Category Archives: Brunel

What’s been going on recently

The RSA House, London
RSA Design Directions 2009/10

The RSA’s 2009/10 Design Directions competition has been launched, which means up and down the country there are design students and new graduates working on one of the pretty wide selection of briefs. Given the RSA’s aim of ‘removing barriers to social progress’ – with a significant commitment to using design to do this – the briefs are themed around design for social benefit, addressing issues ranging from helping an ageing workforce to helping new architecture graduates apply their skills in other contexts.

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!

Design Approach worksheet by Nedra Kline WeinreichDesign Approach worksheet

Nedra Kline Weinreich, author of Hands-on Social Marketing, has created a fantastic Design Approach for Behaviour Change worksheet based on the 12 design patterns from my Design with Intent toolkit poster.

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.

Design for Persuasion, Brussels
Design for Persuasion conference, Brussels

Design for Persuasion handoutAt the beginning of October I was honoured to be invited to speak at Design for Persuasion, a new conference taking place at the impressive Belgacom Surfhouse in Brussels, organised (very well) by Christel de Maeyer and BJ Fogg.

The event was mainly directed towards ‘new media’ persuasion and design, focusing on practical applications rather than academic studies, and featured some great presentations from people such as Richard Sedley (who kindly took the above photo for me!), Amy Shuen, Bart de Waele (whose excellent ‘Addictive Websites’ slides you can see here), and other expert practitioners. Many of the presentations are on Slideshare; there are also some very nice photos on Flickr from Katrien Degreef.

Here’s my presentation (below) with a transcript here and image credits here. The handout (picture above right) I refer to is here [PDF].

Many thanks to Christel and BJ for organising this, and to the great people I talked to, including Nynke, Marijn and Arjan.

BURA stats
A pleasing statistic

Thanks to readers of this blog, the DwI toolkit v.0.9 poster [PDF] I originally posted back in April is at time of writing, the most-downloaded document ever from Brunel University’s institutional repository, BURA. (Much, much more than any of our other papers, too!)

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

The last few months have been very busy for me as I rush to progress the PhD in sufficient depth and breadth while still doing other things, and I’m aware that I haven’t talked much about all this on the blog. I’ve been to the DiGRA conference and had great discussions with Ian Bogost and Sebastian Deterding; I’ve been to dConstruct and talked to Adam Greenfield; been to Greengaged and blogged about it for the site; been to a conference on Naturalistic Decision-Making and got some incisive advice from Gary Klein himself; and am about to present this paper [PDF] at Sustainable Innovation ’09. With the help of some great participants (including Frankie who interviewed me here!) I’ve also managed to complete a series of Design with Intent workshops in which we’ve addressed a range of behaviour change briefs. The results of these workshops will be reported on here at some point soon, I promise!

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.

Some interesting projects (Part 2)

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:

Tio by Tim Holley
“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…

Tio by Tim Holley
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.”
Tio by Tim Holley

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.

Lehman's Inheritance by Alexander KirchmannAcross 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.

More projects coming up in Part 3.

Images from the websites linked.

On ‘Design and Behaviour’ this week: Do you own your stuff? And a strange council-run ‘Virtual World for young people’

GPS-aided repo and product-service systems

GPS tracking - image by cmpalmer

Ryan Calo of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society brought up the new phenomenon of GPS-aided car repossession and the implications for the concepts of property and privacy:

A group of car dealers in Oregon apparently attached GPS devices to cars sold to customers with poor credit so as to be able to track them down more easily in the event of repossession.

…this practice also relates to an emerging phenomenon wherein sold property remains oddly connected to the seller as though it were merely leased. Whereas once we purchased an album and did with it as we please, today we need to register (up to five) devices in order to play our songs.

…and Kingston University’s Rosie Hornbuckle linked this to the concept of product-service systems:

This puts a whole new slant on product-service-systems, a current (and popular) sustainability methodology whereby people are weaned off the concept of owning products, instead they lease them off the manufacturer who is then responsible for take-back, repair, recycling or disposal. So in that scenario it’s quite likely that a manufacturer will want to keep tabs on their equipment/material, will this bring up privacy issues or is it simply the case that if it’s done overtly (and not in the negative frame of potential repossession), the customer knows about it and agrees, it’s ok? Or will it be a long time before people can overcome the perceived encroachment on their liberty that not owning might bring?

It reminds me of something Bill Thompson suggested to me once, that (paraphrasing) the idea that we ‘own’ the technology we use might well turn out to be a short phase in overall human history. That could perhaps be ‘good’ in contexts where sharing/renting/pooling things allows much greater efficiency and brings benefits for users. Nevertheless, as the repossession example (and DRM, etc, in general) show, the tendency in practice is often to use these methods to exert increasing dominance over users, erode assumed rights, and extract more value from people who no longer have control of the things they use.

See the whole thread so far (and join in!)

Above image of GPS trails (unrelated to the story, but a cool picture) from cmpalmer’s Flickr

The Mosquito, and plans for an odd ‘walk-in virtual world’

McDonald's Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Rosie discussed the Mosquito (above image: an example outside a McDonald’s opposite Windsor Castle*) and asked “could we use our design skills and knowledge to influence these sorts of behaviours with a less aggressive and longer-term approach?” while Adrian Short summed up the issue pretty well:

There are a lot of problems in principle and in practice with these devices, but the core problem for me is that they tend to be directed at users rather than uses (i.e. people by identity, not behaviour) and are entirely arbitrary. The street outside a shop is public space and the shop owners have no more right than anyone else to dictate who goes there.

