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A complicated year

Laurel Highlands, south-western Pennsylvania

2016 has been a complicated year, and circumstances have meant that I have, rather unprofessionally, neglected this blog, my website, and the Design with Intent newsletter (which now has nearly 400 very patient subscribers).

This is just a brief note to say, mainly, that I’ve moved to the US, to Carnegie Mellon School of Design, and that (not unrelatedly) the Design with Intent book is delayed — it should be published by O’Reilly in the second half of 2017. More information on this soon.

In summer 2016 I moved on from the RCA to Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the School of Design. This has meant a huge life upheaval for Harriet and me, moving from a boat on the Thames at Richmond to, eventually, what I must learn to call a duplex in Friendship, a pleasant neighbo(u)rhood in Pittsburgh built for the middle managers of Carnegie Steel. At CMU, in my first semester, I have taught Play Lab, a senior design lab discussed at length here and contributed to a range of other graduate and undergraduate programmes. In the Spring, I will be teaching the junior Environments Studio — an exploratory new studio class — and, with Michael Arnold Mages and Stephen Neely, a required class called Persuasion. I will also be running PhD seminars in Research(ing) by Design(ing), continuing some of Cameron Tonkinwise’s work. (I remain a visiting tutor at the RCA, temporarily at least, to continue to supervise the PhDs of Nazlı Terzioğlu, Chang Hee Lee and Dave Pao; Delfina Fantini van Ditmar passed her PhD in the summer.)

Carnegie Mellon was attractive for many reasons. The School of Design has a vision for design education and research, Transition Design, which is more exciting (and reflectively critical) than simply repeating “we’re number 1”. Transition Design is very relevant to my previous research in design for behaviour change, sustainable design, energy use, designing agency, understanding the systems around us, community-led design and many other areas, and in acknowledging “that we are living in ‘transitional times’” it enables design to be seen as a tool for engaging with complexity, with “an understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, political and natural systems”. I wanted to work at a university that had a professional approach to employment and career development for younger faculty, and CMU offers this to an impressive extent, along with proper employment contracts and administrative support to faculty. I wanted to work somewhere that values people’s contributions, has an informed and mature approach to research, teaching and service, that is welcoming, friendly and interested, and where the obsession is with doing things well rather than simply bringing in more and more money, and while CMU brings in plenty of money, there is a genuine commitment to excellence along with it. Most of all, I wanted to work somewhere where I would have a chance to develop and follow a vision for a programme of research and teaching, and where I would be supported and trusted to do so, where a career was possible and encouraged and with a much much flatter hierarchy of management, and I think CMU can deliver this. As an Assistant Professor, I have a lot of freedom and autonomy, much more than I would have (at this level) at any of the UK institutions I have ever worked at. It gave me lots of pride to see my Play Lab students’ work on show at Focus, the senior design exhibition, earlier this month. CMU has been welcoming, exciting, enjoyable and an enthusiastic employer so far, and I want to thank everyone who has made Harriet’s and my first few months so good.

The Britain that Harriet and I left, or rather the pre-23-June Britain, feels like the past, another country now, where, indeed, they do things differently (and with much more decorum and less pride in ignorance). It has been a very strange, and sad thing to watch from abroad as the UK determinedly keeps shooting itself in the same foot so comprehensively and with so much nastiness, and I miss, basically, the idea that the future can be better than the past. I like 1950s cars and design and writing and lots of other things, but I don’t want to live there. But of course, it’s been a very weird time to live in America too, and to see what a hugely divided country it is, and yet also not to have to experience that in everyday life: the milieu of a university professor in the US is not one where I see much opinion other than utter disdain for, and horror at, what has happened. The situation in the US, the UK, and in many other countries where danger is on the rise, leads me to articulate a possible new role / challenge for the field of design for behaviour change, which I will outline in a forthcoming blog post introducing my new lab at CMU, the Imaginaries Lab.

