Posts Tagged 'persuasive technology'

1984?


Ridley Scott’s advert that launched the Macintosh personal computer in 1983 sought to show:

…the fight for the control of computer technology as a struggle of the few against the many, says TBWA/Chiat/Day’s Lee Clow. Apple wanted the Mac to symbolize the idea of empowerment, with the ad showcasing the Mac as a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality. What better way to do that than have a striking blonde athlete take a sledghammer to the face of that ultimate symbol of conformity, Big Brother? [link]

One of the aims of this project is to connect individuals working in the design for behaviour change field with policy makers looking for ways to encourage behaviour change. When you think of the public policy implications of persuasive technology, do you think it will empower individuals, or open the gate to a Big Brother?

The persuasive technology discourse (despite its rather Orwellian name) in a similarly general way to Google says “don’t be evil”. This emphasis was set at the first Persuasive conference in 2006:

“In the PERSUASIVE 2006 conference, a particular emphasis was put on those applications that serve a beneficial purpose for humans in terms of increasing health, comfort, and well-being, improving personal relationships, stimulating learning and education, improving environmental conservation, et cetera.” [1]

However the ethics of stuff that is designed to change behaviour is still a bit of a minefield. Here are four points that seem to describe the ethical issues made by writers publishing within the persuasive technology discourse.

1. Awareness or Deception

B. J. Fogg’s definition of persuasive technology precludes coercion or deception [2], meaning that persuasion must be voluntary. But doesn’t avoiding deception require the user to have fairly sophisticated knowledge how the techniques employed by a piece of persuasive technology work?

The possible problem is illustrated by the point of view of practioners like Wai and Mortensen [3], who writing from a commercial perspective, suggest that successful adoption by consumers of some devices lies in making them as boring as possible, and making efforts to “mask any behaviour change”.

The point is picked up by Atkinson [4] in a critical review of Fogg’s book, who writes that persuasive technology could only be ethical “if [users] are aware of the intention from the outset of their participation with the program [or product]”. Atkinson maintains that going further than this would be manipulation.

2. Who has the right?

The designer’s mandate is usually to have the desires of the user firmly at the centre of their decision making (user-centred design is the mot juste). As Johnson [5] writes in his review of Persuasive Technology, the techniques of persuasive technology, however, shift the focus from the user’s desires to those areas in which the user could buck up his or her ideas and change behaviour (paraphrased).

This is presumably not such a big deal in a free market, where any person is free to buy a particular product (providing the product is not deceptive – as the previous point) or not, but what happens when the state gets interested?

3. Which behaviours?

The third area of concern raised is around which behaviours are fair game for designers to encourage. Berdichevsky and Neuenschwander note that any persuasive attempt (regardless of whether technology) is on “uneasy ethical ground” and propose a golden rule of persuasion:

“The creators of a persuasive technology should never seek to persuade anyone of something they themselves would not consent to be persuaded of.” [6]

Fallman [7] calls for a philosophy of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) to decide which behaviours could be ethically persuaded by persuasive technology.

4. Infantilisation?

The final point (and to my mind an important one), is well made by Atkinson, who conceding that persuasive technology might be ethical if the designer’s intent were altruistic:

“But would not this sort of benevolent intent be better constructed and represented by the sound reasoning we know as advocacy or even education, where intent is exposed at the outset or revealed through simple inquiry about course content? … Exposure to both is cognitively enriching and can result in attitude, belief and behavioural change, but both remain respectful of the individual’s own ability to synthesise the offerings provided by new information into a worldview that is meaningful for that individual.” [4]

That seems to me to be a whole blog posting in itself… Check back soon for more.

Big Brother or Empowering Individuals? How could ethical public policy be developed?

References:
[1] IJsselsteijn, W., de Kort, Y., Midden, C. Eggen, B., van den Hoven, E. (2006), Preface. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 3962, V.
[2] Fogg, BJ (2003), Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Morgan Kaufmann.
[3] Wai, C. and Mortensen, P. (2007), Persuasive Technologies Should Be Boring. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 4744, 96.
[4] Atkinson, B.M.C. (2006), Captology: A Critical Review. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 3962, 171.
[5] Johnson, R. R. (2004), Book Reviews: Persuasive Technology. JBTC. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, April, 251–254.
[6] Berdichevsky, D. and Neuenschwander, E. (1999), Toward an ethics of persuasive technology. Communications of the ACM, 42, 51–58.
[7] Fallman, D. (2007), Persuade Into What? Why Human-Computer Interaction Needs a Philosophy of Technology. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 4744, 295.

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] http://www.hasbro.com/toothtunes/en_GB/default.cfm?page=parents

Example #2 – Real Time Energy Displays

Energy consumption in the home is invisible, which becomes a social problem when it accounts for 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Part of the problem is that it takes a certain type of person to find beauty in a traditional electricity meter, and they are usually hidden away; installed inside cupboards or above eye level and never looked at.

Enter a broad range of persuasive products; some simple, some sleek, some designer and some made by the so-called iPod of Cleantech, that all try to reduce consumption by making energy visible. The majority of these products rely on a current sensor that clips around the main electricity inlet to a house (although this press release suggests that some may be more sophisticated) and wirelessly transmits the energy data to a portable and hopefully beautiful object that sits on your coffee table and constantly displays it.

How do these real time energy displays (as they have become known) attempt to persuade people to reduce energy consumption? All of them employ self-monitoring (in a similar way to Nike+iPod) to help people become more attuned to how much each of their appliances are consuming and are enabled to make intelligent decisions. Mention of “reward points” suggests some of them employ aspects of tunnelling, like an energy coach might. The more advanced real time energy displays have also seen the potential of the internet, and use (or are planning to use) social networking to create communities around energy consumption, adding surveillance to the list of persuasive techniques. Lastly, real time energy displays function as simulated cause and effect scenarios, allowing people to turn on and off appliances, and see from the display how much CO2 would be emitted each year if they continued to consume energy at such a rate (it is a personal disappointment that none of them are yet hooked up to a climate change model that shows how this would correspond to sea level rise or ecosystem shift… if anyone knows of a climate change model with an API – do let me know).

Real time energy displays are one of the highest profile of products that could be considered persuasive technology, after they had a brief brush with environmental policy in the government’s draft energy bill of 2007, which required energy suppliers to provide such displays to those customers that requested them (as a precursor to a roll-out of smart meters, which are a slightly different kettle of fish). The government engaged suppliers, consumers and OFGEM in consultation and carried out a cost benefit analysis and impact assessment which concluded that given the evidence for such products, the policy would not be cost effective. The requirement was dropped from the bill, illustrating the requirement for robust and quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of such persuasive technology, and also the difficulty of comparing the effectiveness of different displays when effectiveness hangs on the interaction design (and the persuasive power).

So what evidence is there? Studies are thin on the ground and spread over many years (dating back to the oil crisis of the 70s) when interaction design was less advanced, but the most credible review of the literature suggests savings of 5-15% can be obtained by giving people direct feedback of energy consumption. Further tests of real time displays are currently under way (some in conjunction with smart-meter trials) in 8,500 households in the UK and more across the world. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the savings may be even higher; approaching 40%.

However the real time energy display story ends, they may prove to be a landmark case for persuasive technology and behaviour change.

By the way, in addition to making energy visible via real time energy displays, there are also an abundance of conceptual products from the Interactive Institute that are well worth a look.

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?

Notes

[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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