All posts filed under “Engineering design

‘Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen’ Seminar, 17th October

Design | Behaviour: Making it happen

Debra Lilley, who runs the very useful Design-Behaviour website, sends details of an interesting forthcoming seminar at Loughborough University:

Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen!

The 13th Sustainable Design Network Seminar Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen! will be held on the 17th October 2008 at the Engineering Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (engCETL), Loughborough University. This special one-day event – featuring presentations, design activities and discussion – will explore methodologies for designing behavioural change and the ethical implications of designing products to encourage more sustainable use. Cost £60 (£20 concession) including lunch and refreshments. To find out more and book a place at this event please visit:

I’ll be doing a presentation in the morning – here’s the abstract, and I’ll try and put a version online too afterwards:

Design for Sustainable Behaviour: Easier Efficiency by Influencing Interaction

Dan Lockton, School of Engineering & Design, Brunel University

The idea of using design strategically to influence users’ behaviour – Design with Intent – recurs across many fields, in diverse contexts, and a set of patterns can be identified, linking target behaviours to particular design techniques, physical, psychological and technical. Applying these techniques to environmental problems where user behaviour is a significant factor offers the prospect of Design for Sustainable Behaviour – helping people use everyday products and systems more efficiently.

The agenda isn’t online yet, but I’m guessing there’ll be some really insightful talks from people working on the intersection of design, sustainability and user behaviour – along with Debra, Loughborough’s Tracy Bhamra, Vicky Lofthouse and Tang Tang have all done some great work in this field. If you’re in the UK and interested in this sort of stuff, this seminar sounds very worthwhile.

engCETL, Loughborough

A ‘Behaviour Change Barometer’

This is a kind of exploration of some ideas I worked on a while ago as part of my research, and have only just come back to, in order to tidy them up a bit. I’m putting it online as a way – perhaps – to get some comments/criticism, and also to enable me to refer to it, if necessary, in future blog posts. If I’m honest, classifications and taxonomies fatigue me quite a lot; coming up with ideas and making and testing them is a lot more fun. But sometimes they’re useful. I hope this one is.

If we think about how products are used, it’s clear that changes can result from the products themselves changing, users changing their behaviour, or a combination of both.

At the University of Bath, Ed Elias, Elies Dekoninck and Steve Culley [1] have captured these possibilities with a 2 × 2 matrix (Figure 1), in which ‘new products’ and ‘old products’ are compared with ‘new user behaviour’ and ‘old user behaviour’.

Diagram by Ed Elias

Along these lines, it’s possible to consider technology change (via design) and attitude change (via education) as two routes to achieve overall behaviour change. Especially in the sustainable design field, the emphasis is often on one strategy or the other, even though the routes are by no means mutually exclusive, as the ‘Design for New User Behaviour’ title implies in the matrix.

Loughborough’s Debra Lilley, Vicky Lofthouse and Tracy Bhamra [2] describe three ‘solutions to limit socially and environmentally undesirable behaviours’: Educational intervention — which corresponds closely to attitude change; Technological intervention — corresponding to technology change; and Product-led intervention — closely aligned with Elias et al’s Design for New User Behaviour.

Further consideration of the possibilities in this area, and how to represent them, led me to the development of a ‘Behaviour Change Barometer’. This diagram attempts to illustrate somewhat more nuanced ‘cases’ of behaviour change, and which factors are present or absent in each case. It ought to be applicable to many kinds of behaviour change with products, not just environmentally-related ones; equally, read ‘products/services/systems’ for ‘products’ to allow wider applicability. The barometer metaphor is stretched slightly, but it seemed appropriate given that the diagram’s mapping change.

A Behaviour Change Barometer. Diagram by Dan Lockton

Table to accompany Behaviour Change Barometer. Diagram by Dan LocktonThe same information is presented in tabular form here: in essence, there are six variables involved, with the possibility space divided into quadrants.

The focus of my research is on the intersection of technology change and attitude change (Quadrant 3): the design of products (and systems) which, through new product behaviour, change user behaviour. Quadrant 3 will be discussed last here — before that, it’s useful to run through the other quadrants briefly.

Quadrant 1 Status Quo Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 1: Status quo

In the first quadrant, no overall behaviour change results.

