Thanks to all who attended!
If you attended my talk, I hope you have enjoyed it. I’d love to hear what did you thing about the topic, and I will definitely appreciate your feedback.
Here are the slides from my talk:
Today, I’m going to talk about designing technologies that help people to become better – but not through turning us us into half-cyborgs with superpowers.
Instead, I will talk about designing technologies that challenge us so we want to become better on our own, technologies that motivate people to change their behaviour, technologies that persuade and nudge people to improve their skills. Persuasive design is often perceived skeptically – as marketing charlatanism, as dark patterns or as another buzzword, like the bloody gamification.
In my talk, I’m going to advocate why persuasive design might actually be a good idea.
Let me start with a story about Calm Technology. Imagine that you live in a world where computers are everywhere around you – but they are not in the centre of your attention like today.
In this imagined world, computers exist on the periphery of our attention, and come forward into the centre of our attention only when we need them. These computers are always helpful, and you don’t have to deal with them with clumsy and annoying interactions.
In this world, computers are able to sense you through a network of sensors. These computers are mapping people’s behaviour, and based on their observations, and based on the context, they are able to predict your needs to make your life more bearable and effortless.
This is the world of Calm Technology, imagined by Mark Weiser.
Mark Weiser was a researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre. With his vision of Calm Technology, he influenced the direction of the field for at least the next 25 years from 1991 when he published his groundbreaking article The Computer for the 21st century.
Mark’s idea of Calm technology was developed as a reaction to frustrating human-computer interactions of PC era. By that time, operating computers, and not achieving the actual tasks, had to be in the centre of people’s attention.
Mark Weiser argued that computers should disappear from our lives, and appear only when we need them.
I would compare it to the sewage system :) Sewage system is so complex infrastructure, and it is almost always present when we are in the city. But it is virtually invisible.
You don’t really have to know how it works to use it…
It is just there when you need it. Well, hopefully.
A great example of Calm technology is the Nest thermostat. It exists in your house, and you don’t have to pay attention to it. But in the background, Nest thermostat is observing your behaviour, and helps you to save energy and live more comfortable life effortlessly.
But there are also other examples of “smart” technologies that are helping people depending on their context. They are so mundane these days that they became inherent part of our lives.
Think about supermarket doors that open when you approach them. Or a toilet that flushes automatically when you stand up. Or a water tap that turns on the water flow when you put your hands underneath it.
When was the last time when you had to remember your friend’s phone number? You probably don’t know – your phone does it on our behalf! Or think about sat nav – this technology totally changed the way we navigate. Drivers doesn’t even need to know how to use a map!
These systems are augmenting our abilities, and due to their help, we can become more efficient, and our lives more effortless.
A world of super-smart context-aware computers sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Well, I wouldn’t be that sure.
In her Moving on from Weiser’s vision of calm computing: engaging Ubicomp experiences, Yvonne Rogers discusses that technologies that are smart, act upon our behalf and make our lives so effortless can turn us into techno-dependent passive consumerists. Would these technologies make us smarter? Or would they take away our responsibilities, decision-making, learning or serendipitous discovery?
Yvonne argues that we should focuses on putting the human values back in the middle of technology. We should start designing products that challenge people to become better, technologies that would nudge us to learn new skills, and just try harder to be better.
Technologies that nudge people to make better decisions, to e conscious of their energy consumption or technologies that motivate people to do more exercise already start appearing, and I will now share a few examples of these technologies and research that was undertaken. I will also briefly describe techniques they are using to nudge people.
Can I Eat It is a mobile app that provides people with information about food when they shop in the supermarket. When people do their shopping, they can scan the product’s barcode with their smartphone camera. Can I Eat It will look up the product in the database and will return key information about the product. This information can then be utilised in the decision-making process.
The technique of affecting people’s decision making by providing information is called Rational Economic Model. The important factor is not to overwhelm people with a large amount of information, but provide only the necessary information that is absolutely required to support the decision-making heuristics.
