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Home arrow Computer Science arrow Calm Technology. Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design


Because so many people use so many devices in the kitchen, competition and trial and error have made many kitchen devices reasonably functional and effective . Unfortunately, the kitchen is also a hectic, sometimes crowded space where multiple activities are being pursued simultaneously. So while most kitchen appliances do their jobs well, there’s still room for improvement in making them context-appropriate .

In this exercise, your challenge is to design a calmer version of an existing piece of kitchen technology.

Pick a piece of technology in your kitchen whose alert style annoys you, and describe the device and its function What alert style does the kitchen appliance use? How does it catch your attention, and what for? Why is it annoying to you or someone around you? If applicable, what in the environment gets in the way of the device?

How might you change the alert style or user experience of the device to improve it? Fill out an evaluation tool and draw a diagram of the modifications you’d make to the device in order to make it fit into your world better

Design a refrigerator that creates a positive feedback loop that encourages healthier eating habits .

Imagine, for a moment, that someone designed a refrigerator that makes an increasingly loud, annoying tone every time you open it, in order to discourage snacking . While such a solution might be effective in the short run, it has several problems as well:

  • • It suffers from edge case problems—what if a diabetic friend visiting the apartment suffered a hypoglycemic episode, and had to wake up the host in order to get food? Or worse, failed to eat soon enough out of fear of disturbing them?
  • • It reduces human freedom and autonomy. Instead of learning what to eat and when to eat, the fridge discourages and shames the person using it, making them despise the fridge and feel bad about it, and ultimately causing them to get rid of the fridge .
  • • It may actually exacerbate the problem . The fridge might lead the user to simply eat out instead, preventing the fridge from monitoring their use, or maybe they would snack on premade packaged goods instead of fresh vegetables from the fridge .

So what’s the underlying goal here? The goal is a refrigerator that helps people to change their behavior. Behavior change with technology works well with encouragement . It should be actionable, immediate ,and come with a clear call to action What does it mean to be immediate and actionable? Think of a time when you drove down the street past a road sign indicating your current speed. Most people will slow down immediately. Compare this to the expected outcome of watching a TV ad about driving slowly in school zones .

Consider the following:

  • • How do you redesign the refrigerator so that it results in positive behavior?
  • • What alert styles would you use?
  • • Would you use this fridge yourself?
  • • How might you design for edge cases?

This exercise is about bringing relevant, real-time data to the home or office in a less intrusive way.

We covered the concept of Natalie Jeremijenko’s Live Wire, a mid-’90s art project at Xerox PARC that involved a plastic rope hanging from the ceiling, in Chapter 3 . The Live Wire employed ambient awareness through the visual aspect of the wire itself and the sound the wire made as network traffic ran through it—it was connected to the company network and made a whirring noise when more bytes were moving through the system . Employees of PARC could gather around it and discuss what might be happening on the internal computer systems Your task is to use aspects of Live Wire to design your own ambient awareness tool for your home or workplace . For instance, a stock indicator object might consist of an orb placed on the desktop that glows green when a stock is doing well and red when it is not

Or maybe you’d like to make a product that sits in your living room and starts to glow when a bus is nearing your section of town . Keep in mind that while a sudden status change is jarring, but a pulse or soft color change can signal without disruption With the bus example, a light in your living room could get brighter and brighter as it approaches the stop, stay stable while the bus is there, and then slowly diminish in brightness as the bus leaves

Consider the following questions:

  • • What is a piece of information you find yourself looking up repeatedly? Is it the weather, a stock price or sports score, or perhaps a notification that a child got to school safely? The thickness of ice on a pond? Amount of rain in a day? When a bus is nearing your house?
  • • What type of information is this? Is it the sort of thing where you only need to know a general value, or, like the bus arrival time, is there a particular value you need to know about?
  • • How will your device indicate the information over time? Is the device standalone or something that lives on your computer? Is it visual, auditory, haptic, or wearable? The answer to this question will depend heavily upon the context in which you use it

When you’re done brainstorming and answering these questions, draw a diagram of the device with callouts for functionality and any other necessary information and pair it with an evaluation tool .

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