Posts Tagged 'design'

From the RSA to the RCA

Just a quick post to say that, after a tip-off from a colleague, this evening I dropped in to the Royal College of Art’s interim show. Running from the 5th to the 11th February, the show features work from the RCA’s Architecture, Innovation Design Engineering (used to be Industrial Design Engineering), Design Interactions, Printmaking and Animation students.

As always, there was a huge amount to take in, and if I tried to describe any of the work there, I’d probably misrepresent it horribly… So I’ll settle for saying that I enjoyed the Architecture – particularly the Hero section (inspired by the idea of gritty “anti-heroes”, and the communities shaped by that concept) and Tribes (“micro-societies” of people with shared values – who are they in today’s world, and how should buildings accommodate them?), and also pretty much any of the lovely work from the Animation students.

The reason I was tipped-off though, was that one of the projects from Innovation Design Engineering featured some energy-related ideas. The Potential (website currently down) project focuses on the near-future, when almost every home will have a smart meter. Smart meters primarily allow electricity companies to get real time data on people’s electricity consumption (allowing them to match their electricity production to your consumption more closely) and will probably also include the sort of real time displays I’ve blogged about before to help people understand and reduce their energy consumption by switching off non-essential appliances. The Potential project imagines three electricity tariffs that use different interfaces to help people interact with their smart meter – maximising, the designers hope, the savings that smart meters could provide by using design to engage people with their energy supply. It will be interesting to see the direction that these interfaces take over the next few months.

By the way, if you drop in to the exhibition, do check out my absolute favourite thing; also from Innovation Design Engineering – 1234 Lab’s 8hertz jewellery:

8hertz is jewellery formed from phrases of intimate communication. A recording of an individual’s voice is translated into a unique three-dimensional form, capturing every nuance, subtlety and accent. [1]

You can have a look here.

[1] 1234 Labs,

Making Bins Fun

The Keep Britain Tidy campaign have just released research into what brands of fast food contribute most to the litter across England. In a report that makes strangely compelling reading, we learn that four of the top five worst offenders are big name brands; McDonalds at 29% (then unbranded chippie/kebab shops at second with 21%), Greggs in third place with 18%, KFC at 8% and Subway at 5%.

The Voxpop column of the current edition of Design Week picks up on this research and, noting that the packaging already contains graphics and messaging about littering, asks the bosses of four design and branding consultancies “what can design do to alleviate the problem?”. Here’s what they reckon:

John Mather of Blue Marlin responds that brands need to find innovative ways to change behaviour, suggesting placing bins at a distance from the fast food outlet based on the time taken to consume the food, and making those bins fun to use – proposing basketball hoops above the bins as an option.

Hans Muysson of DJPA lumps for attractive fast-food bins outside the outlets, subsidised by the brands, thus allowing them a chance to increase their levels of PR and possibly influence the consumers.

Barry Seal of Anthem Worldwide outlines two avenues; first the technical approach of reducing packaging (and making it biodegradable or recyclable), then the behavioural approach of making the anti-litter message on the packaging visible and compelling. He also picks up on the fun bin idea.

Finally, Steve Irwine of LFH nails his colours to the mast by saying that no amount of anti-littering labelling will stop people dropping litter, and advocates the purely technical solution of reducing the waste by redesigning the packaging from more natural substances, even edible wrappers.

Interesting to see these reponses. The majority advocate a technical solution to reduce the impact of the problem (biodegradable packaging etc.) and a behavioural solution by making changes that make consumers more likely to use the bins (either putting them in the right place, or making them more fun to use). One of the most suprising responses for me is the final one, in which labelling is not thought to have any potential for encouraging behaviour change – is labelling capable of driving some behaviours (like consumption), but powerless in other areas then? The whole question of how you design bins that encourage people to use them is fascinating – maybe we’ll revisit it in a future post.

