All posts filed under “Security

Instructable: One-Touch Keypad Masher

One-Touch Keypad Masher

It’s been a long time since I last wrote an Instructable, but as I’ve resolved that 2009’s going to be a year where I start making things again (2008 involved a lot of sitting, reading and annotating, and in 2007 most of what I made was for clients, and thus confidential), I thought I’d write up a brief (10 minute) fun little bodgey project which has, very marginally, boosted everyday productivity: the One-Touch Keypad Masher.

Wasting valuable seconds typing in a code every time you need to open the door?

This little ‘device’ streamlines the process by pressing the right keys for you, and can be hidden in your palm so you simply mash your hand against the keypad and – apparently miraculously to anyone watching – unlock the door in one go.

Time to make: Less than 10 minutes
Time saved: About 30 seconds per day in my case; your mileage may vary.
Payback time: 20 days, in this case

(There’s a (weak) correlation with some of the Design with Intent topics, since it could be seen as a device which allows a user to interact with a “What you know” security measure using a “What you have” method. At some point in the near future I’ll be covering these on the blog as design patterns for influencing behaviour.

It’s also a kind of errorproofing device, a poka-yoke employing specialised affordances. If used, it prevents the user mistyping the code.)

The Instructable is also embedded below (Flash), but for whatever reason there are a few formatting oddities (including hyperlinks being ignored) so it’s easier to read in the original.

What’s the deal with angled steps?

Angled StepsIt’s a simple question, really, to any readers with experience in urban planning and specifying architectural features: what is the reasoning behind positioning steps at an angle such as this set (left and below) leading down to the Queen’s Walk near London Bridge station?

Obviously one reason is to connect two walkways that are offset slightly where there is no space to have a perpendicular set of steps, but are they ever used strategically? They’re much more difficult to run down or up than conventionally perpendicular steps, which would seem like it might help constrain escaping thieves, or make it less likely that people will be able to run from one walkway to another without slowing down and watching their step.

Like the configuration of spiral staircases in mediaeval castles to favour a defender running down the steps anticlockwise, holding a sword in his right hand, over the attacker running up to meet him (e.g. as described here), the way that town marketplaces were often built with pinch points at each end to make it more difficult for animals (or thieves) to escape, or even the ‘enforced reverence’ effect of the very steep steps at Ta Keo in Cambodia, are angled steps and staircases ever specified deliberately with this intent?

Angled Steps

The first time I thought of this was confronting these steps (below) leading from the shopping centre next to Waverley Station in Edinburgh a couple of years ago: they seemed purpose-built to slow fleeing shoplifters, but I did consider that it might just be my tendency to see everything with a ‘Design with Intent’ bias – 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!

What’s your angle on the steps?

Angled Steps

Skinner and the Mousewrap

Mousewrap - dontclick.it

Dontclick.it, an interesting interface design experiment by Alex Frank, included this amusing idea, the Mousewrap, to ‘train’ users not to click any more “through physical pain”.

It did make me think: is the use of anti-sit spikes on window sills, ledges, and so on, or anti-climb spikes on walls, intended primarily as a Skinnerian operant conditioning method (punishment – i.e. getting spiked – leading to decrease in the behaviour), or as a perceived affordance method (we see that it looks uncomfortable to sit down, so we don’t do it)? How do deterrents like this actually work?

It might seem a subtle difference, and in practice it probably doesn’t matter; it’s probably a bit of both, in fact. Most people will be discouraged by seeing the spikes, and for the few who aren’t, they’ll learn after getting spiked.

But on what level do anti-pigeon spikes work? Do pigeons perceive the lack of ‘comfort’ affordance? Or do they try and perch and only then ‘learn’? How similar does the spike (or whatever) have to be to others the animal has seen? Do animals (and humans) only learn to perceive affordances (or the lack of them) after having been through the operant conditioning process previously – and then generalising from that experience to all spikes?

What’s the accepted psychological wisdom on this?

Spikes
Spikes
Spikes
Spikes
Some spikes in Windsor, Poundbury, Chiswick and Dalston, UK.

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.

Designing Safe Living

New Sciences of Protection logo Lancaster University’s interdisciplinary Institute for Advanced Studies (no, not that one) has been running a research programme, New Sciences of Protection, culminating in a conference, Designing Safe Living, on 10-12 July, “investigat[ing] ‘protection’ at the intersections of security, sciences, technologies, markets and design.”

