Category Archives: London

CarbonCulture blog launch

CarbonCulture blog

It’s been quiet here, for reasons which will be explained later, but in the meantime I should mention that CarbonCulture (with whom I’ve been working for the past two years as part of the TSB-supported EMPOWER collaboration) has a new blog.

In anticipation of the forthcoming public launch of the CarbonCulture product, we’re introducing some background on behaviour change approaches, energy use and environmental impact. The first few posts (as of today) introduce:


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Through London with the DwI goggles on

As I’ve admitted before, having the idea of ‘design that’s intended to influence behaviour’ on my mind a lot of the time does sometimes lead to seeing everything with that filter in place:

[It's] a kind of conspiracy bias, ascribing to design intent that which is perhaps more likely to be due to situational factors (a kind of fundamental attribution error for design), or inferring the intention behind a design by looking at its results.

Nevertheless, it’s not unexciting. Noticing things I’d never have noticed before I started doing this research – often details or tricks that have been pointed out by commenters here on the blog – can give you a feeling of deeper connection to the design of the products and systems and environments around us. Things are designed to influence how people use them, what people do and don’t do, whether we are conscious of it or not. So here are some observations – none of them terribly amazing! – from a recent day in London with a camera and my long-suffering girlfriend. There are hundreds more I could have included – everything from elements of the websites we looked at before travelling, to the layout of stations and streets and buildings and tables and chairs and the wording and order of menus and adverts and just about everything that’s been designed to elicit some kind of behavioural response. But we just don’t notice most of this: it’s only occasionally that things attract our attention, which is what happened with the following examples.

Door buttons, First Great Western

The ‘Open Door’ buttons on First Great Western’s Class 165/166 trains (going into Paddington) are much larger than the ‘Close Door’ buttons (which rarely need to be pressed anyway, since the doors are closed automatically before the train departs). I’m assuming they’re intentionally more prominent because it’s the button that people need to see and press in a hurry if they need to get off and the vestibule(?) area’s crowded (and it often is on this service), and larger for a kind of Fitts’ Law reason: reducing the time taken to ‘acquire the target’. It’s also large enough to be able to elbow it or press it with a shoulder if you’re carrying things in both hands.

Escalators, Canary Wharf station

The escalators at Canary Wharf underground station, as at many others, have raised obstructions (often masquerading as “Stand on the right” signs) every couple of feet to prevent people sliding down the panelling between the handrails. When I looked at this before – the slightly more extreme spikes at Highbury & Islington station – there were some great comments including a story about what can happen when they obstructions aren’t present (or rather when just one is – a large sign at the bottom). It did occur to me that the kind used at Canary Wharf would actually work quite well as hand-holds for climbing up, should you want to.

Look Right marking on road, Canary Wharf

All over the UK, but particularly in urban areas with complex traffic movements, one-way systems or lots of visitors, such as here outside the DLR station at Canary Wharf, some pedestrian crossings are marked with “Look Right”, “Look Left” or “Look Both Ways” on the road, to suggest to pedestrians (at just the right moment) which way they should look to watch out for oncoming traffic. Richard Thaler has mentioned this as a ‘nudge’ example before. It doesn’t always get implemented correctly; there are also other design tricks for influencing pedestrians to face the right way at crossings.

I might be going beyond my expertise here, but it seems like it’s actually relatively unusual in much of Europe (perhaps because of the Vienna Convention) to have instructional ‘injunctive’ text on traffic signage (including markings), compared with some other parts of the world. For example, in the UK, since the 1960s at least we very rarely have signs such as “Wrong Way, Go Back” – there would more likely be a “No Entry” sign, with no text. If you’re interested in British road signage, this is one of the best articles on the subject.

Gate at Mudchute Park

Here’s a ‘kissing gate’ at Mudchute Park presumably intended to prevent bicycles (though I would have thought a bike could fit through the gate next to it). As we’ve seen before, trying to stop cyclists using awkward gates doesn’t always work. Given the location of this gate, it may also help prevent any animals which have escaped from the the farm from running out onto the road.