It all reminds me of the anti-littering campaign in Texas, mentioned in Nudge (but really no more than a successful social marketing campaign), which followed an unsuccessful previous campaign that tried to impress on people that it was their “civic duty to stop littering”. The new campaign, informed by research on exactly who was doing the littering (18 to 24 year old men) used a “tough-talking slogan that would also address the unique spirit of Texas pride”, players from the Dallas Cowboys and Willie Nelson. Apparently, Don’t Mess with Texas is now “America’s favourite” slogan and litter across the state in the first year was reduced by 29%.

Could it happen in the UK?

Design, Behaviour & Policy: Part II

This is the follow up post to yesterday’s which reported on some of the areas in which policy makers are interested in encouraging behaviour change. Rather than covering particular examples of persuasive technology, this post will look at broader ways in which design can contribute to encouraging behaviour change.

Of course, almost anything that is designed could be said to encourage behaviour change – from (as someone pointed out to me) the “WORK HARD AND BE NICE TO PEOPLE” print by Anthony Burrill that hangs in one of the offices in the RSA, through designers like Shin and Tomoko Azumi who used to describe their work as “changing people’s behaviour in a subtle way“, to the more deliberate and strategic attempts at behaviour change written about on this blog. Since this is a post written from the point of view of policy makers wondering how design might help achieve specific and measurable goals – I’ll concentrate on examples and design thinking from the more tactical end of this scale.

One of my favourite examples of design influencing behaviour illustrates the value of research leading to particular insights, which can then be fed in to creative problem solving techniques to create a great new service. IDEO (an innovation and design firm) were commissioned by Bank of America to attract new customers (the target demographic was baby boomer women with children) at a time when people were spending much more than they were saving. IDEO carried out extensive qualitative research (interviews, photo and notebook surveys, impromptu conversations on the street, group discussions between friends and strangers) across Atlanta, Baltimore and San Francisco, which led to insights like this:

many people in both the target audience and the general public would often round up their financial transactions for speed and convenience. In addition, the team found that many moms had difficulty saving what money they had, whether due to a lack of resources or willpower. [1]

This behaviour was routinely seen, for example, in a photograph of the cheque book of one woman who rounded up her utility bills when paying them. Feeding insights like this into brainstorming sessions, IDEO came up with a service that allowed customers to round up payments when using a Bank of America credit card but automatically paid the difference into the customer’s savings account. After prototyping the service with Bank of America, the “Keep the Change” bank account was launched in 2005, attracting over 2.5 million customers, and creating savings of $1 billion in these “round-ups” alone.

I like this example as it illustrates how an existing behaviour can be turned into a positive one given the right intervention, shows the breadth and creativity of activities that are included in the design process, could easily have come from a brief devised by government, and reminds me how much money I have tied up in the many piles of small change I have around the house…

Here’s another one. The UK’s Design Council run a programme of social design projects, the last of which was in the north east of England in 2007. One of these projects was called Low Carb Lane, and was led by designers from service design company live|work. Low Carb Lane aimed to make energy efficiency easy – both to reduce CO2 emissions and save money.

The Low Carb Lane team spent about a year with residents of Castle Terrace, learning about the community, the local social and economic situation, and unearthing (among other things) links between concerns over ownership (owner-occupier vs. rented) of the houses in the street, its physical degradation, declining community spirit, and attitudes towards climate change.

In response to this research, in addition to developing a system of small home loans for energy efficiency measures (like insulation) that are repaid through the energy savings gained (about 40%), live|work’s project involved designing a home energy dashboard that displayed information on the home’s energy consumption, CO2 emissions and bills. live|work’s research showed that this system could produce behaviour change resulting in a further 20% saving.

live|work were early practioners of this sort of work, but many companies (like those mentioned in this post) are now working in this area and hoping to create the same sort of savings on a national scale.

Examples like these show the value of thoughtful field research, creative problem solving, and a willingness to prototype. These skills are only enhanced by the addition of new insights (like persuasive technology) into designing for behaviour change.

