Category Archives: Design philosophy

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.

Persuasion for peace

Influencing individual people’s behaviour often seems to be about mundane or trivial things, such as choosing one type of magazine subscription over another, or using less shower gel in a hotel bathroom.

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.

peace.facebook.com

This is where the opportunity for the most ambitious, most audacious plans becomes apparent, and few are more ambitious than Peace Dot, a new initiative from Stanford’s Peace Innovation Team, led by BJ Fogg and bringing together companies and organisations as diverse as the Dalai Lama Foundation, Facebook, CouchSurfing and Sourceforge.

peace.facebook.comThe 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.

So Facebook is showing figures, updated daily (e.g. above & right) of new connections between people from different groups (as Dean Eckles points out in a comment on the Guardian’s article about the initiative, the graphs show new connections per day, rather than the cumulative total of connections, so the relative ‘flatline’ of Muslim-Jewish connections is actually showing steady progress); CouchSurfing (below right) is highlighting how it helps initiate cultural exchanges, forming international friendships; while even relatively smaller organisations such as Kara Chanasyk’s White Lotus Design are able to demonstrate how what they do helps bring people together. peace dot couchsurfing

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.

Some interesting projects (Part 1)

I’ve come across some interesting student projects at various shows and exhibitions this summer, some of which address the relationship between design and people’s behaviour in different situations, and some of which explicitly aim to influence what people do and think. Here’s a selection (Part 2 and Part 3 will follow).

Displacement Engine by Jasmine CoxDisplacement Engine by Jasmine Cox

Jasmine Cox‘s Displacement Engine (Dundee) is “a navigational compass which gives you a little extra push to break away from routine, to wander the unexplored route… By pulling the slider closer and pushing it further away, the user learns to relax the need to be heading in an absolute direction. It allows the experience of a place and an outdoor space to absorb and distract them.” The variability of the GPS signal means that the device perhaps won’t always be ‘reliable’ – again, leading the user to explore and think for him or herself rather than being able to trust the device entirely. As Jasmine says here, it’s somewhere between a sat-nav and dérive.

The question of how much the paths and routes we take (physically and in whatever metaphorical way you can think of) are controlled, or at least influenced, by what maps, devices, signs, etc are telling us is something that I’ve touched a few times with this blog over the years (e.g. here). Practical semiotics as wayfinding decision-making heuristics, maybe. As someone who grew up obsessively poring over maps and atlases, memorising road networks and coastlines, trying to visualise these unknown places (and drawing plenty of my own), I’m fascinated by the possibilities of sat-navs and navigational devices which structure our choices for us (as Adam Greenfield notes, perhaps even removing routes we ‘don’t want to be walking down’), even though (in practice) I very much dislike using them, and it horrifies me to become reliant on them. I’ve had the “ROAD ENDS 800 FEET” sign looming at me out of the night after following a calm voice’s directions down a canyon track somewhere off Mulholland Drive. I’ve also spent happy afternoons driving across the Fens with a scruffy, annotated Philip’s Navigator on my lap and no purpose in mind other than seeing interesting places, and I know which I prefer. Jasmine’s project helps bridge that divide a bit, or at least twist it in a new and intriguing direction.

Jasmine’s blog chronicling the development process is interesting, too: it’s a great insight into the thought processes of how a project like this actually gets done, the decisions made at different stages, and how contingent the result is on conditions, insights and ideas earlier on. I expect something like this helps quite a lot with writing up a major project, though I know I always wrote the development story for my projects right at the end, when the various dead-ends and mistakes could be woven and re-ordered into something that sounded more professional, or so I hoped.

Source by Oliver CraigSource by Oliver Craig

Intended to encourage people to drink more water while out shopping or walking, without buying bottled water (and throwing away the bottle each time) Source by Oliver Craig (Loughborough) is essentially a modern take on the public water fountain (which has disappeared in many areas of the UK – how many new shopping centres include them?), combining it with the convenience of bottled water: using special bottles filled via a valve in the base, pedestrians could get free filtered tap water from a network of fountains, positioned at the entrances to participating stores who would also sell the bottles. Re-using the bottles earns the user points which can be spent in the participating stores.

