“Design has a massive opportunity: enable more sustainable behaviour through making it easier to do things in a more sustainable way. Lower the barriers to sustainable behaviour – do research with people, in everyday contexts, to find out what the barriers are, and address them directly.”
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, explains award-winning media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, but we don’t seem to have any time in which to live it. Instead we remain poised and frozen, overwhelmed by an always-on, live-streamed reality that our human bodies and minds can never truly inhabit. And our failure to do so has had wide-ranging effects on every aspect of our lives.
People spent the twentieth century obsessed with the future. We created technologies that would help connect us faster, gather news, map the planet, compile knowledge, and connect with anyone, at anytime. We strove for an instantaneous network where time and space could be compressed.
Well, the future’s arrived. We live in a continuous now enabled by Twitter, email, and a so-called real-time technological shift. Yet this “now” is an elusive goal that we can never quite reach. And the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us into a new state of anxiety: present shock.
Rushkoff weaves together seemingly disparate events and trends into a rich, nuanced portrait of how life in the eternal present has affected our biology, behavior, politics, and culture. He explains how the rise of zombie apocalypse fiction signals our intense desire for an ending; how the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street form two sides of the same post-narrative coin; how corporate investing in the future has been replaced by futile efforts to game the stock market in real time; why social networks make people anxious and email can feel like an assault. He examines how the tragedy of 9/11 disconnected an entire generation from a sense of history, and delves into why conspiracy theories actually comfort us.
As both individuals and communities, we have a choice. We can struggle through the onslaught of information and play an eternal game of catch-up. Or we can choose to live in the present: favor eye contact over texting; quality over speed; and human quirks over digital perfection. Rushkoff offers hope for anyone seeking to transcend the false now.
Absorbing and thought-provoking, Present Shock is a wide-ranging, deeply thought meditation on what it means to be human in real time.
Jonathan Rowson@Jonathan_Rowson, who leads the RSA Social Brain Centre, recently gave a 15 minute presentation on the Social Brain Centre’s emerging ideas relating to behaviour change in the context of Climate Change. The title was: “What kind of behaviour change do we need?” The details will soon be unpacked in a report, grounded in evidence from a national survey, but the idea in outline is as follows:
Begin with those people who fully accept the reality of climate challenge, want to do more to deal with it in their own lives, but somehow don’t manage to (‘climate ignorers
Focus on practices that have strategic value (changing behaviour in a way that promotes attitudes or values that reinforce rather than undermine related behaviours)
Help people change certain social practices(often called “habits”) that are formative of their relationship to climate change.
In the very near future, “smart” technologies and “big data” will allow us to make large-scale and sophisticated interventions in politics, culture, and everyday life. Technology will allow us to solve problems in highly original ways and create new incentives to get more people to do the right thing. But how will such “solutionism” affect our society, once deeply political, moral, and irresolvable dilemmas are recast as uncontroversial and easily manageable matters of technological efficiency? What if some such problems are simply vices in disguise? What if some friction in communication is productive and some hypocrisy in politics necessary? The temptation of the digital age is to fix everything—from crime to corruption to pollution to obesity—by digitally quantifying, tracking, or gamifying behavior. But when we change the motivations for our moral, ethical, and civic behavior we may also change the very nature of that behavior. Technology, Evgeny Morozov proposes, can be a force for improvement—but only if we keep solutionism in check and learn to appreciate the imperfections of liberal democracy. Some of those imperfections are not accidental but by design.
Arguing that we badly need a new, post-Internet way to debate the moral consequences of digital technologies, To Save Everything, Click Here warns against a world of seamless efficiency, where everyone is forced to wear Silicon Valley’s digital straitjacket.
“The quest to gather ever more information can make us value the wrong things and grow overconfident about what we know.”
“Evgeny Morozov worries that we are too often [...] opting to publish more information to increase transparency even if it undermines principles such as privacy or civic involvement. [...]
Transparency is ascending at the expense of other values, Morozov suggests, mainly because it is so cheap and easy to use the Internet to distribute data that might someday prove useful. And because we’re so often told that the Internet has liberated us from the controls that “gatekeepers” had on information, rethinking the availability of information seems retrograde—and the tendency toward openness gathers even more force.”
The Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities – a cooperation between University College London (UCL), Imperial College London and Intel – was launched in May 2012, which a focus on how to enable future cities to be more connected and sustainable. Their activities entail investigating, developing and deploying adaptive technologies that can optimize resource efficiency, and enable new services that support and enhance the quality of life of urban inhabitants and city visitors. Their approach is interdisciplinary, combining methodologies from computer science, the social sciences, interaction design and architecture to improve how cities are managed and maintained in order to ensure and enhance citizen well-being.