Does anyone else have good examples of how design can contribute to encouraging behaviour change?

[1] IDEO, Available from:,
more details at:

Design, Behaviour & Policy: Part I

I wrote in an earlier post about the growth of interest in the UK government around encouraging behaviour change. As one of the aims of this project is to get the design community involved in this challenge, it seems worth mentioning (for designers’ benefit) a couple of specific areas in which behaviour change is currently sought after by government. I’ll follow this post soon with another (for policy makers’ benefit) looking at a couple of ways (apart from the “persuasive technology” examples) in which designers have done a great job of designing for behaviour change.

It’s fair to say that interest in behaviour change is booming at the national level of UK government. For example, a recent review of behaviour change models (and guidelines for applying them in policy) was carried out by Government Social Research (GSR) (an office that belongs to the Treasury, but works across twenty government departments), which describes the rationale behind the interest in behaviour change:

Policy making for behaviour change recognises that individuals need to change their own behaviour in order for government’s wider goals for society to be achieved. The need for policy, which explicitly aims to bring about behavioural change among individuals is based on the realisation that for some complex problems, government cannot bring about change on its own. Lasting change requires a total partnership approach led by government, and including a wide range of stakeholders and organisations, as well as individuals themselves. [1]

This shift from top-down government to co-productive governance is marked by a retreat from policy makers’ reliance on traditional policy instruments (fiscal incentives and taxes), now recognised to be effective only on perfectly rational people (a rare breed), towards the more complex models of behaviour described in such reviews. These more sophisticated models draw people’s attitudes, agency, social norms, habits and emotions into the equation.

GSR’s report is the first cross-departmental initiative on behaviour change, but comes on top of other work that has taken place in various departments.

One of the departments most prominent in the field is Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) who have recently established an Environmental Behaviours Unit, who’s job it is to:

“assemble, analyse and translate evidence related to pro-environmental behaviours and to work within Defra and with external stakeholders to improve the design and implementation of policy interventions aimed at helping individuals and communities live more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.” [2]

The Department for Transport (in work also related to climate change) has shown interest in behaviour change and was ahead of the curve, publishing research in 2006 on why people’s knowledge and attitudes about climate change fail to turn in to actual changes in travel behaviour. As an aside, the DfT regret the fact that there is no ‘grand unified theory’ of behaviour change – a problem that the RSA is currently working on.

As might be expected, the Department of Health are interested in behaviour change, looking at how social marketing techniques might be applied to encourage behaviour change and setting up a specific Social Marketing and Health-related Behaviour Team. Communities and Local Government are also in the process of conducting research to find out (among other things) which behaviours are desirable and what their drivers are, and the department for Children, Schools and Families have a large body of practical research on behaviour in schools.

The Cabinet Office are also in the act, with their work in 2008 on achieving culture change, which concentrates on the idea of cultural capital – people’s attitudes, values, aspirations and sense of self-worth. Even the Foreign Office have a chapter in a report on how communications can change behaviour.

Some interesting work is conducted by the Department for International Development (DFID), who as well as funding South Africa’s most popular soap opera – which always make a point of using condoms in their storylines – also distribute female condoms via hair salons in Zimbabwe – “Get braids, not AIDS” – as the headline says.

DFID’s example is a bit of fresh air to be honest – the behaviour change conversation in government can seem (to an outsider) repetitive and rather lacking in creative ideas. For example, Defra’s consultation with energy suppliers over the supplier obligation policy (a commitment that will run from 2011 and require energy suppliers to meet CO2 reduction targets by providing their domestic customers with energy efficiency measures) showed energy suppliers feared the extent to which Defra was relying on them to produce behaviour change in their customers. Defra had hoped to save a quarter of all savings after 2011 by behaviour change, and to create this huge behaviour change and associated CO2 saving, suggested roughly these measures:

  • Activities of the Energy Saving Trust
  • Energy Performance Certificates
  • Climate change communications
  • Real-time displays and smart meters
  • Personal carbon allowances

Do you think designers could help create better behavioural policies?