From one point of view, free fountains which don’t require a special bottle (i.e. no format lock-in) would be preferable (as so often in the UK, the concern is about “value for money” and vandalism rather than public need), but something like Source, with special bottles, the sale of which funds the scheme, could be a step in the right direction.

Ravensbourne’s Kei Wada‘s How Long? Door Knob and Tag, along with his Whose Turn? Bottle Opener address behaviours in a shared environment such as a student house, applying design to ‘bad habits’. The Bottle Opener (right, below) “is a playful bottle opener that can be spun to help make decisions” such as who has to take the rubbish out, or buy milk, in the format of an object associated with parties and fun (whether this would increase or decrease the likelihood that housemates adhere to the ‘decision’, I don’t know!).

The Door Knob and Tag (left and middle, below) are timers for bathroom or shower doors – the knob is a replacement knob / lock for the door itself, while the tag can be hooked over the handle without actually enforcing a ‘lock’. But the principle is the same: “inspired by the annoying occurrence of never knowing how long flatmate will take in the shower. The person who takes the shower sets the timer when he/she locks the door, so the other housemates do not have to knock on the door and disturb their ablutions. When time is up, it rings to let the housemates know the room is vacant.” I particularly like Kei’s statement that “the act of setting the timer now becomes an extension of the motions involved in locking the door” – whether or not this kind of action (which requires prior thought in terms of deciding how long to set it for) could become an unconscious habit or not would be interesting to study.

Aside from annoying your housemates less, the timers could also work to reduce water and energy usage, in terms of time spent in the shower: if the alarm ringing sound were annoying or loud enough to make it socially unacceptable to spend too long in there, then this is a kind of socially enforced shower timer.

Kei WadaKei WadaKei Wada

More projects coming up in Parts 2 and 3…

Images from the graduates’ websites linked.

A survey for designers: more books to win

Following last week’s card-sorting exercise (which went really well – thanks to everyone who took part), here’s something a bit more open-ended and ongoing.

I’m trying to find out how designers and design teams (in-house or consultancies) who’ve worked on influencing user behaviour think about what they’ve done – which techniques and patterns do people recognise that they’ve used, or considered? Do the patterns I’ve identified in the toolkit actually make sense to people who’ve put this stuff into practice strategically? Or do people think about it differently?

So, if you’ve worked on persuasive technology, behaviour change design, or influencing user behaviour in general, across any field where you consider that you’re designing stuff (service design, product design, interaction design, social design, user experience, information architecture, HCI, social marketing, mobile interaction, web design, network engineering, pervasive/ubiquitous computing, transformation design, advertising, urban planning, human factors, ergonomics, built environments, healthcare, environmental, safety, crime prevention – anything, in fact), I’d really appreciate it if you could spare a few minutes to have a go at this survey. It shouldn’t take too long unless you have a lot to tell me about!
DwI Cards
Designers thinking about the effect they can have on behaviour‘ is a growing theme. The idea with this survey is that if we can collect together some good examples of where and how companies are using these ideas, what’s worked and what hasn’t (and why) (where you’re prepared to talk about it!), it’ll be a useful reference for everyone, as well as (potentially) a series of great case studies to be included in a book (at some point once my PhD’s out of the way). In the meantime, I’ll of course try to feature some of the projects on the blog.

If you take part in the survey, your details will go into a draw to win a classic book on design and behaviour (I’ll do one draw for every 20 participants). I’m not sure what the books will be yet, but there’s a lot to choose from. The survey doesn’t really have a closing date at present – I’ll leave it open as long as it’s getting interest.

Thanks for your help!

Cialdini on the Beach

Self-monitoring is one of the most common persuasive techniques used in interface design: basically, giving people feedback on what they’re doing and what they’ve done. There are lots of issues about which kinds of feedback work best, in what circumstances, pairing it with feedforward, i.e. ‘What would happen if I did this?’ information, and so on. My recent long post about smart energy meters looks at some of the ideas within a particular application.