Aside from academic papers, a couple of books have been published:

Springer published Living Labs: Design and Assessment of Sustainable Living, a collection edited by David Keyson, Olivia Guerra-Santin (both TU Delft) and myself, with chapters covering research arising from the SusLabNWE project, a European collaboration on which I worked from 2013-15 at the Helen Hamlyn Centre. My chapters and those co-authored with Flora Bowden and others cover Powerchord, Drawing Energy and Design with Intent. The book is typically expensive for this kind of academic volume, but I am sure you can find a PDF somewhere; if not, please email me.

The Pursuit of Legible Policy: Encouraging Agency and Participation in the Complex Systems of the Contemporary Megalopolis was published by Buró Buró in Mexico City, compiling articles written as part of our British Council Newton Fund / CONACyT-funded collaboration between the RCA, Laboratorio para la Ciudad, Superflux, UNAM, and Future Cities Catapult. The book is a free download and includes a chapter by me (‘Designing Agency in the City’) alongside contributions from people such as Gabriella Gómez-Mont, Anab Jain, Gyorgyi Galik, Laura Ferrarello, John Lynch, Sofia Bosch and Carlos Gershenson.

I’ll have lots more news soon, from a range of projects and some new initiatives, so, until then: take care of each other, and let’s try, however we can, to make 2017 actively better.

Cialdini on the Beach

Self-monitoring is one of the most common persuasive techniques used in interface design: basically, giving people feedback on what they’re doing and what they’ve done. There are lots of issues about which kinds of feedback work best, in what circumstances, pairing it with feedforward, i.e. ‘What would happen if I did this?’ information, and so on. My recent long post about smart energy meters looks at some of the ideas within a particular application.

But sometimes it takes an example that’s not at first sight a ‘user interface’ or a ‘product’ to highlight how much difference certain design techniques can make.

Encouraging donations, Santa BarbaraThis unattended layout of things on the beach at Santa Barbara, California, soliciting donations, is an interface, too. It’s been designed, cleverly, both to invite passers-by to participate (by throwing coins from an adjacent walkway) and to give them feedback on their throwing ability.

That target – the bright red Folger’s tub on the bright red square of fabric in the middle of the white sheet – is a crucial way of engaging people and getting them to contribute. Who, throwing a coin, isn’t going to try and get it in the tub? (Unless you’re trying to knock over the vases or the little surfers.) And when you miss, you’re going to try again. And again. (I know I did.) You get entertainment and a challenge which seems like it’s worth pursuing, and you can see your track record.

Encouraging donations, Santa Barbara

It mustn’t be too difficult. It’s Csíkszentmihályi’s flow, it’s fairground games theory applied to the simplest of begging sitations, but it works, in terms of getting people to contribute.

What it shows me from a design point of view is that explicitly using targets ought to be included as a Design with Intent technique / pattern in addition to related ones such as self-monitoring, in future versions of the toolkit. The target effect – and other game-related techniques – are sufficiently distinct to inspire plenty of design ideas on their own.

Encouraging donations, Santa Barbara

Of course this particular setup also uses a number of other techniques – affective engagement with the ‘Just Plain Hungry’ card, reciprocation with the ‘Make a Wish’ offer, colour & contrast and prominence & visibility with the way the arrangement draws the eye, operant conditioning in terms of a ‘reward’ when you succeed (the wish, or a sense of satisfaction) and social proof in the way that everyone can see that others have thrown coins (and even a note), and that everyone can see you contributing when you throw your coins (or if you decide not to) – a kind of peer surveillance. The plate of sand is an additional affective touch which also works well.

It’s almost like Robert Cialdini put the whole thing together.

It also makes me think it would be worth cataloguing the design techniques employed in the design of charity collecting boxes and games which offer donors (often children) something exciting or engaging in return for their money. I used to love spiral wishing wells and, in general, ones that did something (like this wonderful RSPCA example, though from before my time). There have to be lessons there for other designers interested in engaging users and motivating them to contribute, or behave in a particular way.