According to an initial overview article, the focus of the Institute is to be human-centred:
“Our perspective in the Sustainable Connected Cities Institute is to be human- centred. We have wide-ranging expertise and background in user experience, interaction design, ethnography, together with research in the built environment, commerce, engineering, anthropology, the arts, and social psychology. We also work as inter-disciplinary teams that can make a real change to enrich and extend city dwellers lives.” [...]
We will develop and exploit pervasive and sensing technologies, analytics and new interfaces, putting humans at the centre of technological developments. Our approach is to address four main themes:
City Experience: How do we enhance the City Experience and communicate services?
City as a Platform: How do we create the digital platform of the city from sensor/edge to cloud?
Sustaining Sustainability: How to sustain behavioural change?
Connecting the Invisible City: How do we visualize the Human-Environment Interface?”
Meanwhile the Institute has published its first research papers and articles:
Toward a real-time city health monitor
A common metaphor to describe the movement of people within a city is that of blood flowing through the veins of a living organism. We often speak of the ‘pulse of the city’ when referring to flow patterns we observe. Here we extend this metaphor by hypothesising that by monitoring the flow of people through a city we can assess the city’s health, as a nurse takes a patient’s heart-rate and blood pressure during a routine health check. Using an automated fare collection dataset of journeys made on the London rail system, we build a classification model that identifies areas of high deprivation as measured by the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, and achieve a precision, sensitivity and specificity of0.805, 0.733 and 0.810, respectively. We conclude with a discussion of the potential benefits this work provides to city planning, policymaking, and citizen engagement initiatives.
Smart Citizens in the Data Metropolis
Article with some insights on the discussions around smart citizens and community engagement. It was original published in the website of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona.
“Much of the institute’s outputs will be relevant to local government. For example, a recent study shows a link between measures of multiple deprivation and patterns of passenger flow on public transport in London.Researchers propose that this data could become an early warning system for identifying areas of high deprivation, helping local government to better target its resources.
Data sensors such as Oyster card readers are becoming ubiquitous and the availability of real-time data is going to vastly increase.
It is important that the applications that emerge are co-created with local citizens, using ethnography and design as the starting point. Not only will this maximise usefulness, it should ensure technologists and officials respect issues such as personal privacy and autonomy.”
“Let’s look to natural systems; their tolerance of breakdowns and their adaptation capacity (that is, their capability of sustaining over time) may give us direction.
As a matter of fact, it is easy to observe that lasting natural systems result from a multiplicity of largely independent systems and are based on a variety of living strategies. In short, they are diverse and complex. These diversities and complexities are the basis of their resilience – that is, of their adaptability to changes in their contexts.
Given that, it should be reasonable to conceive and realize something similar for man-made systems. The socio-technical systems that, integrated with natural ones, constitute our living environment should be made of a variety of interconnected, but (largely) self-standing elements. This mesh of distributed systems, similarly to natural ones, would be intrinsically capable of adapting and lasting through time because even if one of its components breaks, given its multiplicity and diversity, the whole system doesn’t collapse.”
Although I don’t agree with the implicit meaning of this Fast Company title (i.e. that public services currently do not help people – whereas the real issue is the degree of impact), I am always excited to hear the latest updates on Reboot, a design agency that focuses on service design in international development, particularly if it is through an interview with Reboot principal Panthea Lee.
“Plenty of thought goes into good industrial design and good interaction design. We do the same for public and social services. In our view, service design is a multidisciplinary approach to creating more useful, effective, and efficient services.
In the space of international development, we find designers particularly well suited to the task of creating good services because they are highly analytical systems thinkers.
Services are more than just pulling a lever to get a result. Services are a complex series of interlocking relationships and institutions, and each one is different. Their design requires deep empathy for users and a nuanced understanding of context. And you’ll never get it right on the first go–they require significant testing and refining until they’re right.”
For more than two decades Ezio Manzini has been working in the field of design for sustainability. Recently, he focused his interests on social innovation –he started, and currently coordinates, DESIS, an international network on design for social innovation and sustainability.
Throughout his professional life he worked at the Politecnico di Milano. Parallel to this, he has collaborated with several international schools, such as: Domus Academy (in the 90s), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (in 2000) and, currently, Tongji University (Shanghai), Jiangnan University (Wuxi), COPPE-UFRJ (Rio de Janeiro), and Parsons (New York).
