All posts filed under “Entropy

Persuasion & control round-up

  • New Scientist: Recruiting Smell for the Hard Sell
    Image from New ScientistSamsung’s coercive atmospherics strategy involves the smell of honeydew melon:

    THE AIR in Samsung’s flagship electronics store on the upper west side of Manhattan smells like honeydew melon. It is barely perceptible but, together with the soft, constantly morphing light scheme, the scent gives the store a blissfully relaxed, tropical feel. The fragrance I’m sniffing is the company’s signature scent and is being pumped out from hidden devices in the ceiling. Consumers roam the showroom unaware that they are being seduced not just via their eyes and ears but also by their noses.

    In one recent study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research, Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist and dean of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University in Pullman, and his colleagues carried out an experiment in a local clothing store. They discovered that when “feminine scents”, like vanilla, were used, sales of women’s clothes doubled; as did men’s clothes when scents like rose maroc were diffused.

    A spokesman from IFF revealed that the company has developed technology to scent materials from fibres to plastic, suggesting that we can expect a more aromatic future, with everything from scented exercise clothing and towels to MP3 players with a customised scent. As more and more stores and hotels use ambient scents, however, remember that their goal is not just to make your experience more pleasant. They want to imprint a positive memory, influence your future feelings about particular brands and ultimately forge an emotional link to you – and more importantly, your wallet.

    (via Martin Howard‘s very interesting blog, and the genius Mind Hacks)

  • Consumerist: 5 Marketing Tricks That Unleash Shopping Frenzies
    Beanie BabiesThe Consumerist’s Ben Popken outlines “5 Marketing Tricks That Unleash Shopping Frenzies”:

    * Artificially limit supply. They had a giant warehouse full of Beanie Babies, but released them in squirts to prolong the buying orgy.
    * Issue press releases about limited supply so news van show up
    * Aggressively market to children. Daddy may not play with his kids as much as he should but one morning he can get up at the crack of dawn, get a Teddy Ruxpin, and be a hero.
    * Make a line of minute variations on the same theme to create the “collect them all” effect.
    * Make it only have one highly specialized function so you can sell one that laughs, one that sings, one that skydives, etc, ad nauseum.

    All of us are familiar with these strategies – whether consciously or not – but can similar ideas ever be employed in a way which benefits the consumer, or society in general, without actual deception or underhandedness? For example, can artificially limiting supply to increase demand ever be helpful? Certainly artificially limiting supply to decrease demand can be helpful to consumers might sometimes be helpful – if you knew you could get a healthy snack in 5 minutes, but an unhealthy one took an hour to arrive, you might be more inclined to go for the healthy one; if the number of parking spaces wide enough to take a large 4 x 4 in a city centre were artificially restricted, it might discourage someone from choosing to drive into the city in such a vehicle.

    But is it helpful – or ‘right’ – to use these types of strategy to further an aim which, perhaps, deceives the consumer, for the ‘greater good’ (and indeed the consumer’s own benefit, ultimately)? Should energy-saving devices be marketed aggressively to children, so that they pressure their parents to get one?

    (Image from Michael_L‘s Flickr stream)

  • Kazys Varnelis: Architecture of Disappearance
    Architecture of disappearance
    Kazys Varnelis notes “the architecture of disappearance”:

    I needed to show a new Netlab intern the maps from Banham’s Los Angeles, Architecture of Four Ecologies and realized that I had left the original behind. Luckily, Google Books had a copy here, strangely however, in their quest to remove copyrighted images, Google’s censors (human? algorithmic?) had gone awry and had started producing art such as this image.

    It’s not clear here whether there’s a belief that the visual appearance of the building itself is copyrighted (which surely cannot be the case – photographers’ rights (UK at least) are fairly clear on this) or whether that by effectively making the image useless, it prevents someone using an image from Google Books elsewhere. The latter is probabky the case, but then why bother showing it at all?

