Previous month:
December 2009
Next month:
March 2010

Dog poop trash can in Tivoli park, Ljubljana. There is even a storage for trash bags under the 'ears' of the bin so there is no excuse for cleaning after you dog.

The Social Nudge: Pick It Up Poop Campaign

In the book the Nudge (Penguin 2009)  by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, they discuss how to nudge people into making better choices through better choice architecture. In the third chapter called "Following the Herd," they provide an example of how public officials can possibly change behavior by "emphasizing the statistical reality" of how many more people tend to do the right thing, in this case related to the number of smokers. They explain a case in Montana:

Montana applies the same approach to cigarette smoking with an advertisement suggesting that "most (70 percent) of Montana teens are tobacco free." The strategy has produced big improvements in the accuracy of social perceptions and also statistically significant decreases in smoking (p. 74). 

From their book and my own thinking about how to tackle my own public menace, people not picking up their dog's poop in the park. I've decided to see if I can nudge my neighbors into doing the right thing. So I will launch tomorrow (for it is raining tonight and will ruin the posters), the Pick It Up Poop Reduction Campaign. Using the power of graphical images, statistical reality, and panopticon paranoia, I hope to shame my neighbors into picking up their dog's poop.

Each day when I walk my dog, I will document the poop left by my neighbors. I will then update the poster with an image of their poop and post it around the park where dog owners congregate (i.e. the park trash cans, plastic bag stations that the Council provides for free so you don't have to buy your own, fence doors, and water fountains). Luckily, the parks all had their maintenance this week, so I have a relatively clean slate to work with. I will I could do a more scientific approach by counting all the poop before the campaign and then following up in a week or two weeks, and then doing a guerrilla survey with dog owners, but I have no time or graduate students to do it. So stay tuned to hear my anecdotal results.

Danish design education 02: U of Aalborg

Then next stop on my Danish Design education tour was the University of Aalborg with whom Swinburne has an official relationship. My visit was focused on the Service Design course in the School of Architecture and Design. The course is led by Nicola Morelli. Nicola and I go way back to the 2006 Wonderground Conference in Lisbon. He is one of the most informed and articulate proponents of service design.

Anyone who reads my blog knows of my skepticism of service design. Not so much with the idea that designers should be involved with the design of service systems as well as objects, but with the underlying conceit that they are better at it than anyone else, especially someone with an MBA. I just find this pose very disrespectful and naive of the fact that you can have the most brilliantly designed service concept, but without a feasible business plan, it doesn't mean anything.  And I have yet to meet a designer who can produce a better business plan than someone with an MBA.:)

But in this case I suspended my skepticism because we have courses in Service Design at Swin and so I want to find partners to boost our capabilities in this area. I am glad I did because what I experienced was amazing.

I had the pleasure of attending the half-day final presentations of the one of the Service Design course student teams. The project was to design services that enable multidisciplinary collaboration within the design school. The students did not give a boring Powerpoint presentation, but rather the students acted out both the challenges of collaboration and their service solutions with lo to mid-fidelity prototypes as props (i.e. a set of collaboration skill posters, a collaboration website which allows people to book a physical play room, and a set of collaboration games in boxes and with instructions that teams can use to work through collaboration issues). It was a brilliant performance followed up with a more formal presentation of the team's reflective learnings from the process. It seems that the biggest challenge in creating Schon's reflective practitioners is getting them to reflect during the process, not just afterwards.

The students then left the room and were brought in one-by-one to answer questions in front of the review panel of Nicola; Marianne Stokholm, who is one of the most brilliant women I've met, and  Sven Nielsen. This part was a bit rocky because of the different styles of questioning used by the panel, but it was an interesting process to observe. When the individual interviews were done, the entire team was brought in and told what their group grade would be. 

I was really impressed by the systemic thinking of the student team who weaved together solutions based on an understanding of what the core product was (i.e. to build greater collaborative capacity within the students who will get jobs in collaborative environments), the markets (ex. design schools although they missed the opportunity to expand it to other collaborative environments), the technology (i.e. both low tech and high tech, both tangible and virtual), and the organization (i.e. how all this relates to the objectives of the University, Danish education policy, and how you engage both students and faculty in collaboration). I was impressed by the faculty members on their ability to set up evaluative criteria around such complex projects and be fair in those evaluations.