I hope whoever set all that up on that beach in Santa Barbara made some money that day. It would have been well deserved.

Coming up for air, briefly

Thanks for all the responses to the Design with Intent Toolkit – it’s got a heartening reception from lots of very interesting people, and has brought some great opportunities. I hope to be able to deal with all this effectively!

Thanks too to all the people who’ve blogged about it, included it in a podcast, and spread it via Twitter. Your attention’s much appreciated and if anyone does try it out on some problems, please do let me know how you get on, what would improve it, and so on. And more examples for each of the patterns are, of course, always welcome!

Printed copies (A2 poster, 135gsm silk finish) are available – the nominal listing on Amazon is £15 including postage, but if you’d like one for much less than that, let me know! (In fact, if you’re willing to try it out on a design problem, fill in a survey about how you did it, and let me use it as a brief case study, you can have it free.)

Persuasive 2009

I say I’m just coming up for air briefly, as for the last couple of weeks, among some other major work (which could possibly bear some very nice fruit), I’ve been putting together my presentation* for Persuasive 2009, the Fourth International Conference on Persuasive Technology in Claremont, California, next week, and at present am desperately trying to finish a lot of other things before flying out on Saturday. It’ll be my first time across the Atlantic and my girlfriend and I will be having a bit of a holiday afterwards, so I hope a lack of updates and replies, while little different to my usual pattern, will be excusable. But while the conference is on, if there’s time and no hoo-hah with the wireless and it seems appropriate, I’ll try and do a bit of blogging, or more likely, Twittering about it (#persuasive2009 ?). There are some very interesting people presenting their work.

Anyway, if you missed the update to my earlier post, a preprint version of my paper (with David Harrison, Tim Holley and Neville A. Stanton), Influencing Interaction: Development of the Design with Intent Method [PDF, 1.6MB] is available. At some point soon this version of the paper will downloadable from Brunel’s research archive, while the ‘proper’ version will be available in the ACM Digital Library. ACM requires me to state the following alongside the link to the preprint:

© ACM, 2009. This is the authors’ version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive version will be published in Proceedings of Persuasive 2009: Fourth International Conference on Persuasive Technology, Claremont, CA, 26-29 April 2009, ACM Digital Library. ISBN 978-1-60558-376-1.

The presentation will include many parts of the paper, but the nature of academic papers like this (submitted in December) is that they are out of date before anyone reads them. So, much of the presentation will be about the DwI toolkit and the reasoning behind bits of it, rather than just sticking to the state of the research six months ago – I hope that’s reasonable. Last year, presenting on the last day of the conference meant that I was able to spend many hours in a hotel room in Oulu editing and re-editing the presentation (mostly listening to the Incredible Bongo Band’s version of In-a-Gadda-da-Vida on repeat) to match what I thought the audience would like, and incorporate things I’d learned during the conference, but this time I’m on the first day so there isn’t that opportunity…

Interfaces article

Also this month, I have a brief article about my research in Interfaces, the magazine of Interaction, the British Computer Society’s HCI Group, in its ‘My PhD’ series (p. 20-21). Interfaces no. 78 is available to download here (make sure to click on the link below the cover image, as – at time of writing – the cover’s linked to the previous issue). It’s a great magazine – redesigned for this issue – with some really interesting features about aspects of HCI by some well-known names in the field. Thanks to Eduardo Calvillo and Stephen Hassard for making the article possible.

The table in the article was unfortunately truncated during editing so (if I get it in in time) there’ll be a brief addendum in the next issue with the full table, but I might as well make it available here too [PDF, 8kb] – it’s a brief, not especially exciting summary of some concepts for influencing householders to close curtains at night to save energy. (At some point I’ll do a full case study on this as there are some interesting ideas as well as some very impractical ones.)