    (Thanks to Katrin for this)

  • Fanatic Attack
    Finally, in self-regarding nonsense news, this blog’s been featured on Fanatic Attack, a very interesting, fairly new site highlighting “entrancement, entertainment, and an enhancement of curiosity”: people, organisations and projects that display a deep passion or obsession with a particular subject or theme. I’m grateful to be considered as such!
  • Biting Apple

    BBC News headline, 28 September 2007

    Interesting to see the BBC’s summary of the current iPhone update story: “Apple issues an update which damages iPhones that have been hacked by users”. I’m not sure that’s quite how Apple’s PR people would have put it, but it’s interesting to see that whoever writes those little summaries for the BBC website found it easiest to sum up the story in this way. This is being portrayed as Apple deliberately, strategically damaging the phones, rather than an update unintentionally causing problems with unlocked or modified phones.

    Regardless of what the specific issue is here, and whether unmodified iPhones have also lost functionality because of some problem with the update, can’t we just strip out all this nonsense? How many people who wanted an iPhone also wanted to be locked in to AT&T or whatever the local carrier will be in each market? Anyone? Who wants to be locked in to anything? What a waste of technical effort, sweat and customer goodwill: it’s utterly pathetic.

    This is exactly what Fred Reichheld‘s ‘Bad profits’ idea calls out so neatly:

    Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad. Bad profits come from unfair or misleading pricing. Bad profits arise when companies save money by delivering a lousy customer experience. Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value.

    If bad profits are earned at the expense of customers, good profits are earned with customers’ enthusiastic cooperation. A company earns good profits when it so delights its customers that they willingly come back for more–and not only that, they tell their friends and colleagues to do business with the company.

    What is the question that can tell good profits from bad? Simplicity itself: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

    If your iPhone’s just turned into the most stylish paperweight in the office, are you likely to recommend it to a colleague?

    More to the point, if Apple had moved – in the first place – into offering telecom services to go with the hardware, with high levels of user experience and a transparent pricing system, how many iPhone users and Mac evangelists wouldn’t have at least considered changing?

    Pier pressure

      Palace Pier, Brighton
    Palace Pier, BrightonPalace Pier, Brighton

    Deliberately routing users via a longer or more circuitous route is found in many forms (with a variety of intentions) from misleading road signs, to endless click-through screens, splitting up articles, periodic rearrangement of supermarket shelves, and so on. This kind of forcing function can also be used to increase the likelihood of users reading ‘important’ information; as always, there is an agenda behind the design decision.

    But it’s rare to see something quite as blatant as the above “This way to the end of the pier” sign on Brighton Palace Pier, attempting to persuade visitors to walk through the amusement arcade rather than along the walkways either side of the arcade. I don’t know how effective it is; conceivably some visitors might assume that it’s the only way to the end of the pier, but given how easy it is to see along the walkways either side, I’m not sure the deception is very convincing.

    What’s the worst intentional mis-direction you’ve come across? And did it ‘work’?

    Cleaning up with carpets

    Horrible carpet

    Following the recent post looking at aspects of casino and slot machine design, in which I quoted William Choi and Antoine Sindhu’s study – “[Casino] carpeting is often purposefully jarring to the eyes, which draws customers’ gaze upwards toward the machines on the gambling floor” – Max Rangeley sends me a link to the Total Influence & Persuasion blog, discussing casinos’ carpeting strategy in more detail:

    They don’t want you to look at the floor, they want you to look at the machines!
    … after some time you eyes get tired and need a rest. Normally they would be dawn to a area of dull colour that could be used as a “safe haven” (probably all done subconsciously). The ground is normally a good bet, yes?….not in a casino. As soon as you look at the ground it is worse than the machines and your eyes want to move off somewhere else and hopefully toward one of these many waiting, flashing slot machines where you can slot in a few more quid.

    Indeed, casinos’ grotesque carpet patterns are apparently fairly notorious – a couple of years ago Boing Boing pointed to this fantastic gallery on Die Is Cast, the website of Dr David G Schwartz, an authority on casino design, strategy, and evolution:

    Casino carpet is known as an exercise in deliberate bad taste that somehow encourages people to gamble.

    In a strange way, though, it’s s sublime work of art, rivalling any expressionist canvas of the past century. Note the regal tones of Caesars Palace, the bountiful bouquet of Mandalay Place, the soft, almost abstract pointilism of Paris, all whispering, “gamble, gamble” just out of the range of consciousness as people walk to the nearest slot machine.

