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Thought for food: The Lambent Shopping Trolley Handle

The display shows how information can be conveyed using the number of LEDs lit, as well as the colour of the lights. Source: http://www.changeproject.info



1. (of light or fire) Glowing, gleaming, or flickering with a soft radiance.

2. (of wit, humor, etc.) Lightly brilliant.

Synonyms: sparkling – shining

from Dictionary.com

The fine folks from the UK-based Change Project have again developed an interesting tool to help us in the pursuit of healthier, more sustainable lives. The same group that brought us the Tidy Street Energy Conservation project, has also developed a handle that clips onto any regular shopping cart and uses a scanner and display to provide shoppers with “nutritional, ethical and environmental product information” at a glance.

The project is guided by theories now commonly associated with the “nudge” – the notion that people aren’t always the best at choosing what is right for them. The idea is that proper design can contribute to the creation of environments where it easier for people to choose those things that are ultimately better for themselves and society.  As noted by the researchers, most of us make decisions using all sorts of short-cuts which ignore much of the information that is presented to us – given our need to process so much information in short periods of time, we tend to focus on the most prominent pieces of information. Sometimes this is as simple as recognising something (herein lies the power if branding).

The front and back of the handle.
Photo from http://www.open.ac.uk/

This being the case, the research and design team  looked to develop a tool that would quickly provide highly salient information that would otherwise take more effort than most people would muster for say, purchasing jam.  The visualization of product information comes  via 16 multi-colour LEDs, which change both pattern and colour (check out the video below to see it in action). The nature of the information displayed is highly flexible, as it can display nominal information such as being organic or not, and ordinal information, such as low, medium and high levels of a given property, such as food miles.  There is also a little emoticon at the centre of the piece which changes from happy to neutral to sad in response to the average miles of all the products in the cart when compared an established norm.

The design is covered in some detail in the paper “How to Nudge In Situ: Designing Lambent Devices to Deliver Information Salience in Supermarkets,” in the event that you would like to cobble together one of your very own.
The researchers tested the effectiveness of the display by having 18 shoppers use the tool while at the market. As it turns out, a most shoppers (72%) where directed towards the purchase of products with  lower food miles compared to when they shopped sans handle.  It appears that these shoppers tended to look around a bit more once they realised that the product that they had originally selected had more food miles than average.

The research scenario was one where participants were not selecting their own goods exclusively, but were asked to consider the needs of guests who appeared to be quite sensitive to environmental issues. It would be very interesting to do a field test on the tool to see how it might affect average, run-of-the-mill purchases, given other considerations such as price and habitual preferences.



Kalinikaité, V., Rogers, Y., Bird, J., Bachour, K., Villar, N., Payne, S., Todd, P. M., Schöning, J., Krüger, A. and Kreitmayer, S. (2011) How to Nudge In Situ: Designing Lambent Devices to Deliver Information Salience in Supermarkets. Proceedings of Ubicomp, 11-20. web: http://mcs.open.ac.uk/pervasive/pdfs/kalnikaite%20ubicomp%2011.pdf

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