In as much as these things work (which is highly disputed), they are never going to encourage a meaningful debate about norms of behaviour among users of a space. This approach is not so much negotiation as warfare.

Sutton’s Rosehill steps (which Adrian let me know about originally) were also discussed and Adrian brought us the story of something very odd: a ‘virtual world to teach good behaviour to young people’:

Half a mile away, the same council is proposing to spend at least £4 million on a facility that will include a high-tech virtual street environment, a “street simulator” if you like, to teach safety and good behaviour to some of the same young people.

“Part movie-set, part theme park, the learning complex will be the first of its kind in the UK and will also house an indoor street with shop fronts, pavements and a road. The idea is to give young people the confidence to make the best of their lives and have a positive impact on their peers and their local community.”

I don’t really know what to make of that. I actually woke up this morning thinking about it assuming that it was a dream I’d been having, then realised where I’d read about it. It sounds like a mish-mash of Scaramanga’s Fun House from The Man With The Golden Gun and the Ludovico Centre** from A Clockwork Orange.

Scaramanga's FunhouseLudovico Centre

See the whole thread here.

*This particular McDonald’s, with the Mosquito going every evening and clearly audible to me and my girlfriend (both mid-20s) also features a vicious array of anti-sit spikes (below) which rather negate the ‘welcoming’ efforts made with the flowerbed.

**I actually gave a talk about my research to Environmentally Sensitive Design students in this building a couple of weeks ago: it’s Brunel’s main Lecture Centre.

McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire
McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

A year in

Brunel Lecture CentreIt’s nearly a year since I started my PhD, (and coming up to three years since this blog was launched). Last week I had my end-of-year review, and, while I don’t often post about the minutiae of being a research student on the blog, I know that at least a few of you are in a similar position, or thinking of doing it one day.

Certainly when I was deciding whether a not a PhD was the ‘right’ thing to do after a couple of years of pretty diverse peripatetic freelancing, the efforts of other bloggers – especially this article by Tom Coates (and the appended comments) – and Rich Watts’ blog, were very helpful and gave me some great, and sometimes sobering, insights. More recently, these posts by the polymathic Nicolas Nova and Julian Bleecker have given well-justified discourse on moving on from academia, even more pertinent because of their design/art-technology emphasis. (The ‘disciplinarity boundaries’ issue, which vexes me so much, has been addressed in this context by Julian more than once; Roberto Greco has a comprehensive review of more thinking on this issue, too).

Anyway, here’s (mildly edited to remove some commercial and personal information) the report I prepared, rather hurriedly, on what’s been accomplished in the first year, and what’s still to come:

Continue reading


Last week I was at a seminar where a fellow student was outlining some (very interesting) research about how to adapt ‘professional’ products to be usable by a ‘lay’ audience (what functions do you retain, what do you lose, how do you deal with different mental models? and so on)

He repeatedly referred to the importance of ‘user experience’ throughout the presentation, and it took me a while to realise that he was not talking about UX, but “the degree of prior knowledge/understanding a user has, having dealt with similar products/systems”. That made a whole lot more sense. Yet no-one else in the room – including a number of people with backgrounds in human-centred design – asked about or pointed out this (quite important) difference.

It made me think: how often in science, technology – indeed any subject – are people talking about very different things yet using the same terminology? Do they realise they’re doing it? And can this ever be used as a deliberate provocation tactic to generate new ideas or ways of looking at things? Can we think of third and fourth meanings for terms that might give us insights? (E.g. with ‘user experience’, can we think of the ‘experience’ a product has with a user – his or her quirks, errors, misperceptions and so on – rather than the other way round? Is that ever helpful?)

Sarah Burwood: Tumble Sums

Tumble Sums by Sarah BurwoodWe’ve covered teaching machines and programmed learning textbooks a few times on the blog, and I’ll admit to a general fascination with analogue computing and similar ideas, ever since reading John Crank‘s Mathematics and Industry as a teenager, after finding it in a skip (dumpster) along with a lot of other very interesting books*. It was the idea that you could build an analogue electrical circuit, with resistors, capacitors and inductors, to model many physical phenomena (gravitational fields, etc), which really intrigued me, brought up in a world where computation was presented as entirely digital.

But I digress. A lot of the fascination comes from seeing a different way to explain a concept to someone else: a structured, alternative form of learning or understanding a problem, which is, somehow, immensely satisfying. There’s always the glint of a possibility that if we could find different ways to explain difficult or complex subjects, more people might be able to understand and appreciate them.

Sarah Burwood, a graduating Industrial Design student showing her work at Made in Brunel this week, has created Tumble Sums, a ‘Child’s Mechanical Visual Calculator’:

Tumble Sums by Sarah Burwood

Helping children understand fundamental mathematical principles, Tumble Sums is a calculating tool which visually shows a child how an answer is being reached. Calculations are solved in a physical way, based solely on mechanical operations. Tumble Sums focuses on an understanding of the way children think, their mathematical understanding and the psychology behind these aspects.

It looks to be beautifully machined from acrylic sections, and that height alone makes it extremely imposing. Imagine one of these at the back of every primary-school classroom!

This concept of making hidden processes visible in order to aid the construction of the user’s mental models is something that will, I think, be an important component of lots of more advanced interfaces in the years ahead, particularly in areas where, fundamentally, we’re bad at understanding the consequences of our actions (environment, health, finances). It’s maybe allied to constructionism, though by no means the same idea.

*Incidentally, the morning I first turned up at Brunel again as a PhD student, I sat in the wonderful garden John Crank had created, reading Vance Packard’s The Waste Makers, waiting for the doors to the building to be unlocked.