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Design experiments for the unconscious.

Sometimes its fun to take a look at conceptual papers, which have prototypes that haven’t yet been made or put into the world for testing. They are often short “thought exercises” in design, where researchers and practitioners play aloud with the relationship between a theoretical concept and actual objects.

The short paper “Designing with unconscious human behaviors for eco-friendly interaction,” highlights three types of interaction behaviors that might have an impact on the environment, and presents design prototypes to address these behaviors. The goal of this design exploration was to get at “thoughtless actions” or habits, and produce designs that can shape such habits. The three kinds of interaction behaviors are:

1. Behaviors involving a toggle selection: This is the kind of behavior you simply do or do not do. For example, you leave your cell phone charger plugged into the wall, draining energy while not actually charging anything, or you unplug it.The authors suggest that in some cases people don’t know which action is the more eco-friendly, and in other cases they simply have very little motivation to make an action, despite knowing that it would be a positive move to make.

2. Behaviors involving a selection among multiple options: As you might have guessed, this is when an actor has multiple options for action, however, which is optimal for the environment, may not always be clearr. Imagine when your first encounter a duel-flush toilet, for example.

3. Behaviors involving an analogue adjustment: These are what I might have called “Goldilocks” actions – you can have too much or too little of something, but what you should aim for is something that is “just right.” What is a reasonable/responsible length for a shower, given a low-flow shower head, for example? How much detergent should you use to make sure your dishes are clean, but you are not dumping excess detergent into the drains?

The authors overlay these types of behaviors with attributes associated with habits (i.e. Signal/cue, conformity/norms, and reaction) in order to propose three designs which could lead to a shift in habits towards the eco-friendly.

The "Pull Me Out" Power Cord.

The Pull Me Out Power Cord.

One of the more aesthetically interesting designs proposed in the paper. By modeling the top of the plug after a root vegetable “whose sprout grows up when connected devices are being used. A longer length of the sprout asks users to pull out the cord.” This would perhaps be more interesting if the plug grew the sprouts while idling, thus signalling the existence of pirate loads, and demanding action from the user. One might run into the problem of the cue being so interesting, that users want to observe it, rather than act on it.

"Follow Me" Garbage collector.

The “Follow me” Garbage Collector

This design is proposed as help to promote correct sorting of recycling and garbage by having an image of (presumably desirable/aspirational) people putting various waste products in the right bin. Seems like a pretty simple solution, which is meant to leverage most people’s desire to conform to normal behaviors.



The Curvy speedometer

This is an interesting idea, based on a deformable speed needle. I can only imagine what kind of a trip this would be the first few times in use: “The needle indicates current speed while at the same time the curvature indicates how far the current speed is from the most fuel-efficient speed.” In theory, the driver could aim to adjust their driving to have the needle in just the right spot… not too fast, and not too slow… just to where the needle is straight. A variation on themes now visible in many hybrid cars.

Sohn, M., Nam, T., & Lee, W. (2009, April). Designing with unconscious human behaviors for eco-friendly interaction. In CHI’09 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2651-2654). ACM.
Posted in Conceptual, Electricity, Recycling, Research, Transportation and tagged as , ,

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