The keynote speakers include the RCA’s Fiona Raby, Yahoo!’s Benjamin Bratton and Virginia Tech’s Timothy Luke, and the conference programme [PDF, 134 kB] includes some intriguing sessions on subjects such as ‘The Art/Design/Politics of Public Engagement’, ‘Designing Safe Citizens’, ‘Images of Safety’ and even ‘Aboriginal Terraformation (performance panel)’.

I’ll be giving a presentation called ‘Design with Intent: Behaviour-Shaping through Design’ on the morning of Saturday 12 July in a session called ‘Control, Design and Resistance’. There isn’t a paper to accompany the presentation, but here’s the abstract I sent in response to being invited by Mark Lacy:

Design with Intent: Behaviour-Shaping through Design
Dan Lockton, Brunel Design, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH

“Design can be used to shape user behaviour. Examples from a range of fields – including product design, architecture, software and manufacturing engineering – show a diverse set of approaches to shaping, guiding and forcing users’ behaviour, often for intended socially beneficial reasons of ‘protection’ (protecting users from their own errors, protecting society from ‘undesirable’ behaviour, and so on). Artefacts can have politics. Commercial benefit – finding new ways to extract value from users – is also a significant motivation behind many behaviour-shaping strategies in design; social and commercial benefit are not mutually exclusive, and techniques developed in one context may be applied usefully in others, all the while treading the ethical line of persuasion-vs-coercion.

Overall, a field of ‘Design with Intent’ can be identified, synthesising approaches from different fields and mapping them to a range of intended target user behaviours. My research involves developing a ‘suggestion tool’ for designers working on social behaviour-shaping, and testing it by application to sustainable/ecodesign product use problems in particular, balancing the solutions’ effectiveness at protecting the environment, with the ability to cope with emergent behaviours.”

The programme’s rapporteur, Jessica Charlesworth, has been keeping a very interesting blog, Safe Living throughout the year.

I’m not sure what my position on the idea of ‘designing safe living’ is, really – whether that’s the right question to ask, or whether ‘we’ should be trying to protect ‘them’, whoever they are. But it strikes me that any behaviour, accidental or deliberate, however it’s classified, can be treated/defined as an ‘error’ by someone, and design can be used to respond accordingly, whether viewed through an explicit mistake-proofing lens or simply designing choice architecture to suggest the ‘right’ actions over the ‘wrong’ ones.

One-way turn of the screw

One-way screw

One-way screws, such as the above (image from Designing Against Vandalism, ed. Jane Sykes, The Design Council, London, 1979) are an interesting alternative to the usual array of tamper-proof ‘security fasteners’ (which usually require a special tool to fit and remove). There’s a very interesting illustrated listing of different systems here.

A fastener requiring a special tool is effectively addressing the “Access, use or occupation based on user characteristics” target behaviour – and is functionally equivalent to a ‘what you have’ security system such as a padlock, except that anyone can look at almost any engineering catalogue and buy whatever special tools are needed to undo most security fasteners, pretty cheaply and easily, whereas it’s still a bit more difficult to obtain padlock master keys.

However, this kind of one-way clutch head screw, which can be tightened with a normal flat screwdriver, but is very difficult to undo using any tool (without destroying it) can be thought of as addressing a slightly different target behaviour: this is “No access, use or occupation, in a specific manner, by any user”. Even if the original installer wants to undo the screw, he or she can’t do it without destroying it (e.g. drilling it out). A few of the other systems illustrated on the Security Fasteners website also have this property:

Image from Securityfasteners.netImage from Securityfasteners.netImage from Securityfasteners.netImage from Securityfasteners.net

I’m particularly intrigued by the Shear Nuts and No Go enclosures (last two images above) – these two types effectively self-destruct/render themselves permanent as they are fixed into place. Something about this step-change in affordance fascinates me, but I’m not sure why exactly; it’s a similar idea to a computer program deleting itself, or Claude Shannon’s ‘Beautiful Machine’ existing only to switch itself off.

A step further would be a fastener or other device which (intentionally) destroys itself if the wrong tool (by implication an unauthorised user) tries to open/undo it, but which will undo perfectly well if the correct tool is used – along the lines of the cryptex in the Da Vinci Code, just as an ATM will retain a card if the wrong PIN is entered three times: it’s both tamper-evident and limits access. What other cryptex-style measures are there designed into products and systems?