Anti-climb paint, Mudchute allotments

Also at Mudchute, these allotments have anti-climb paint applied to the fence – a slippery paint that stays ‘wet’ (here’s a nice publicity photo). I’ll be honest, I’ve often wondered how much effect this stuff really has against someone equipped with, say, rough-textured gloves who could, at least on a fence like the one in the picture, probably get his/her hand all the way round both the horizontal and vertical parts of the fence. Or just a loop of rope, or a hook, along with black clothes (to hide the paint that comes off) or disposable overalls plus some kind of disposable blanket or rug to cover the spikes and flatten the barbed wire would seem to be all you need. I’m not condoning this, of course – as an allotmenteer myself, I appreciate that they can well be an attractive target.

As an alternative to anti-climb paint, spikes, etc, these roller bars seem quite interesting.

Bird bin, Mudchute farmBird bin, Mudchute farmBird bin, Mudchute farm

The yard of the Mudchute Kitchen, part of the farm, has these friendly rubbish bins – a great example of affective engagement, particularly somewhere where there are going to be lots of young children visiting on school trips or with families. The open beaks are an invitation, a perceived affordance that they should be ‘fed’. Whether it’s a good idea to ‘teach’ children to feed litter to birds is another matter…

Recessed alarm, DLR
 
 
 
 
 
Unlike the ‘Open Door’ button above – which doesn’t matter if it’s accidentally pressed since it only operates when the train is stationary and alongside the platform – passenger emergency alarms such as this type on the Docklands Light Railway need to be prominent and visible, yet protected against accidental operation due to, for example, someone leaning on the button when the train is crowded. So, not only recessing it, but mounting it at the top of the recess, where even an inadvertent poke from an umbrella or elbow is less likely to make contact, is a clever errorproofing solution.

A 'Norman' door, Canary Wharf

The shopping mall at Canary Wharf features ‘Norman doors‘ that despite having prominent, elegant, no doubt expensive stainless steel handles, must actually be pushed open, hence the necessity of the ‘Push’ labels. Other than being able to pull the doors closed if necessary, or simply because it’s cheaper to make doors with the same fittings on both sides so they can be hinged either way, I’m not sure why this particular category of false affordance is so common. Making the handles flatter on the ‘push’ side would preserve a similar style visually but signal that they need to be pushed without needing to resort to a sign.

Couple of other observations: the comprehensive row of prohibition signs on the doors almost forms a design element itself, echoing the pattern of squares further down. You’re not allowed to do much other than spend money in this particular mall. Also, printing the word STYLE on posters in reflective foil does, unfortunately, mean that from some angles, the L and E will disappear.

ATM forcing function

Getting some money out: we’re so used to ATMs returning the card before dispensing the cash that we often don’t even think about this interlock forcing function. In fact it may even momentarily surprise us when ticket machines (for example) don’t work like this.

But ATMs didn’t always operate like this either, and when the cash was returned first, the card was often forgotten. So the order was changed – as Phillip Chung & Michael Byrne put it “to place the hanging postcompletion action ‘on the critical path’ to reduce or eliminate [its] omission” – although this card-then-cash format is by no means universal.

I looked at some possible alternative solutions for the problem in this paper for Applied Ergonomics (e-mail me if you’d like a copy), as a kind of test / demonstration of the Design with Intent toolkit.

(The above is actually a photo of a different machine to the one I used on this particular day, since there was a queue of people behind me)

Spikes, Southwark

These friendly anti-sit spikes (including a slightly crooked one on the left) outside the headquarters of London Councils in Southwark just scream “We love the public!”. I guess the alcove could provide a useful hiding place for someone to jump out on passers-by or something.

Eat, South Bank

Further along the South Bank, this branch of Eat reminded me that B J Fogg used a photo of the Eat sign in his talk at Design for Persuasion, as an example of what he calls hot triggers: cues or calls to action which actually prompt a behaviour, assuming that the motivation and ability are there already. Someone walking along, hungry (motivated), with enough money to buy food (ability) needs a trigger, and a sign pretty much instructing one to eat is a particularly clear one. We didn’t eat there, of course – there are better places – but it’s an interesting tactic.