Nicola and I both discussed the desire to have more exchanges between the two universities, perhaps, during their four-week mini projects. The best area for exchange will be doctoral students as an opportunity for shared research but also teaching opportunities. Again, I look forward to future collaborations.

Danish Design Education: Part One SPIRE

As many of you know, I traveled quite extensively in 2009 (US, China, Denmark, Australia). I did about four continents in three months, which did give me Premier Executive status on United Airlines. :) One of the great pleasures of travel (on University business) is that I get to find out what other design schools are doing exciting things. In Denmark, I got to visit SPIRE at the Mads Clausen Institute at the University of Southern Denmark and the Architecture and Design department at Aalborg University. First, I must say that Jacob Buur and Nicola Morelli were perfect hosts in Denmark. When you are extremely tired from travel (this was the last trip of my global tour) and in new two a town where you don't speak the language, having a perfect host makes all of the difference. So thank you Jacob and Nicola, I promise to extend the same welcome when you visit in Melbourne.

First, I will say that I was truly impressed by the work at SPIRE and Aalborg, where there is a lot of cross-pollination. I hope to be able to structure the curriculum at Swinburne so that we have the opportunity to conduct more exchanges between students and faculty at both institutions. One of the things that I realized is that the scale of Swinburne is off the charts compared to any Danish design education institution, so any exchanges would require that we scatter our students among many institutions.


Jacob Buur is the quietly dynamic leader who came from Danfoss to run  SPIRE . I first encountered SPIRE at the 2008 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference in Copenhagen. At first blush then, I thought that their work felt very ID@IIT or D-Schoolish. But now having had the opportunity to have a closer look, there are some significant differences, which makes their work more exciting. SPIRE is a "participatory innovation research centre" that brings together the Danish tradition of participatory design, with design anthropology, user interaction studies, and user innovation studies. Three things makes SPIRE unique and very appealing to me.

The first is their emphasis on the importance of the tangibility of knowledge. They have this wonderful project on the tangible business model, where students create these games/models that outline the possibilities of business. I assume this comes from the Danish craft/engineering culture where the knowledge gained through the hands is still valued.


I always make the statement that "Design translates values into tangible experiences." The fact is that business models are value statements and the ability to translate them into tangible forms serves two purposes. First, as Jacob describes, the tangible model allows for iterative discussions on the "prototype" of the business itself. Second, and most importantly to me, the making of the business model into a tangible game allows more people to participate in its formation. Business models are always approached in the distancing language of economics. By giving the key aspects of the business an interactive form, you could engage people who are economically illiterate into the process of defining the values of a business.

The second thing is their advancement of the use of video in the design process. Having come to user-centered design through E-lab/Sapient, which had at the time, in my opinion, one of the most sophisticated use of video in the ethnographic research/design process, I have generally been unimpressed with how design institutions have used video. As side note, Jacob and I had this wonderful conversation about how both coming from leading UX/PD companies like Danfoss and E-lab/Sapient, the work that we are doing in the education sector seems so far behind what we did in industry, yet at the same time, industry (mainstream) is not ready for the types of students that we are producing, whose thinking and practice is far beyond what company managers are wanting. But I digress, I was impressed by their Video Design Specs project, which seeks to develop video as "design material" for action, not just for user observational insight or design inspiration. I recommend getting Salu Ylirisku and Jacob Burr's Designing with Video (2007, Springer Press) to read more on the topic. 

The third thing is their truly transdisciplinary focus. When you meet the "employees" at SPIRE, they are truly a mix of designers, engineers, linguists, anthropologists, and business managers. The projects at SPIRE reflect in the conceptualization and their final output the hybridization of perspectives and attempts to find a common language beyond those of the "home" disciplines. It helps that many of the senior leadership are really quire transdisciplinary figures themselves (official shout out to Jacob, of course, Christian Claus, Wendy Gunn, and Ben Matthews). Any design institution that collaborates with a theater group, Dacapo, understands transdisciplinarity

Again, I am deeply impressed with the work at SPIRE and intend to establish forms of collaboration with them in the near future. Next is part two: Aalborg University and Service Design