It makes sense to describe case 1b first — this is the absolute ‘no change’ case, where there is no change in the actual functions of the products (they might be new products, but they don’t do anything different to the old products), people use them in the same way they did before, and users have no understanding or mindfulness of the issues around behaviour change.

Case 1a describes situations where the products’ functions have been changed, but users make no use of this, and have no understanding or mindfulness of the issues involved (e.g. a washing machine offers a new ‘eco’ mode alongside the other settings, but a user doesn’t use it). Therefore no overall behaviour change results, despite product improvement.

In 1c, users have an understanding of the issues, and may be mindful of their behaviour and its impacts, but nevertheless don’t change what they do, and continue to use products in the same way as before — e.g. someone who knows that leaving a television on standby wastes electricity, but doesn’t act on this understanding. Again, no overall behaviour change results, despite improved user understanding.

This quadrant encompasses much current behaviour with energy-using consumer products — improved education and improved technology have raised awareness of environmental issues, and allowed products to be operated more efficiently, but if users don’t act accordingly, there will be no overall change in behaviour.

Quadrant 2 New user behaviour with existing products. Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 2: New user behaviour with existing products

Educating users about the implications of their behaviour is generally done with the intention that users will follow through and actually change the way they use products (if they don’t change, this is 1c as described above). If this is successful — e.g. a campaign to persuade people to keep their car tyres inflated correctly to save fuel — then new user behaviour occurs with existing products, and no design or engineering changes are needed to the products. Overall, there is a change in behaviour.

The scope of this quadrant corresponds closely with much current government policy of using social marketing, public education campaigns and so on — employing persuasion and rhetoric to drive attitude change as a foundation for behaviour change. There are many ways that this quadrant could be subdivided into behavioural cases, but from the point of view of the current study, this won’t be explored further here.

Quadrant 4 Existing user behaviour with new product behaviour. Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 4: Existing user behaviour with new product behaviour

Where new products themselves behave differently in use, yet allow users to maintain their existing behaviours, overall behaviour change results without users necessarily needing to understand the issues involved. No persuasion occurs. For example, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, from the user’s point of view, do not require any different user behaviour to tungsten filament bulbs, but in operation they always result in new product behaviour. A refrigerator door which automatically closes itself if left ajar does not, again, require the user to do anything different, but the product itself behaves differently to accommodate existing user behaviour.

This quadrant would include the major proportion of ‘eco-products’ available, most of which are designed to allow the user to change routines and behaviours as little as possible; there are many possible ways the category can be subdivided further according to various other factors.

Quadrant 3 New user behaviour with new product behaviour. Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 3: New user behaviour with new product behaviour

In the cases described by this quadrant, both product behaviour and user behaviour change, resulting in an overall behaviour change. The behaviour change can be driven entirely by functional changes to the product, or by mindful user understanding, or by both, but the products are designed to lead to this. This is Design with Intent.

These are products that persuade, guide or force — influence — users to change the way they interact with them. A common factor is that there is a perceived affordance change with the product: it somehow indicates that a change in behaviour is needed (compared with quadrant 4 where there is no such indication). This quadrant is where my research is focused.

In case 3a, the perceived affordance change does not reflect actual functional change to the product, yet it influences users to change their behaviour. For example, a washing machine which gives users an ‘estimated cost’ for each mode still embodies all the same functions as one which doesn’t — the user can choose to ignore the recommendation, but is influenced to choose the most economical mode, and thus a change in product behaviour is likely to result from the change in user behaviour. This is where much of the Persuasive Technology research seems to fit.

3c is the case where a user need not think about the issues involved, but will still behave differently due to functional changes to the product — e.g. a washing machine which automatically determines the most efficient settings for a particular load, and silently carries them out, doesn’t require the user to understand what’s going on, but does end up changing the user’s behaviour (removing inefficient decisions) and thus the product behaviour changes too. These products have the potential to be complex, especially where automation is required, but need not be. Something as simple as removing an option from a menu changes the user’s behaviour (prevents him or her choosing it) but doesn’t require the user to think about it.

Finally, returning to the centre of the quadrant, 3b describes cases where user understanding, alongside functional changes to the product and perceived affordance change, lead to user and product behaviour change in practice: these are the real core of what this study is about and where, I hope, I’ll be able to make advances in understanding useful to designers and anyone else working in the field of influencing user behaviour. These are interesting products, potentially involving lots of factors and effects but not necessarily complex in themselves.