In 2012 he co-promoted Public & Collaborative NYC — a program of activities, developed by Parsons DESIS Lab and the Public Policy Lab in New York, to explore how public services can be improved by incorporating greater citizen collaboration in service design and implementation.
During the lengthy interview Manzini delves deeper into the essence of social innovation, and specifically what designers can do to support it:
“All the social innovation processes are design processes. And all the involved actors, adopting a design approach, are (consciously or not) designers.
If we take all of that as given, then the question is: if all the social innovation actors—“ordinary people” included—are de-facto designers, what is the role of the design experts and of their design community?
To make a long story short, we could say that the design experts’ role is is to use their expertise (that is, their specific design knowledge) to empower the other social actors’ design capabilities.” [...]
“It comes, in conclusion, that design for social innovation is what the design experts can do to trigger and support a more effective co-design processes.”
Also of interest is Manzini’s reflection on the role of public services, the State, and the European Union.
Dan Hill (of CityofSound, ARUP, Sitra and now Fabrica fame) is not only extremely prolific, but his writing is also very much to the point.
His latest Smart City (or better “Smart Citizen”) manifesto is a case in point. Weighing in at 10,000 words, it is a “cleaned up” and “stitched together” version of two separate pieces he wrote for the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, which he is now sharing on his CityofSound blog as “one single critique of the smart cities movement”.
The goal, he says, is entirely constructive, and to shift the debate in a more meaningful direction, oriented towards the raison d’etre of our cities: citizens, and the way that they can create urban culture with technology.
The essay surveys three types of activities, and scenarios, demonstrating active citizens, noting some issues along the way, and then critiques the opposite—the production of passive citizens—before asking a couple of questions and suggesting some key shifts in attitude required to positively work with the grain of today’s cultures, rather than misinterpret it.
“The promise of smart sustainable cities is predicated on the dynamics of social media alloyed to the Big Data generated by an urban infrastructure strewn with sensors. Feedback loops are supposed to engage citizens and enable behaviour change, just as real-time control systems tune infrastructure to become more energy efficient. Social media dynamics enable both self-organisation and efficient ecosystems, and reduce the need for traditional governance, and its associated costs.
Yet is there a tension between the emergent urbanism of social media and the centralising tendencies of urban control systems? Between the individualist biases inherent within social media and the need for a broader civic empathy to address urban sustainability? Between the primary drivers of urban life and the secondary drivers of infrastructural efficiency?
And in terms of engaging citizens, we can certainly see evidence of increased interest in using social media for urban activism, from crowdfunding platforms to Occupy Everywhere and the Arab Spring. Yet does it produce any more coherence or direction for the new cultures of decision-making required in our cities, or simply side-step the question of urban governance altogether? And what if the smart city vision actually means that governance becomes ever more passive, as it outsources operations to algorithms or is side-stepped by social media, whilst citizens also become passive in response to their infrastructure becoming active? Or might they be too distracted to notice as they’re all trying to crowd-fund a park bench?”
“*After reading this I feel that I understand myself better: I like *other people’s* cities. I like cities where I’m not an eager, engaged, canny urban participant, where I’m not “smart” and certainly not a “citizen,” and where the infrastructures and the policies are mysterious to me. Preferably, even the explanations should be in a language I can’t read.
*So I’m maximizing my “inefficiency.” I do it because it’s so enlivening and stimulating, and I can’t be the only one with that approach to urbanism. Presumably there’s some kind of class of us: flaneuring, deriving, situationist smart-city dropouts. A really “smart city” would probably build zones of some kind for us: the maximum-inefficiency anti-smart bohemias.”
Videos showcasing two sustainability-related projects are now on Experientia’s YouTube channel. The videos, showing the Ecofamilies and Stories projects respectively, both focus on monitoring domestic energy consumption in different areas of Europe.
The Ecofamilies video (in French with our English subtitles) is a feature on the project by France’s TV France3. For Ecofamilies, Experientia partnered with the Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) of Nice, France, and a series of other agencies, for a French sustainability project, aimed at the development of a web platform for a pilot house to monitor domestic energy consumption.
Experientia’s contribution included a benchmark of existing solutions, and guidelines and supervision for the other project partners for conducting user research. We then translated the insights from the user research phase into an initial interface and prototype concept.
From March-June 2012, Experientia conducted participatory co-design workshops with 30 volunteer families. The workshops aimed to discover the real behaviours, attitudes and needs of families when it comes to energy consumption.
The project produced an innovative technological solution that allows families to have a concrete understanding of their energy consumption, and of the choices that are available to reduce it, with personalised tips, and detailed, useful information on household energy use.