    Image from Die Is Cast
    A section of the 9-page gallery of real casino carpet patterns at Die Is Cast.

    Implications of this kind of thinking

    Are there examples from other fields where graphic design is deliberately used to repel the viewer, specifically in order to shift his or her focus somewhere more desirable?

    In newspaper/magazine layout, one might think of company A using deliberately repellent/garish advertising graphics alongside company B’s ad, to shift the reader’s focus away from that page to the opposite page, where company A has a ‘proper’ ad. Or the low-priced items on a menu or on a shelf might be surrounded by ugly/brash/over-busy graphics, so as to make shoppers look away to the area where the higher-priced items are. Maybe even an artist (or the gallery) deliberately positioning ‘ugly’/repellent work either side of the piece which it’s desirable for the visitor to focus on: in comparison, it is bound to look more attractive.

    I have no evidence that this happens, but I’m assuming it has been used as a tactic at some point.

    Does anyone have any real examples of this?

    Ticket off (reprise)

    Last year we looked at the way that the pricing structure of no-change-given ticket machines is often – apparently – designed to lead to overpayment, and I posed the question of whether councils/car park operators actually draw up their budget based on a significant proportion of customers overpaying.

    Parking ticket machine in Totnes, Devon

    Parking ticket machine in Totnes, DevonParking ticket machine in Totnes, Devon

    I’m still no closer to answering that last question, but I was reminded again of this ‘the house always wins’ idea last week by this ticket machine (above) in Totnes, Devon. Look at the price intervals: 25p, 90p, £1.70, £2.55, £4.20, £5.75 – those are some rather odd figures. The price jumps – 65p, 80p, 85p, £1.65 and £1.55 – are odd in themselves, but given that the machine does not give change, it’s a fairly safe bet that,unless they carry a lot of change, many people parking for 1 hour will pay £1.00 rather than 90p, many 2 hour customers will pay £2 instead of £1.70, and many 3 hour customers will pay some amount larger than the very awkward £2.55. Why not £2.50? What’s the logic behind that extra 5p if not to force overpayment by people not carrying a spare fivepence?

    One car park visitor was clearly sufficiently irritated to label the machine with exactly what he or she thought of the pricing policy (third photo above)!

    Dublin Bus ticket details at Dublin Airport

    An interesting case: Dublin Bus

    One detail which was thrown up in the comments last time by Undulattice is that at least one no-change-given policy, that of Dublin Bus, is accompanied by the ability to get a refund if you really want, by taking your receipt to Dublin Bus’s headquarters (which are at least located in a fairly prominent place in the city centre), as explained on signs such as the above (photographed at Dublin Airport earlier this year):

    Dublin Bus have operated an ‘Exact Fare – No Change’ policy for years now. In the case of over-payment, they issue a ticket receipt which can be exchanged at Dublin Bus HQ.
    Oh, and they don’t accept notes either!

    and Damien added this:

    I can’t remember which one, but there was a charity in Dublin that started collecting the Bus refund receipts and cashing them as donations. Great idea.

    The Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, St Francis Hospice and Barnardos are among the charities actively asking for the receipts – as Barnardos says:

    Did it ever occur to you that you are throwing away real money — and lots of it!

    As much as €750,000 a year is going into rubbish bins across the county!!

    In 2004 there were over 150 million passenger journeys on Dublin Bus routes right across the city. If ONLY 1% of those journeys were over—paid by 5c that’s a total of €750,000 that often ends up in the bins!

    This forum discussion from 2004 suggests (how accurately, I don’t know) that Dublin Bus has more than €9 million in unreturned change. As with the car parking overpayments, how do accounting standards deal with this kind of overpayment arrangement? Can budgets be drawn up based on projections of massive overpayments along these lines? Are there businesses (bus companies, car parks, etc) that are only profitable because of the scale of overpayment? Some forum posts suggest that drivers may pocket and redeem a lot of the receipts themselves, which may further complicate the picture further.

    The charity initiatives are a fascinating way to ‘fight the system’ and achieve some good – a mechanism for recovering overpayment en masse – and it does make me wonder just how much overpayment Transport for London’s bus ticket machines receive each year, and how that money is accounted for.