But sometimes it takes an example that’s not at first sight a ‘user interface’ or a ‘product’ to highlight how much difference certain design techniques can make.

Encouraging donations, Santa BarbaraThis unattended layout of things on the beach at Santa Barbara, California, soliciting donations, is an interface, too. It’s been designed, cleverly, both to invite passers-by to participate (by throwing coins from an adjacent walkway) and to give them feedback on their throwing ability.

That target – the bright red Folger’s tub on the bright red square of fabric in the middle of the white sheet – is a crucial way of engaging people and getting them to contribute. Who, throwing a coin, isn’t going to try and get it in the tub? (Unless you’re trying to knock over the vases or the little surfers.) And when you miss, you’re going to try again. And again. (I know I did.) You get entertainment and a challenge which seems like it’s worth pursuing, and you can see your track record.

Encouraging donations, Santa Barbara

It mustn’t be too difficult. It’s Csíkszentmihályi’s flow, it’s fairground games theory applied to the simplest of begging sitations, but it works, in terms of getting people to contribute.

What it shows me from a design point of view is that explicitly using targets ought to be included as a Design with Intent technique / pattern in addition to related ones such as self-monitoring, in future versions of the toolkit. The target effect – and other game-related techniques – are sufficiently distinct to inspire plenty of design ideas on their own.

Encouraging donations, Santa Barbara

Of course this particular setup also uses a number of other techniques – affective engagement with the ‘Just Plain Hungry’ card, reciprocation with the ‘Make a Wish’ offer, colour & contrast and prominence & visibility with the way the arrangement draws the eye, operant conditioning in terms of a ‘reward’ when you succeed (the wish, or a sense of satisfaction) and social proof in the way that everyone can see that others have thrown coins (and even a note), and that everyone can see you contributing when you throw your coins (or if you decide not to) – a kind of peer surveillance. The plate of sand is an additional affective touch which also works well.

It’s almost like Robert Cialdini put the whole thing together.

It also makes me think it would be worth cataloguing the design techniques employed in the design of charity collecting boxes and games which offer donors (often children) something exciting or engaging in return for their money. I used to love spiral wishing wells and, in general, ones that did something (like this wonderful RSPCA example, though from before my time). There have to be lessons there for other designers interested in engaging users and motivating them to contribute, or behave in a particular way.

I hope whoever set all that up on that beach in Santa Barbara made some money that day. It would have been well deserved.

Sort some cards and win a copy of The Hidden Dimension

The Hidden Dimension

UPDATE: Thanks everyone – 10 participants in just a few hours! The study’s closed now – congratulations to Ville Hjelm whose book is now on its way…

If you’ve got a few minutes spare, are interested in the Design with Intent techniques, and fancy having a 1/10 chance of winning a brand-new copy of The Hidden Dimension, Edward T Hall’s classic 1966 work on proxemics (very worthwhile reading if you’re involved in any way with the design of environments, either architecturally or in an interaction design sense), then please do have a go at this quick card-sorting exercise [now closed].

It makes use of the pinball / shortcut / thoughtful user models I introduced in the last post, so it would probably make sense to have that page open alongside the exercise. The DwI techniques will be presented to you distinct from the ‘lenses’ (Errorproofing, Cognitive etc) so don’t worry about them.

The free WebSort account I’m using for this only allows 10 participants, so be quick and get a chance of winning the book! Once 10 people have done it, I’ll draw one of the participants out of some kind of hat or bucket and email you to get your postal address.

The purpose here (a closed card-sort, to use Donna Spencer‘s terminology) is, basically, to find out whether the pinball / shortcut / thoughtful models allow the DwI techniques to be assigned to particular ways of thinking about users – that make sense to a reasonable proportion of designers. There’s no right or wrong answer, but if 80% of you tell me that one technique seems to fit well with one model, while for another there’s no agreement at all, then that’s useful for me to know in developing the method.

Thanks for your help!

Card sorting

Cover photo from Amazon