The platform has now been implemented in a pilot house in Sophia Antipolis within the CSTB research centre. The outcomes from this pilot project will feed into future developments.
The Stories project is a service concept for monitoring domestic energy consumption, which is accessible while on-the-go.
Together with Telecom Italia, the Turin Polytechnic University, and the ISMB and CSP research centres, Experientia conducted a feasibility study on energy monitoring mobile services. Based on in-depth user research carried out in Turin, we developed a prototype for a mobile application to engage people in monitoring and comparing their energy consumption.
The project demonstrates the feasibility of advanced smart metering services in the Italian context, both from a technological point of view, and from the perspective of the actual user interest.
The project was funded by the Piedmont Region (POR FESR 2007/2013), the European Fund for Regional Development and the Republic of Italy.
Helsinki Design Lab is an initiative by Sitra to advance strategic design as a way to re-examine, re-think, and re-design the systems we’ve inherited from the past.
According to Steinberg, “design at Sitra is shifting from a strategic to a service role. The current members of the design team (Bryan Boyer, Justin Cook, and myself*) are committed to strategic design and will therefore pursue this interest beyond Sitra. In the spring Sitra will hire for a new role to grow service design within the organization.”
[* The fourth member of the team, Dan Hill, left earlier, and is now the CEO of Fabrica in Treviso, Italy.]
During the next five months Brian, Justin and Marco will be converting the site into an archive of the most recent phase of HDL. The archive will be legible, free, and open, they write, so that the “work and experience of Helsinki Design Lab be useful not just for the next phase of design at Sitra, but for the community as well.”
The team is now compiling the case study research from Helsinki Design Lab 2012 into a forthcoming publication on stewardship, with a tentative publication date of May 2013. This completes the existing publication “Recipes for Systemic Change,” which you can download for free.
We can also expect a public event in Helsinki on June 10th, 2013.
Over the last years, Experientia has worked intensively – and to our great satisfaction – with Sitra and with the team of the Helsinki Design Lab in particular, through our involvement on the Low2No project. We wish Sitra and the HDL team the very best in the coming months and afterwards, and we are sure that we will find many ways to collaborate in the future.
(For more reflection on the closing, check also this post by Bryan Boyer).
In order to develop a more sustainable society, the wider public will need to increase engagement in pro-environmental behaviors. Psychological research on pro-environmental behaviors has thus far focused on identifying individual factors that promote such behavior, designing interventions based on these factors, and evaluating these interventions. Contextual factors that may also influence behavior at an aggregate level have been largely ignored.
In the current study, we test a novel hypothesis – whether simply being in a sustainable building can elicit environmentally sustainable behavior. We find support for our hypothesis: people are significantly more likely to correctly choose the proper disposal bin (garbage, compost, recycling) in a building designed with sustainability in mind compared to a building that was not.
Questionnaires reveal that these results are not due to self-selection biases. Our study provides empirical support that one’s surroundings can have a profound and positive impact on behavior. It also suggests the opportunity for a new line of research that bridges psychology, design, and policy-making in an attempt to understand how the human environment can be designed and used as a subtle yet powerful tool to encourage and achieve aggregate pro-environmental behavior.
This week London hosts a jamboree of computer geeks, politicians, and urban planners from around the world. At the Urban Age conference, they will discuss the latest whizz idea in high tech, the “smart city”.
“A great deal of research during the last decade, in cities as different as Mumbai and Chicago, suggests that once basic services are in place people don’t value efficiency above all; they want quality of life. A hand-held GPS device won’t, for instance, provide a sense of community. More, the prospect of an orderly city has not been a lure for voluntary migration, neither to European cities in the past nor today to the sprawling cities of South America and Asia. If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way; this is how they can come to take ownership over their lives.”
Clare Brass is the team leader of Sustain at the Royal College of Art in London, where she presides over a radical initiative to make sustainability a core issue for all students, whether they are studying architecture, textiles, visual communications or industrial design.
Rather than training designers to make yet more beautiful objects, Brass’s ambition is to show them how to tackle some of the largest problems we face on the planet: waste, depleted natural resources and overconsumption.
The Financial Times profiles her and her initiative.
On Saturday 27 October, the Italian-speaking Swiss city of Lugano will host the 4th edition of the UXconference.
The 2012 edition of the conference, which is organised by the Sketchin team, will focus on the relationship between digital services and people’s lives, with particular attention on the home and the city.