    A different strategy

    Back to parking ticket machines, Carrie McLaren of the brilliant Stay Free! commented that:

    …in New York, like most major cities in the US, parking meters are priced way below their market value – so “the house always wins” claim wouldn’t apply here. Anyone able to find a metered spot is getting a real bargain, even if they don’t have the right change.

    This is an interesting strategy, very different to that used by most car parking operations in the UK. Restricting the number of spaces and not deliberately overcharging for them seems to be clearly targeted at discouraging drivers from even thinking of driving into the city, while not ripping off those who need to do so. This generally does not happen in the UK, where parking charges (and fines) are a major revenue source for councils and private operators, and while high charges (and forcing overpayment) may pay lip-service to ‘discouraging traffic’, the still-full car parks would tend to show up that this does not work. I’ll look further at this, and ‘architecture of control’ strategies for parking, in a future post.

    Process friction

    WD-40

    Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah kindly sent me a link to this article by Ben Hyde:

    I once had a web product that failed big-time. A major contributor to that failure was tedium of getting new users through the sign-up process. Each screen they had to step triggered the lost of 10 to 20% of the users. Reducing the friction of that process was key to survival. It is a thousand times easier to get a cell phone or a credit card than it is to get a passport or a learner’s permit. That wasn’t the case two decades ago.

    Public health experts have done a lot of work over the decades to create barrier between the public and dangerous items and to lower barriers to access to constructive ones. So we make it harder to get liquor, and easier to get condoms. Traffic calming techniques are another example of engineering that makes makes a system run more slowly.

    I find these attempts to shift the temperature of entire systems fascinating. This is at the heart of what you’re doing when you write standards, but it’s entirely scale free… In the sphere of internet identity it is particularly puzzling how two countervailing forces are at work. One trying to raise the friction and one trying to lower it. Privacy and security advocates are attempting to lower the temp and increase the friction. On the other hand there are those who seek in the solution to the internet identity problem a way to raise the temperature and lower the friction. That more rather than less transactions would take place.

    The idea of ‘process friction’ which is especially pertinent as applied to architectures of control. Simply, if you design a process to be difficult to carry out, fewer people will complete it, since – just as with frictional forces in a mechanical system – energy (whether real or metaphorical) is lost by the user at each stage.

    This is perhaps obvious, but is a good way to think about systems which are designed to prevent users carrying out certain tasks which might otherwise be easy – from copying music or video files, to sleeping on a park bench. Just as friction (brakes) can stop or slow down a car which would naturally roll down a hill under the force of gravity, so friction (DRM, or other architectures of control) attempts to stop or slow down the tendency for information to be copied, or for people to do what they do naturally. Sometimes the intention is actually to stop the proscribed behaviour (e.g. an anti-sit device); other times the intention is to force users to slow down or think about what they’re doing.

    From a designer’s point of view, there are far more examples where reducing friction in a process is more important than introducing it deliberately. In a sense, is this what usability is?. Affordances are more valuable than disaffordances, hence the comparative rarity of architectures of control in design, but also why they stand out so much as frustrating or irritating.

    The term cognitive friction is more specific than general ‘process friction’, but still very much relevant – as explained on the Cognitive Friction blog:

    Cognitive Friction is a term first used by Alan Cooper in his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum, where he defines it like this:

    “It is the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem permutes.”

    In other words, when our tools manifest complex behaviour that does not fit our expectations, the result can be very frustrating.

    Going back to the Ben Hyde article, the use of the temperature descriptions is interesting – he equates cooling with increasing the friction, making it more difficult to get things done (similarly to the idea of chilling effects), whereas my instinctive reaction would be the opposite (heat is often energy lost due to friction, hence a ‘hot’ system, rather than a cold system, is one more likely to have excessive friction in it – I see many architectures of control as, essentially, wasting human effort and creating entropy).

    But I can see the other view equally well: after all, lubricating oils work better when warmed to reduce their viscosity, and ‘cold welds’ are an important subject of tribological research. Perhaps the best way to look at it is that, just as getting into a shower that’s too hot or too cold is uncomfortable, so a system which is not at the expected ‘temperature’ is also uncomfortable for the user.