Gearstick, Reliant Scimitar SST

Finally, as we were about to drive home from the station, I thought about the reverse gear ‘gate’ – a kind of lock-out – which prevents the driver changing accidentally directly from a forward gear into reverse (though it’s usually possible the other way round). Depending on the gearbox, you generally need to lift the gearstick over the ‘gate’ or press a button while moving the stick, or in the case of my Reliant Scimitar (which has a 1980s Ford Sierra gearbox), press the gearstick itself downwards.

 
What do you see everyday that makes you think “they designed it like that so that people would do this”?

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.

The Convention on Modern Liberty

Barricades, London

Britain’s supposedly on the verge of a summer of rage, and while like Mary Riddell I am of course reminded of Ballard, it’s not quite the same. I don’t think this represents the ‘middle class’ ennui of Chelsea Marina.

Instead I think we may have reached a tipping point where more people than not, are, frankly, fed up (and scared) about what’s happening, whether it’s the economic situation, the greed of the feckless, the intransigent myopia of those who were supposed to ‘oversee’ what’s going on, the use of fear to intimidate away basic freedoms, or a home secretary who treats the entire country like the naughty schoolchildren she left behind. In short: we’re basically losing our liberty very rapidly indeed. This PDF, compiled by UCL Student Human Rights Programme, provides a withering summary. As many have repeated, 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual. But, as Cardinal Wolsey warned, “be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again”.

The Convention on Modern Liberty, taking place across the UK this Saturday 28th February, aims to demonstrate the dissatisfaction with what’s happening, and hopefully raise awareness of just what’s going on right under our noses. It features an interesting cross-section of speakers, and the speeches will be streamed on the site (tickets for the London session sold out very quickly).

I’m a normal person, trying my best to advance the progress of humanity, yet I feel that the government has contempt for me as a member of the public in general, on an everyday basis. Everywhere we go, we are watched, monitored, surveilled, threatened, considered guilty. We shouldn’t have to live like this.

P.S. I apologise for the lack of posts over the last week: my laptop’s graphics card finally gave in – it had been kind-of usable at a low resolution by connecting the output to another monitor for a while, but that too has now failed. Thanks to everyone who’s e-mailed and sent things: I will get round to them as soon as I can.

Invitation to participate

Design with Intent Pilot Study

For the last few weeks I’ve been setting up and running the first few trials of the ‘Design with Intent Method’, the design/innovation tool I’ve (embarrassingly sporadically) talked about on the blog over the last year.

It’s essentially an innovation method to help designers given a brief involving influencing user behaviour. Based on describing the ‘problem’, the DwI Method aims to suggest appropriate design techniques (with real examples from different fields) to inspire concepts with the potential to influence user behaviour towards the ‘target’. The techniques suggested range from those which really would help users to those which probably don’t: deciding which approaches are actually worthwhile is part of the process… I won’t go into it too much here (yet) but hopefully the method captures or will at least address most of the arguments and caveats that we’ve discussed here over the last 3 years.

As it’s developed from a fairly simple box structure through a giant hierarchical tree (as in the corner of this poster [PDF]), to the current ‘idea space’ iteration partially visible in the photo above, I’ve ‘tested’ it plenty of times with myself and informally with colleagues, applying it to different briefs, but the current programme of pilot studies is the first time it is being tried out by ‘real people’, mostly recent design graduates or final-year design students. These pilot studies are primarily about assessing the usability of the method ahead of larger group studies assessing its usefulness – if that makes sense – but they still involve the participants applying the method to particular design problems and seeing what kind of concepts it suggests. So far, the results have been extremely interesting – I can’t say any more yet.

At some point, there will be an online version in one form or another, but for the moment, if you’re in the London area, are a designer or someone interested in behaviour change, and would like to participate in an individual pilot study session in January, please let me know – dan@danlockton.co.uk. There are only going to be a few sessions; they take about 2½ hours each, during the week, taking place at Brunel University (Uxbridge, end of the Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines) and bear in mind half the participants will be ‘controls’ and so won’t actually be getting the DwI Method at all. The most I can pay you for your time/travel is £10. If that still sounds attractive, get in touch! I’ll update this post when all the slots are filled.

