causes people who already have the ability and the motivation to choose this particular way of getting out of the railway station to the street above, or disposing of litter, or recycling glass. All three examples deliberately, prominently, attract the interest of passers-by (“World’s deepest bin” graphics, otherwise incongruous black steps, illuminated 7-segment displays above the bottle bank) quite apart from the effect of seeing lots of other people gathered around, or using something in an unusual way.
And once they’ve triggered someone to get involved, to use them, there are different elements that come into play in each example. For example, the bottle bank – by using a game metaphor – effectively challenges the user into continuing (perhaps even entering a flow state, though this is surely more likely with the stairs) and gives feedback on how well you’re doing as well as a kind of reward. The reward element is present in all three examples, in fact.
I suppose the biggest and most obvious criticism of projects such as the Rolighetsteorin examples is that they are merely one-time gimmicks, that a novelty effect is the most (maybe only) significant thing at work here. It’s not possible to say whether this is true or not without carrying out a longitudinal study of the members of the public involved over a period of time, or of the actual installations themselves. Does having fun using the stairs once (when they’re a giant piano) translate into taking the (boring) normal stairs in preference to an escalator on other occasions? (i.e. does it lead to attitude or preference change?) Or does the effect go away when the fun stairs do?
It may be, of course, that interventions with explicitly pro-social rhetoric embedded in them (such as the bottle bank) have an effect which bleeds over into other areas of people’s lives: do they think more about the environment, or being less wasteful, in other contexts? Have attitudes been changed beyond simply the specific context of recycling glass bottles using this particular bottle bank?
How others have done it
This campaign isn’t the first to have tried to address these problems through design, of course. Without researching too thoroughly, a few pieces of work spring to mind, and I’m sure there are many more. Stephen Intille, Ron MacNeil, Jason Nawyn and Jacob Hyman in MIT’s House_n group have done work using a sign with the ‘just-in-time‘ message “Your heart needs exercise – here’s your chance” (shown above) positioned over the stairs in a subway, flashing in people’s line-of-sight as they approach the decision point (between taking stairs or escalator) linked to a system which can record the effects in terms of people actually making one choice or the other, and hence compare the effect the intervention actually has. As cited in this paper [PDF], previous research by K D Brownell, A J Stunkard, and J M Albaum, using the same message, in a similar situation, but statically displayed for three weeks before being removed, demonstrated that some effect remains on people’s choice of the stairs for the next couple of months. (That is, the effect didn’t go away immediately when the sign did – though we can’t say whether that’s necessarily applicable to the piano stairs too.)
Work on the design of recycling bins is, I think, worthy of a post of its own, since it starts to touch more on perceived affordances (the shape of different kinds of slots, and so on) so I’ll get round to that at some point.
A couple of the briefs are explicitly about design for behaviour change, and thanks to working with Jamie Young of the RSA’s Design & Behaviour project on some ideas for briefs earlier this year, the Design with Intent toolkit is explicitly referenced as a ‘resource’ for the Independence Days brief on ‘reinventing assistive technology’ (sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board) and A matter of life…, a brief about improving patient compliance with taking prescribed medication (sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline). Both of these are very noble causes and I hope the Design with Intent patterns are useful inspiration in some small way; I look forward to seeing some of the results!
By re-framing each of the patterns as a question – e.g. “How can you provide a cue to action at the appropriate time?” for kairos (discussed by BJ Fogg in his original book, Persuasive Technology) – Nedra turns the patterns more directly into cues for action themselves for a design team to brainstorm or think about. After working through the questions, asking each of them about the behaviour problem you’re working on, you pretty much end up with a set of possible solutions: this is a very clever way to structure the idea generation process. (As such I’ve added a link to Nedra’s worksheet to the DwI intro page of this site.)
Inspired by Nedra’s thinking, the next version of the DwI toolkit, which I’m putting together at present, will have a question element to each of the patterns.
With 28,000 downloads since it went on BURA, plus another 5,000 or so directly from the blog before I changed where the link pointed, and probably a few directly from Google Books (as well as a handful of at-cost sales of the physical printed poster) it gives me an incredibly warm feeling to think that so many people all over the world have found it interesting enough to read (and hopefully – in at least some cases! – use) it. Please do let me know (in the comments, or by email) if you’ve found it useful (or useless), what problems you’ve applied it to, how you think it could be improved, and so on, or have a go at the survey.