[1] Elias, E W A, Dekoninck, E A, Culley, S J. The Potential for Domestic Energy Savings through Assessing User Behaviour and Changes in Design. EcoDesign2007, 5th International Symposium on Environmentally Conscious Design and Inverse Manufacturing, Tokyo, 2007
[2] Lilley, D, Lofthouse, V, Bhamra, T. Towards Instinctive Sustainable Product Use. 2nd International Conference: Sustainability Creating the Culture, Aberdeen, 2005. Available here [PDF].

Finestrino Bloccato

Trenitalia window lock
Trenitalia window lock

Italian railway operator Trenitalia has a simple way of locking the windows shut in some of its older carriages with (retro-fitted?) air-conditioning. This was on a train from Florence to Pisa; the sticker probably cost more than the screw. I like that.

It also allows passengers who really need some air to unscrew them – perhaps if the air-conditioning fails, or indeed otherwise – as a couple of people had done.

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.

Exploiting the desire for order

I met a lot of remarkable people in Finland, and some of them – they know who they are – have given me a lot to think about, in a good way, about lots of aspects of life, psychology and its relation to design. Thanks to everyone involved for a fantastic time: I was kind-of aware of the idea of Csíkszentmihályi’s flow before, but something about the combination of week-long permanent sunlight, very little sleep, great hospitality and a hell of a lot of interesting, clever people, brought home to me the reality of the phenomenon, or one quite like it.

A couple of the people it was great to meet were Loove Broms and Magnus BÃ¥ng of the Interactive Institute in Stockholm, who have worked (among other things) on innovative ways to provide users with feedback on their energy use, beyond ‘traditional’ interfaces. We’ve seen a few of the Institute’s STATIC! projects before on the blog before, but it was very interesting to be introduced to some more recent concepts from the AWARE project. They’re all well worth a look, but one in particular intrigues me, primarily because of how simple the idea is:

Puzzle Switch, AWARE project, TII
The Puzzle Switch – designed by Loove Broms and Karin Ehrnberger. One type is shown above; below, a different design in ‘On’ (left) and ‘Off’ (right) positions.Puzzle Switch, AWARE project, TII   Puzzle Switch, AWARE project, TII

The AWARE Puzzle Switchlower part of this page – really is as simple as a a series of light switches where it is very obvious when they are switched on, and which “encourage people to switch off their light, by playing with people’s built-in desire for order.”

Where else can we use this idea? The Puzzle Switch does it safely, in a way that, for example, having a lever hanging off the wall at a crazy angle (which would equally suggest to people that they ‘put it right’) would not. Is the key somehow to make it clearer to users that high-energy usage states are not ‘defaults’ in any way? That accompanying any energy use, there needs to be some kind of visible disorder (as with the irritating flashing standby lights) to cause users to notice and consciously to assess what’s going on?

Lights reminding you to turn things off

Standby indicators - Duncan DrennanStandby indicators - Duncan Drennan

Duncan Drennan
, who writes the very thoughtful Art of Engineering blog, notes something extremely interesting: standby lights, if they’re annoying/visible enough, can actually motivate users to switch the device off properly:

Our DVD player has (to me) the most irritating standby light that I have ever seen on any device. When on, the light is constantly illuminated, but when in standby the light flashes continuously (at a slow rate). This drives me mad, but results in an interesting action — it causes me to turn it off at the plug when I am not using it (which is most of the time). Suddenly one little flashing light has resulted in more energy saving than having no light.

As he notes, designing a system with an indicator which actually draws power to inform you of… ‘nothing’ … actually may not be as inefficient as a from-first-principles efficiency design process would suggest, because of that human reaction. Similarly to the Static! project’s Power-Aware Cord, you may need to use a little extra energy to make people realise how much they’re using without thinking. Although:

There is one problem with this, it only works on people who care. If I did not care about saving energy, then I would just leave the laptop plugged in and the DVD player on. That means that you have to consider how your users will handle this kind of subtle feedback and determine whether turning the light off, or encouraging unplugging, results in more energy savings.

Sometimes the most obvious design decisions may not be the ones which result in the greatest energy saving.

This is a very astute observation indeed.

Are there any other examples where this sort of effect can be usefully employed? How similar is this to the ‘useful landmine’ concept where you deliberately force/provoke/annoy yourself into taking actions you otherwise wouldn’t bother/would forget to do?