Equally, if your company or design team would like to participate in a ‘full’ trial of the DwI Method sometime in spring 2009 – trying out the method on real problems – then please do get in touch too.

Dan Lockton

London Design Festival: Greengaged

Greengaged skip

Design CouncilThe London Design Festival always throws up some interesting events, especially involving clever people trying new things in design and sharing their experiences and expertise.

This year, the Design Council are running Greengaged, a “sustainability hub… developed and organised by [re]design, thomas.matthews and Kingston University with Arup and Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest”. It’s a series of talks and workshops about ecodesign and sustainable issues in design.

On Tuesday I went, along with Alex Plant, for the ‘Behaviour Change’ talks, part of the ‘Gauging the Green’ day, where Unchained‘s Lea Simpson, More AssociatesLuke Nicholson, IDEO London‘s Andrea Koerselman and Fiona Bennie from Forum for the Future all talked about their work on using design to change behaviour.

[Apologies: YouTube have since removed the clip due to an infringement claim from Candid Camera, Inc. So here's an alternative link - it may not last either, though, but if you search for "candid camera" elevator I'm sure you'll be able to find it]

Lea Simpson started with this great Candid Camera clip from 196x demonstrating how easily social proof can be used to influence behaviour. Lea argued three important points relevant to behaviour change (many thanks to Christian McLening for taking better notes than I did):

1. Behaviour change requires behaviour (i.e. the behaviour of others: social effects are critical, as we respond to others’ behaviour which in turn affects our own; targeting the ‘right’ people allows behaviour to spread)

2. Behaviour and motivation are two different things: To change behaviour, you need to understand and work with people’s motivations – which may be very different for different people.

3. Desire is not enough: lots of people desire to behave differently, but it needs to be very easy for them to do it before it actually happens.

Luke Nicholson: Photo by Kate Andrews
Luke Nicholson’s presentation: photo by the indefatigable Kate Andrews.

Luke Nicholson talked about More‘s work on enabling the public to understand energy use and carbon footprints via home monitoring systems – as he put it, there are “some invisible forces going round your home, and this is a lens onto them”. More’s ‘energy lens’ – which can be positioned on a window, hence linking energy consumption and climate/the weather in users’ minds, and making it as easy to check “what the energy’s like today” as “what the weather’s like today” – has recently been spun out as Onzo – who look to be employing a couple of very talented Brunel Design graduates.

More Associates: Energy Literacy

Luke also talked about More’s research with energy literacy – can we create a vernacular for better public understanding of energy, carbon, current, and so on? The above slide showed the idea of ‘pips’ and ‘blocks’ as some kind of accounting unit for energy and carbon, respectively, easily comparable to pounds (sterling) for cost; there was also an interesting series of diagrams using different shapes and sizes to explain simply, visually, the difference between high-current-drawing appliances and those which draw lower currents. Changing consumer demand for new products was also addressed with the idea of a ‘Kept’ sticker which could be affixed to products such as phones, to announce “I’m keeping this”.

A lot of this really does seem to be about framing – and joining up the agendas of different groups (consumers, the electricity industry, manufacturers, governments) to provide a new resultant pointing in the desired direction. As Luke said, “We’re playing into cultures that don’t exist yet.”

Andrea Koerselman, IDEO

Andrea Koerselman and Fiona Bennie introduced their ‘i-team – local innovation on climate change’ project, a service design collaboration between IDEO and Forum for the Future, working with councils and local authorities to inspire behaviour change on issues such as driving to work, reducing electricity usage, and so on. This involves a lot of user observation – an IDEO speciality, of course – and an Inspiration-Insight-Ideation-Implementation process, as in the slide above. Talking to Fiona afterwards, she mentioned that it’s quite a novel experience for many councils to be involved in generating ideas without explicit returns-on-investment or outcomes defined, and so the ‘Ideation’ stage was going to be especially interesting.

Overall, this was a very interesting and worthwhile programme of talks – and this is just a snapshot of the many taking place this week and next in London. Tomorrow, I’m off to some of System Reload’s workshops, and on Monday, back at the Design Council, Tracy Bhamra and Emma Dewberry, among others, will be talking about sustainable design education. I’ll let you know how it all goes.