The next version (v.0.95) will take a different form (cards – which some of you will have tried out in a couple of workshops) and include some new patterns, as well as ‘question’ phrasing as mentioned above. I hope to have this available to download (or buy as a card deck) by the end of 2009.
Thanks again for making the DwI toolkit a success!
Things which slipped by without me writing about them much here
So, stay tuned: as winter approaches, and sitting in front of a warm, glowing rectangle becomes more appealing, I will endeavour to blog more often and about more real examples of design with intent in the wild, a bit more like the blog used to be. Thanks for sticking with me.
Following on from Part 1, here are a couple more very interesting student projects linking design and behaviour. This time, both involve providing feedback on the impact or costs of everyday behaviours in order to get people to think.
Tim Holley’s Tio project, developed in response to a brief by Onzo, and described as ‘A Light Switch to Help Children Save Energy’ – deservedly won the HSBC Sustainability Prize at the Made in Brunel show:
“Children play a key role in reducing energy consumption due to the fact that they will be among the key decision-makers in the next 30 years. A simple way to engage and educate them is to concentrate on lighting, which accounts for up to 15% of electricity use in the home. The target market for Tio is 7-11 year-olds. This coincides with a period in primary education during which children begin to learn about the environment, energy and the effects that humans are having on the world. Tio […]allow[s] children to demonstrate their knowledge of energy conservation to their family and encourage their role as ‘energy champions’ of the home. Tio has the potential to reduce lighting-use by up to 25%, resulting in an energy saving of up to 11% over a five year period…
The wall-mounted light switch[…] controls the lighting in the child’s room. Tio is soft and tactile, thus encourages user interaction. The character of ‘Tio’ displayed on the light switch encourages children to turn their lights off: Tio is happy when the lights have only been on for a short period of time. The longer they are left on, the angrier he becomes. This acts as an emotional reminder to turn the lights off…
The recommended ‘lights-on time’ is influenced by the child’s age, their daily activities and the time of day. […] Information (‘lights-on’ time) is sent wirelessly from the wall switch to a computer. The computer programme allows the child to track their lighting-use performance over an extended period of time. The child takes care of a ‘virtual tree’ by moderating their lighting-use performance. This engages children to make a personal contribution to reducing energy consumption.”
There are some clever ideas in there, including pester-power (“Make sure your parents turn off their lights too”) and, from a Design with Intent toolkit point of view, some of the patterns you might be able to identify include affective engagement, self-monitoring, material properties and metaphors. There’s some neat product detailing too, such as the way Tio’s expressions are formed by different patterns of LEDs being illuminated under the translucent case.
Tim was a very useful and insightful tester of an earlier version of the Design with Intent toolkit back in autumn 2008 (as part of the pilot study reported in this co-authored paper [direct PDF link]) so it’s great to see his project get such recognition. He’s now working for Onzo in product R&D strategy and has some exciting and ambitious plans for the future: as a very talented young designer bringing together creative user-centred design and technology expertise with an eye for business strategy, I’m sure Tim will go far.
Across London at Goldsmiths, Alexander Kirchmann’s ‘Lehman’s Inheritance’ project aims “to create and design products, that can help an individual to manage the [economic] crisis” such as this pint glass with cost markings (right). As Alexander puts it, “my products are the inheritance of the crash… By exposing people to their spending and also to their earnings my design is saving the owner money.”
This is an incredibly simple project (at least the example that’s illustrated – I’d be interested to know what other products Alexander modified / created). But the impact of exposing costs in this way – self-monitoring without any special equipment – could be very effective. In some of the recent workshops I’ve run with designers and students, similarly low-tech feedback concepts have been suggested for problems such as reducing water wastage (sinks with scales marked on them) and reducing overfilling of electric kettles.
Been a little busy round here, continuing for the next week or so, but in the meantime I thought I’d share a post I was invited to write for Greengaged, the fantastic programme of events at the Design Council on sustainability, which took place this week. Thanks to Kate Andrews for the opportunity.
Next week: Design for Persuasion in Brussels; after that, I’ll be back on a schedule more suitable for blogging, for a while at least, and hope to get round to some of the great suggestions and ideas readers have sent in. Thanks for your patience!