‘User led design… a Homesense approach?’

Photo: kplawver

Developing the toolkit for the Households has provoked a discussion that is rarely off the research table I seem to have been working from recently: that of the contrast between the approaches and techniques of designers and non-designers to design. Designers, while not necessarily aware of their own approach, have generally acquired and developed techniques which enable them to think conceptually in a way that is arguable beyond the means of many non-designers. (Provided they are good designers of course!)

Whilst designers rarely follow a uniform approach and draw from various sources during the design process, there are typically a number of common stages. These might include contextual enquiry, problem analysis and subsequent stages of brainstorming and concepting. What processes will Homesense households follow?

The pool of information that the designer draws from is also often surprising to the non-designer. When faced with comparable challenges to the Homesense project, designers might draw upon persuasive psychology. They might construct choice architectures to design the products, systems or services aimed at altering behaviour.

An example of this can be seen in a challenge to encourage use of stairs rather that the elevator. Here The Fun Theory used a ‘fun’ approach to encourage users to use the stairs. Studies revealed that 66% more people used the stairs with the piano.

This is an example of choice architecture drawing upon libertarian paternalism. It is related to persuasive psychology and behaviour economics, and is a common approach in cases where behaviour change is desirable. It functions by making the required choice (stairs) the easiest, most rewarding or desirable for the user to choose, but does not prevent the negative behaviour (elevator) should the user really prefer that option.

A playful and perhaps persuasive approach is therefore something to be considered in the Smart Homes, obviously without creating dictatorial or subversive smart homes. I am excited to see what techniques and approaches will emerge from the Homesense households.

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