*Taking Parkinson’s Law as an instruction manual seems to be a perpetual habit of mine, so the maximum time allocated to get the presentation done has been more than entirely taken up by getting the presentation done… it’s still not quite there, and I’m not sure whether the format of the auditorium’s going to allow an interactive element which I would very much like to include but probably won’t be able to. Also – while Prezi looks like it might be everything I’ve ever wanted in presentation software – the workflow of “doing a PowerPoint” for me has evolved into a long chain of “Photoshop – Illustrator – export – Photoshop – Save for Web – insert into PowerPoint” which I’m sure I could do more quickly, but lots of conferences and seminars want PPTs rather than PDFs, and the only Mac I have (which once – kind of – belonged to the Duke of Edinburgh [interesting story]) is too slow and old to run anything better.

Persuasive 2009

UPDATED (7 April): Here’s an ‘author version preprint’ of the paper, Influencing Interaction: Development of the Design with Intent Method [PDF, 1.6MB]. At some point soon this version of the paper will downloadable from Brunel’s research archive, while the ‘proper’ version will be available in the ACM Digital Library. ACM requires me to state the following alongside the link to the preprint:

© ACM, 2009. This is the authors’ version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive version will be published in Proceedings of Persuasive 2009: Fourth International Conference on Persuasive Technology, Claremont, CA, 26-29 April 2009, ACM Digital Library. ISBN 978-1-60558-376-1.


Claremont Graduate University - photo by Katherine H on Flickr

I’m pleased to announce that a paper I submitted to Persuasive 2009, at the Claremont Colleges, California (26-29th April) has been accepted, so I’ll be presenting ‘Influencing Interaction: Development of the Design with Intent Method’ on Monday 27th April.

The paper builds on the ideas I presented at Persuasive 2008 (the paper), detailing the development of the ‘Design with Intent Method‘, a ‘suggestion tool’ for designers faced with briefs involving influencing user behaviour, and the results of a series of pilot studies to test the usability of the method.

At the time of submitting the paper (New Year’s Eve, 6pm!), the pilot studies were still going on (poor planning by me), so (as the reviewers noted!) the paper’s conclusions are fairly weak, and there are quite a few revisions I need to make before submitting the final version: the next couple of weeks are going to require some fairly intense work in that vein. But it’s great to have been accepted: Persuasive 2008 was fantastic, incredibly useful in terms of meeting people and getting feedback on the proposed research, and I’m hoping 2009 will be just as good. The big-name speakers include BJ Fogg, originator of the Persuasive Technology field, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (of ‘Flow‘ fame), and Brenda Laurel (author of Design Research: Methods and Perspectives, which I’ll admit I haven’t yet got round to reading, largely because of Nigel Cross’s review, but maybe I should find the time!). As always, though, it’s the chance to talk to and get to know other people working on similar problems, or offering a different point of view on the field, which is especially interesting.

The proceedings are going to be published by the ACM (last year’s were published by Springer), but I don’t have any more details at this stage. I’ll post a preprint version of the paper here once it’s ready, of course.

Many thanks to my co-authors: my supervisors Professor David Harrison (Brunel) and Professor Neville Stanton (Southampton) for their help, and Tim Holley whose insights into improving and using the method were extremely useful. Thanks too to all the other pilot study participants, and also to the Royal Academy of Engineering, who very kindly awarded an international travel grant to help me attend the conference. I am aware of the hypocrisy of flying halfway round the world to talk (in part) about influencing more environmentally friendly behaviour, and the cognitive dissonance is headache-inducing. Why there aren’t more live, online academic conferences, I don’t know.

