Category Archives: Designers

Designers, literature, abstracts and Concretes

Trinity College Dublin Library, by A little coffee with my cream and sugar on Flickr

Last week, I put a quick survey online asking how actual designers make use of academic literature.

It provoked some interesting discussion on Twitter as well as two great blog posts from Dr Nicola Combe and Clearleft’s Andy Budd exploring different aspects of the question: ways to get access to academic research, and the frustrations of the relationship between design practice and academia. Comments on Andy’s article from Vicky Teinaki and Sebastian Deterding helped draw out some of the issues in more detail (and highlighted some of the differences between fields). Kevin Couling has also blogged from the perspective of an engineer, drawing on Nicola’s post. Steven Shorrock pointed to his work with Amy Chung and Ann Williamson addressing similar issues, much more rigorously, within human factors and ergonomics [PDF]. Someone also reminded me that I’d already blogged about related issues back in 2007.

As of now, about 50 people have filled in the survey, a mixture of digital, physical and service design practitioners: thank you everyone, and thanks too to people who emailed comments in addition.

Here’s the full spreadsheet of survey responses (Google Docs) so far. I’ve had some good suggestions for other places to publicise it, so I’ll do this in due course to get a wider scope of practitioners’ opinions.
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How do actual designers use academic literature?

The whole point of doing research is to extract reliable knowledge from either the natural or artificial world, and to make that knowledge available to others in re-usable form.

Nigel Cross, ‘Design Research: A Disciplined Conversation’, Design Issues 15(2), 1999, p.9 [PDF link]

>>>Link to a very quick survey

It’s incredibly sad that it took Aaron Swartz’s death, but the issue of open access to academic literature has been dramatically brought to the fore again, coincident with interesting practical developments, some ‘official’ and some less so. The movement towards open access is not going to stop, and in some academic disciplines will leave the ‘landscape’ of journals and publication methods very different.
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dConstructing a workshop

dConstruct 2011 workshop

A couple of weeks ago, at dConstruct 2011 in Brighton, 15 brave participants took part in my full-day workshop ‘Influencing behaviour: people, products, services and systems’, with which I was very kindly assisted by Sadhna Jain from Central Saint Martins. As a reference for the people who took part, for me, and for anyone else who might be intrigued, I thought I would write up what we did. The conference itself was extremely interesting, as usual, with a few talks which provoked more discussion than others, as much about presentation style as content, I think (others have covered the conference better than I can). And, of course, I met (and re-connected with) some brilliant people.

I’ve run quite a few workshops in both corporate and educational settings using the Design with Intent cards or worksheets (now also available as a free iPad app from James Christie) but this workshop aimed to look more broadly at how designers can understand and influence people’s behaviour. This is also the first ‘public’ workshop that I’ve done under the Requisite Variety name, which doesn’t mean much different in practice, but is something of a milestone for me as a freelancer.

In the previous post I outlined what I had planned, and while in the event the programme deviated somewhat from this, I think overall it was reasonably successful. Rather than using a case study (I feel uneasy, when people are paying to come to a workshop, to ask them effectively to do work for someone else) we ran through a series of exercises intended to explore different aspects of how design and people’s behaviour relate to each other, and perhaps uncover some insights which would make it easier to incorporate a consideration of this into a design process.

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Design with Intent toolkit 1.0 now online

Design with Intent cards

It’s been a long time coming, but a year after v.0.9, the new Design with Intent toolkit, DwI v.1.0, is ready. Officially titled Design with Intent: 101 Patterns for Influencing Behaviour Through Design, it’s in the form of 101 simple cards, each illustrating a particular ‘gambit‘ for influencing people’s interactions with products, services, environments, and each other, via the design of systems. They’re loosely grouped according to eight ‘lenses‘ bringing different disciplinary perspectives on behaviour change.

The cards (Download them here)
The intention is that the cards are useful at the idea generation stage of the design process, helping designers, clients and – perhaps most importantly – potential users themselves explore behaviour change concepts from a number of disciplines, and think about how they might relate to the problem at hand. Judging by the impact of earlier iterations, the cards could also be useful in stakeholder workshops, and design / technology / computer science education.
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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.

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.