All posts filed under “Printers

Do you really need to print that?

Do you really need to print that?
Do you really need to print that?

This is not difficult to do, once you know how. Of course, it’s not terribly useful, since a) most people don’t read the display on a printer unless an error occurs, or b) you’re only likely to see it once you’ve already sent something to print.

Is this kind of very, very weak persuasion – actually worthwhile? From a user’s point of view, it’s less intrusive than, say, a dialogue box that asks “Are you sure you want to print that? Think of the environment” every time you try to print something (which would become deeply irritating for many users), but when applied thoughtfully, as (in a different area of paper consumption) in Pete Kazanjy’s These Come From Trees initiative, or even in various e-mail footers* (below), there may actually be some worthwhile influence on user behaviour. It’s not ‘micropersuasion’ in Steve Rubel’s sense, exactly, but there is some commonality.

Please consider the environment

I’m thinking that addressing the choices users make when they decide to print (or not print) a document or email could be an interesting specific example to investigate as part of my research, once I get to the stage of user trials. How effective are the different strategies in actually reducing paper/energy/toner/fuser/ink consumption and waste generation? Would better use of ‘Printer-friendly’ style sheets for webpages save a lot of unnecessary reprints due to cut-off words and broken layouts? Should, say, two pages per sheet become the default when a dicument goes above a certain number of pages? Should users be warned if widows (not so much orphans) are going to increase the number of sheets needed, or should the leading be automatically adjusted (by default) to prevent this? What happens if we make it easier to avoid printing banner ads and other junk? What happens if we make the paper tray smaller so the user is reminded of just how much paper he/she is getting through? What happens if we include a display showing the cost (financially) of the toner/ink, paper and electricity so far each day, or for each user? What happens if we ration paper for each user and allow him or her to ‘trade’ with other users? What happens if we give users a ‘reward’ for reaching targets of reducing printer usage, month-on-month? And so on. (The HP MOPy Fish – cited in B J Fogg’s Persuasive Technology – is an example of the opposite intention: a system designed to encourage users to print more, by rewarding them.)

Printing is an interesting area, since it allows the possibility of testing out both software and hardware tactics for causing behaviour change, which I’m keen to do.

Epson messes up my day

Ink Out

My Epson Stylus Photo R1800’s been running low on ink in a couple of cartridges for a few days now. I’ve been putting off ordering them until this weekend. Now I find that when the printer believes a cartridge has reached 0%, it won’t print anything at all, even if it doesn’t need that colour. Users (i.e. me) are forced into buying new cartridges at a time when they don’t actually need them in a pathetic exercise of Epson’s control. Workflow is interrupted, plans out of the window.

So now, in order to print something important which needs to be done this afternoon, I am going to have to get on a train and go into a local town, wasting a couple of hours of my life and resulting in entirely unnecessary energy usage and carbon emissions. That’s relatively easy for me: I live next to a railway station. But in areas of the world where it isn’t convenient or possible, how can such thoughtless design be tolerated? Printers a few years ago allowed you to keep printing until the cartridges were actually empty. You knew when to stop because you could see.

Hey Epson: if you push your customers around, they’ll walk away. Forever. It’s as simple as that. People’s time is precious. Convenience is important. There’s no way I’ll ever buy another Epson product or recommend them to anyone else. And I’m a techy guy: occasionally, people do ask my opinion on products. (Of course I’m going to buy cheap refill cartridges; ultimately I may have to get a continuous ink supply system)

Yeah, it’s a rant; it’s also a pathetic piece of design embodying absolute contempt for the customer.

Bad design

(Sadly the SSC Service Utility mentioned a few months ago doesn’t seem to allow the ink levels to this particular printer to be re-set, though it’s undoubtedly of great use on other models.)

Planned addiction as a method of control: a parasitic lock-in business model

Lighting up

The news that tobacco companies have increased the levels of nicotine in their brands over the last few years – especially those popular with certain groups – made me think further about architectures of control:

“The amount of nicotine in most cigarettes rose an average of almost 10 percent from 1998 to 2004, with brands most popular with young people and minorities registering the biggest increases and highest nicotine content… the higher levels theoretically could make new smokers more easily addicted and make it harder for established smokers to quit.
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Ed Felten: DRM Wars, and ‘Property Rights Management’

RFID Velcro?

At Freedom to Tinker, Ed Felten has posted a summary of a talk he gave at the Usenix Security Symposium, called “DRM Wars: The Next Generation”. The two installments so far (Part 1, Part 2) trace a possible trend in the (stated) intentions of DRM’s proponents, from it being largely promoted as a tool to help enforce copyright law (and defeat ‘illegal pirates’) to the current stirrings of DRM’s being explicitly acknowledged as a tool to facilitate discrimination and lock-in — and the apparent ‘benefits of this’:

“First, they argue that DRM enables price discrimination — business models that charge different customers different prices for a product — and that price discrimination benefits society, at least sometimes. Second, they argue that DRM helps platform developers lock in their customers, as Apple has done with its iPod/iTunes products, and that lock-in increases the incentive to develop platforms.
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Friend or foe: Battery-authentication ICs?

Lithium battery from Motorola V220Via MAKE, an article from Electrical Design News looking at lithium battery authentication chips in products such as phones and laptops, designed to prevent users fitting ‘non-genuine’ batteries.

Now, the immediate response of most of us is probably “razor blade model!” or even “stifling democratic innovation!” (as Hal Varian or Eric von Hippel might put it), and indeed that was probably my own instinctive reaction.

It’s not clear, though, that this is a standard architectures-of-control-enforced-razor-blade-model of the kind we’ve seen with printer cartridges. Read More

Forcing functions designed to increase product consumption

McVitie's Digestives packaging: a forcing function

A few days ago, Tim Quinn of Dangerous Curve posted an interesting observation on the Simple Control in Products page:

“This may not be what you had in mind, but I immediately thought of such things as toothpaste pumps that ‘meter’ use to insure the product will be used up quickly at a rate higher than needed. That made me think of the older method of training consumers to over-use. Typified, once again, by toothpaste, with ads which show a brush topped by a generous glop of paste that is far more than necessary to do the job. This strays a bit more from your topic but it could fall under the design for control heading.”

This is definitely a phenomenon worth exploring further, since it’s part of our everyday experience, right under our noses, yet we may not be conscious of it. It’s at the intersection of advertising, marketing and product design, with particular applicability to fast-moving consumer goods. Read More