Here are the abstract and ACM meta-stuff for the paper:

Influencing Interaction: Development of the Design with Intent Method
Dan Lockton¹, David Harrison¹, Tim Holley², Neville A. Stanton³
¹Cleaner Electronics Research Group, Brunel Design, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, United Kingdom
²Product Design Programme, Brunel Design, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH, United Kingdom
³School of Civil Engineering & the Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton, Hampshire SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom

Persuasive Technology has the potential to influence user behavior for social benefit, e.g. to reduce environmental impact, but designers are lacking guidance choosing among design techniques for influencing interaction. The Design with Intent Method, a ‘suggestion tool’ addressing this problem, is described in this paper, and applied to the briefs of reducing unnecessary household lighting use, and improving the efficiency of printing, primarily to evaluate the method’s usability. The trial demonstrates that the DwI Method is quick to apply and leads to a range of relevant design concepts. With development, the DwI Method could be a useful tool for designers working on influencing user behavior.

Categories and Subject Descriptors
H.1.2 [Models and Principles]: User/Machine Systems – human factors, software psychology. H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation (e.g. HCI)]: User Interfaces – theory and methods, user-centered design.
General Terms
Design, Human Factors.
Persuasive technology, behavior change, sustainability, energy, interaction design, design methods, innovation methods.

On other matters, I’m proud to say that Planetizen, the urban design and planning community and blog has named Design with Intent one of its Top 10 Websites for 2009 – a nice accolade given how broad the scope here is beyond urbanism and architecture! Some of the other websites recommended are well worth a deeper read – On the Commons, Digital Urban, Infranet Lab and Gapminder stood out for me.

Adding that Planetizen accolade to Six Revisions’ inclusion of the blog in its ’20 websites to help you master user interface design’, it’s clear that, if nothing else, the themes we cover here really do meander about over conventional disciplinary boundaries. It’s all about people interacting with designed systems, whether they’re concrete plazas, electric kettles or confirmation dialogues, and I’d like to think the similarities are worth investigating.

Photo of Claremont Graduate University by Katherine H on Flickr


archiPWNED by Scott Nusinow
Image from archiPWNED portfolio entry (PDF)

Scott Nusinow, one of Cory Doctorow’s students in his University of Southern California class, ‘PWNED: Everyone on Campus is a Copyright Criminal‘, carried out an architectural concept project for the design of a Los Angeles library. He’s specifically addressed ‘architectures of control’ in the contexts of encouraging the public to use the library in an era where “the printed word… is marching towards obsolescence” and encouraging pedestrians to use the retail facilities on the same site (“by seeking to create a “positive feedback loop” of activity by funneling people towards the retail.”)

Scott’s full portfolio entry (PDF) has some interesting commentary, sketches, renderings and models. (As an aside, there’s something about architectural models that’s always fascinated me, and images such as the one above – even the surveillant pose of the figure in the window – evoke an odd mixture of Ballardian and Randian influences.)

I know there are some architecture graduates, students and enthusiasts who read this blog, but not knowing enough, myself, about the subject, I’d be very interested to know: To what extent are notions of control and behaviour-shaping taught as part of architectural training? This series of discussion board posts suggest that the issue is definitely there for architecture students, but is it framed as a conscious, positive process (e.g. “funnel the pedestrians past the shops”), a reactionary one (e.g. “use pebbled paving to make it painful for hippies to congregate“), or as something else entirely?

Useful terminat-ology

Image from
Image from Black Flag website.

Sometimes there’s very useful terminology in one field, or culture, which allows clearer or more succinct explanation of concepts in another. In the UK we don’t have Roach Motels. There are doubtless similar products, but they don’t have such a snappy name, or one which can be repurposed so easily.

Reading about DRM, file format incompatability and lock-in, I’d come across the term a number of times without necessarily thinking through exactly what it meant when used in this way, not being familiar with the actual product. “You can check data in but you can’t check it out” (possibly in conjunction with some kind of superficially attractive bait) is a good explanation, derived from the actual slogan used on the front of the box. I’m assuming (possibly wrongly) that ‘roach motel’ isn’t especially familiar to most UK readers – do we have an equivalently neat alternative term? Are there equivalents in other languages?