Speakers this year come from Switzerland, Italy, US and UK, and include Carlo Ratti from MIT’s Senseable Cities Lab, Stefan Klocek and Chris Noessel from Cooper, and Experientia senior partner Jan-Christoph Zoels.
Jan-Christoph will discuss supporting sustainable lifestyles.
Martin C. Pedersen reports in a long article for Metropolis Magazine on the 2014 BMW i3, the company’s first fully electric vehicle aimed at city driving.
The article focuses on how BMW’s new business strategy is all based on the core importance of the product experience:
“An ambitious experiment, with hefty up-front costs estimated to be as high as $200 million, the roll-out has the potential to both shift the company’s business model — from selling a product to selling the experience that product provides — and redefine the car’s role in an increasingly connected urban world.” [...]
BMW has gone all-in on the urban mobility angle, taking several pages out of the car- and bike-sharing playbooks. The system uses the emerging connection between mobile devices and BMW that already exists in a nascent form in Germany. Don Norman, the noted designer and author, does consulting work for the automaker and has seen the system in action: “In Munich, when I’m with the BMW crowd, if we’re in the city and decide to drive someplace, one of the guys will take out his cell phone and open up an app that tells him where a car is located. He reserves one that’s a block away. We walk over, he waves his BMW badge, and the car unlocks. The car is not just available to BMW people. Anyone who belongs to the subscription service can do it.”
“What we design, how we design, the materials with which we design and for what purposes we design, set the pace for emerging cultural behaviours. We owe it to ourselves as stewards of our world, and as designers from all spectrum to consider the impact of each design that we create on the overall impact of not only our collective culture and cultural practices but also on the environment at large. Accordingly, for the fields of Design and User Experience to remain progressively relevant, we must begin to form a closer affinity to the Sustainability movement.”
Kramer is a UX practitioner at Research in Motion.
Although the report underlines the importance of real benefits for citizens, it suffers from a top-down approach to how smart cities should be planned for and implemented.
(Since the executive summary publication download has the English pages upside down and in reverse order, I made these small corrections and posted the English summary pdf here. All Italian language materials are available on this page.)
“The Internet, a matrix for creating utopia? This is certainly the premise on which this book is based. The Internet is both the height of capitalism and the factor for crystallising new popular movements. This duality, which is intrinsic to the Internet ecosystem, should be taken as a signal of positive transformation: new modernity is based precisely on the fact of learning to disassociate and put back together differently that which comes from the market and that which comes from the emancipation of people.
Through utopias that exemplify the impact of new technologies on our lives, that illustrate the new organisation models of a knowledge and innovation economy, or that reformulate the social and political pact, Internet energy indicates the direction of its transforming potential.”
“Design Principles for Eating Sustainably: Bridging the Gap Between Consumer Intention and Action” is the title of an ethnographic research driven service design project by Canadian design and innovation firm Cooler Solutions.
Experience suggests that our intentions and actions are not always aligned. This is certainly true when it comes to eating: where food is concerned, making real, lasting change is challenging, even when the desire is there.
In their study of sustainable eating, the Cooler Solutions team conducted ethnographic research to explore the relationship that people have with their food and to determine ways to elicit positive change. From this research they identified actionable design principles in order to guide service designers, retailers, policy-makers and other interested parties to ultimately increase sustainable food-consumption behaviours among the public.
In 2009, the chief executives and a few staff from a handful of UK non-governmental organisations (including WWF and RSPB) came together to discuss the inadequacy of current responses to challenges like climate change, global poverty and biodiversity loss.
This led to the Common Cause initiative: a series of reports, a handbook, and now an online toolbox for behaviour change professionals.
Common Cause uses recent research in cognitive science and social psychology in order to create an empowered, connected and durable movement of citizens aimed at building a more sustainable, equitable and democratic world.
“Fostering “intrinsic” values—among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world—has real and lasting benefits. By acknowledging the importance of these values, and the “frames” that embody and express them; by examining how our actions help to strengthen or weaken them; and by working together to cultivate them, we can create a more compassionate society, and a better world.”
According to Ellie Kivinen of Brook Lyndhurst, the Common Cause approach draws on the work of Shalom H. Schwartz, which identified 57 near-universal values found in human cultures. These values can be mapped on a ‘circumplex’, on which intrinsic and extrinsic values can be seen as polar opposites of each other. The approach argues that appealing to particular types of values serves to strengthen these same values. This means that environmental behaviour change campaigns that appeal to extrinsic values (for example, encouraging people to save energy because it saves them money) run the risk of undermining further change by strengthening the values which are at the root of the problem in the first place, thus running the risk of ‘collateral damage’.