[1] Darnton, A. (2008) Briefing Note for Policy Makers, GSR Behaviour Change Knowledge Review. Available from:
[2] Defra, (2008) A Framework for pro-Environmental Behaviours. Available from:

Example #3 – Tooth Tunes

Here’s a slightly ridiculous example of design that changes behaviour for anyone looking for stocking-fillers.

The Tooth Tunes toothbrush made by Hasbro plays one of eleven tunes (from “If You’re Happy & You Know it Brush Your Teeth” to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”) for a strict two minutes. As you brush, your teeth pick up the vibrations via the bristles, making the music seem like it’s inside your head. Brushing firmly makes the music louder. As the manufacturer says:

“Your kids will love brushing their teeth to hit songs from some of their favourite artists. As sound vibrations stream from the bristles through their teeth, they hear the music in their heads. But, when they take the bristles off their teeth, the music stops playing in their head. So they’ll actually want to keep brushing for a full two minutes!” [1]

Approved by the British Dental Health Foundation, Tooth Tunes aims to encourage people to brush their teeth for two minutes rather than the more common 45 seconds [2].

To bring it down to the mechanistic level of persusive technology, Tooth Tunes uses operant conditioning to encourage kids to brush their teeth correctly; the reward of the music is only given when they’re brushing correctly.

Would you buy this for your kids?

[1, 2]

Example #1 – Nike+iPod

This post has been updated with more info regarding the need for expensive running shoes – see note at the bottom…

My Nike+iPod

My Nike+iPod

Do you exercise enough? What could encourage you to do it more regularly? Nike+iPod might help. It’s a brilliantly-conceived product/service from two colossal design-led brands. It hooks on to existing behaviour and clever technology to make the user experience as natural as possible, leverages the people-power of the web, and uses several persuasive techniques to encourage people to just do it a little bit more seriously.

The product side of Nike+iPod comprises a sensor that slides into the cavity under the insole of your Nike+ running shoe and an add-on for your iPod. The sensor is an accelerometer (the components that make Nintendo Wii remote controllers work) that senses the motion of your feet. Pulses that correspond to your movement are transmitted over a short-range wireless link to the iPod add-on, which logs the pulses and aggregates them to form data about your run.

The product is only half the Nike+iPod story though. Nike have used the web in a similar way to the makers of internet enabled games consoles to form a massive competitive community website. Once you’ve recovered from your run and had a look at your data, you can upload it to the Nike+ website to see how you compare with people all over the world. You can challenge them to compete with you too if you’re feeling combative, or just check out what the top running power tune is – can you guess what it is?

Of course the main behaviour that Nike+iPod encourages is the purchase of expensive running shoes (the cheaper Nike trainers don’t have the sensor cavity), but how does it do at persuading people to run more? Let’s look at which of B. J. Fogg’s persuasive techniques it uses.

The most obvious technique employed by Nike+iPod is self monitoring (simply allowing people to monitor their behaviour by making that information available to them); the training logs that build up over the weeks let you see how you are improving. During your run, self monitoring on a smaller scale is also given by a voice in your earphones that counts off the miles. Operant conditioning (rewarding the right behaviour – disappointingly there are no punishments for walking) is also used; at the end of your run you get a message of congratulations from Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe or other authoritative athlete (Nike+iPod acting in a social role to persuade). That may sound naff, but from the few times I’ve been persuaded into running by an enthusiastic friend, I would take kind words from anyone – man or machine – during the post-run collapse-on-the-floor period.

The idea of tunnelling (submitting yourself to a difficult process, analogous to someone checking themselves into rehab) is also drawn on; the Nike+ website lets you choose a training program for your running and set goals or undertake challenges. Also, an aspect of surveillance is used; the social network side of the Nike+ website allows you to compare your stats with other runners (and other people to see your stats), or challenge your friends to beat your time.