It is important to note that people use different decision-making heuristics based on the kind of decision they are making, so when designing he system, it is a good idea to first determine what decision-making heuristics people use in the concerned situations.
Yvonne Rogers, Jon Bird and Vaiva Kalnikaitė developed the lambent shopping handle to research how to nudge people in situ and to confirm how providing people with feedback that supports fast and frugal decision-making heuristics affect people’s shopping behaviour.
The researchers provided participants with the shopping trolley handle equipped with a barcodecscanner and a range of LED lights. The LED lights displayed the air miles of the scanned product. When a product had low air miles, just a few LEDs lit up. When the product had high air miles, many LEDs lit up. This provided simple but easy to process feedback to the participants, who were then able to decide which products to buy based on this additional information.
The researchers reported that 72% of products bought by the participants with the handle had a smaller air mileage, compared to products bought by participants without the handle.
There is a street here in Brighton called Tidy Street, and in this lovely environment Yvonne Rogers and Jon Bird decided to run another behaviour change study. For three weeks, participants were recording electricity meter readings on a TidyStreet project website to build up a picture of each household’s energy use.
The recorded data was then painted by the local street artist on the road outside their homes, providing comparison of each home’s electricity consumption, and also displaying electricity consumption in Brighton on average.
Participants in the experiment were able to compare their consumption against the social norm, that motivated them to try harder. Over the three weeks the project has been running, the street’s average energy use has dropped by 15%, with some people cutting usage by as much as 30%. The question how sustainable these results might be remains open for now.
The Nest Thermostat website claims that the potential savings should be in the area between 14 to 26 percent, depending on the size of the family. That is very close to the results from the Tidy Street project.
What is more important here is the contrasting philosophy how these results are achieved. Nest Therometer is an excellent example of calm technology. It doesn’t require any user action, it learns from behaviour patterns, and still the user is able to save a lot of energy.
On the other end of the spectrum is the social norm principle utilised in the Tidy Street project experiment, where the people involvement is high. People have to consciously learn how to save energy, and they compete with their neighbours. They are also giving back to the community by providing their own results, that can motivate others in exchange.
I leave it to you to judge which philosophical approach to the technology might help people live richer and more human life.
Another great technique how to motivate people to change their behaviour is to allow them to set a goal.
Nike FuelBand successfully utilises this method, provides users with feedback how close they are to reaching their goal, and rewarding them when they succeed.
In a study of electricity use it was found that households that received a difficult goal and were provided with feedback about their performance conserved the most (15.1%) compared to a control group.
Great example of a behaviour change system that utilises emotions to nudge users to do certain activitybis the Nintendo Pokewalker.
The Pokewalker is a Pikachu style toy, that has a tiny virtual pet in it. The normal Pikachu toys require children to press buttons in regular intervals to give the virtual pet food and to leave it to rest and to keep it alive, and to play with the pet to keep it happy.
The Pokewalker is different – it’s got a built in pedometer, and the more the child performs the physical activity, the more healthy and happy the virtual pet gets.
This provides very strong emotional nudge for the child to exercise more, in order to collect points that keep the virtual pet happy.
Rational model – to affect people’s decision-making, provide them with the right level of information that matches their decision-making heuristics.
Feedback – provide people feedback how good is what they just did, or how are they doing in the specifie activity in general. Provide score, points, badges, lights or anything that would ell them to judge if they should try harder.
Social norm – allow people to compare their activity with othes. People can then reflect upon their results. Competition can motivate them to try harder.
Goal setting – setting a goal with give people a nudge to
Emotional feedback – is very powerful and can help to overcome the bummer and effect of social norm, when participants might feel demotivated by being not as good as others.
The age of ubiquitous computing and calm technology seems to be inevitable, and our future is going to be exciting. I believe that the “everywhere” will be a revolution very comparable to the 90s when the web started to be open for masses.
It is important to think not only about seamless and distraction-less interactions, but also about how contextual and smart systems will affect our lives.
The future is inevitable, so we should rather try hard to make it really great, and foremost, human.