All posts filed under “Fashion

The ‘You Are Here’ Use-mark

You are here - Florence, Italy

Who really needs a “You Are Here” marker when other visitors’ fingers have done the work for you?

(Above, in Florence; below, in San Francisco)

You are here - San Francisco, California

Use-marks, like desire paths, are a kind of emergent behaviour record of previous users’ perceptions (and perceived affordances), intentions, behaviours and preferences. (As Google’s search history is a database of intentions.)

Indeed, while we’d probably expect the “You Are Here” spot to be worn (so it’s not telling us anything especially new) can we perhaps think of use-marks / desire paths as being a physical equivalent of revealed preferences? (Carl Myhill almost makes this point in this great paper [PDF].)

And (I have to ask), to what extent does the presence of wear and use-marks by previous users influence the use decisions and behaviour of new users (social proof)? If you see a well-trodden path, do you follow it? Do you pick a dog-eared library book to read because it is presumably more interesting than the ones that have never been read? What about where you’re confused by a new interface on, say, a ticket machine? Can you pick it up more quickly by (consciously or otherwise) observing how others have worn or deformed it through prior use?

Can we design public products / systems / services which intentionally wear to give cues to future users? How (other than “Most read stories today”) can we apply this digitally?

Objects in mirror are wider than they appear

Robert Kilroy-Silk, mirrored

This is an interesting story. Robert Kilroy-Silk (above) currently an independent MEP, has raised the issue in the European Parliament of intentionally distorting mirrors in clothes stores, specifically Marks & Spencer:

Marks and Spencer has said it is mystified by a claim by MEP Robert Kilroy-Silk that it uses “distorting” mirrors in its changing rooms.

Mr Kilroy-Silk has accused the store of misleading women with mirrors that make them look slimmer in its clothes.

He made the allegation in a written question in the European Parliament.

An M&S spokesman said: “Our mirrors are perfectly normal, standard mirrors. We are at a loss as to what he might be referring to.”

In his question, Mr Kilroy-Silk asked if it was “conceivable that within the millions of EU regulations covering virtually every aspect of life in the EU” there was not one that made it illegal for M&S to have mirrors that “deliberately distort women’s shapes”.

Now, whatever you might think of Kilroy, and M&S’s denial, it’s surely not that unlikely that intentionally distorting mirrors have been, and probably are, used in some shops, and maybe some homes too. (As the distorting M&S mirrors are apparently in the Windsor and Maidenhead stores, which are pretty local to me, I should probably go and check.) Do cosmetic surgery clinics ever have a different set of mirrors on the way in to those on the way out?

If, when designing a retail environment, you could a) increase sales and b) make customers feel better about themselves by using a ‘slimming’ mirror, why wouldn’t you? How ethical is this? It’s an underhand method of persuasion rather than physical control, but it could make a significant difference to sales, in the process making shoppers feel more positive, even if ultimately it’s deceitful. Hewlett-Packard already produces digital cameras with a ‘slimming’ mode. If it helps you modify your self-image, and you like that, then I’m not sure it’s unethical per se. It’s just part of the great embedded architecture of delusion that fuels modern consumerism. Vanity sizing – another method of persuasion in clothes retailing – is an additional aspect of this.

Mirrors are a useful persuasion and control tool for retail designers anyway, whether distorting or not. People stop or slow down when they encounter them. Sometimes it’s vanity; sometimes it’s simply useful for people to see how they look. As Paco Underhill says in the excellent Why We Buy:

Stand and watch what happens at any reflective surface – we preen like chimps, men and women alike… Mirrors slow shoppers in their tracks, a very good idea for whatever merchandise happens to be in the vicinity.

And, of course, Lawrence Lessig actually mentions the use of mirrors in an ‘architecture of control’ example, in the chapter ‘What things regulate’ of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace:

A large hotel in an American city received many complaints about the slowness of its elevators. It installed mirrors next to the elevator doors. The complaints ended.

What other uses of mirrors, or vanity devices/techniques in general, can be designed into environments to affect consumer behaviour?

Friday quote: Fashion & convention

All heading the same way

L.J.K. Setright, the late motoring writer and commentator, self-taught mechanical engineer and all-round Renaissance Man, once wrote:

Fashion is a terrible fetter; convention, since it lasts longer, is even worse.

This was in an issue of Car, when it was still any good.

Setright wrote it in reference to car design, and the lack of progress thereof, but I think we can all see how applicable it is to many fields of endeavour, not just in technology but in society also. We should be very wary when fashions become conventions – or at least we should think them through before they become norms. And we should always leave ourselves a way out. (I’ve mentioned this in a few contexts before, perhaps with a little hyperbole.)

What almost became a norm – DRM’d music – is now apparently on the way out. DRM was a fashion, not a convention: still a fetter, but one which can ultimately be shaken off, as it should be.

The great thing about fashions, of course, is that they can be talked into existence, and talked out of existence too. Fashions are not architecture.