Do these techniques actually work? I’m going to suggest a simple experiment. I’ve occasionally thought it would be good to get less chronically unfit, but although I’ve been for the odd scamper, it’s never become regular enough behaviour to do any good. Over the weekend I bought a Nike+iPod kit which I’m going to start using. I’m not pretending it’s robustly scientific, but during the next month or so I’ll let you know whether using Nike+iPod helps me make go running more regularly.

If anyone wants to join me (“share the motivation, multiply the performance” as the website says), I’ve started a team on the Nike+ website. Sign up or leave a comment if you want to play (you can still play even if your trainers don’t have the Nike+ cavity with one of these thingssee update below).

Update – Monday 8th December at 14:00
A couple of people have asked about the expensive shoes issue – although Nike would like you to buy these, third parties are offering kits that let you clip your Nike+ sensor to your existing shoes. Although I linked to Runaway above, after a bit more research, the best of the bunch seem to be Marware’s Sportsuit. Buy it from Amazon here.

Introducing Persuasive Technology

Most people would agree that good design (as well as being beautiful) should be usable. Don Norman in his book “The Design of Everyday Things” uses the terminology of affordances (borrowed from the psychologist J. J. Gibson), constraints and mappings to show how some designs are usable and others aren’t. So in describing how a novice scissor-user might approach a pair for the first time:

“The holes are clearly there to put something into, and the only logical things that will fit are fingers. The holes are affordances: they allow the fingers to be inserted. The sizes of the holes provide constraints to limit the possible fingers: the big hole suggests several fingers, the small hole only one.” [1]

In simple ways like this, all well designed and usable products employ an element of psychology. At some point over the last ten years or so, this measure of psychology has been given a booster injection, resulting in more research around design that actively tries to encourage particular behaviours.

“Persuasive Technology” [2] is the name given to the thickest strand of research in this area, and it emerges as a combination of psychology and design/computing from Stanford University. The term was coined by B. J. Fogg (the originator of the Persuasive Technology discourse) to describe:

“…any interactive computing system designed to change people’s attitudes or behaviour.” [3]

Research springing up around the Persuasive Technology discourse studies the various ways in which products (and particularly computers) can persuade, and offers designers a typology of techniques that they can use in the design process.

B. J. Fogg notes that computers (and by extension, some objects) can operate as a persuasive agent in three roles; as a tool, a medium, and as a social actor. Rather than list these just now, I’ll try to regularly write about a product or service (either commercial or conceptual) that exhibits persuasive elements, so keep an eye out here for forthcoming posts…

In some ways, Persuasive Technology offers few new insights that designers don’t already know, but in others – the typology of techniques, the growing body of evidence (1,010 results for “persuasive technology” today), the formal inter-disciplinary discourse, and an annual conference – it brings some academic weight behind the idea of design that changes behaviour.

What’s the advantage in persuading via an object anyway? Various answers are given by B. J. Fogg, including; computers (or objects) are able to be more persistent (often annoyingly so), they allow people to be anonymous, can deal with large amounts of data – allowing them to select different techniques for individual people, they can present information in many ways – text, graphics, animation, video etc., they can be scaled easily and are quickly becoming ubiquitous in our lives.

A list like the one above initially makes me feel pretty negative – silicon persuasive agents infiltrating my life and restricting my choices – and there’s no doubt that there are rough edges (and a massive PR problem) with Persuasive Technology. As noted above though; there’s a pretty gradual scale between design for usability and design that tried to change behaviour.

What’s your initial reaction to Persuasive Technology?


[1] Norman, D., (2002) The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books.
[2] Not to be confused with pervasive technology/computing – although much Persuasive Technology is also pervasive…
[3] Fogg, B. J., (2003) Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Morgan Kaufmann.


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