Supermarkets understand design’s effect on human behaviour all too well. They have a long tradition of using the smell of freshly baked bread and strategic positioning of products to encourage sales.
However, effective design doesn’t always have to be about the bottom line. Arup argues that designers should explore opportunities to support and encourage sustainable behaviour. I recently wrote a paper on this, highlighting the Persuasive Design framework developed by B J Fogg in the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University as a tool for analysing behaviour change.
There are four key aspects to the Persuasive Design behaviour model. The first is the target behaviour: what is it that you are trying to encourage the building users to do? Common sustainability goals in buildings include: reducing energy use, reducing water use and increasing recycling.
The second aspect is motivation; to what extent does the building user want to perform the target action?
The third aspect is ability – how easy is it for the building user to perform the target action?
The fourth aspect is a trigger.
Take, for example, the men’s bathrooms at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, where we find the urinal fly. The urinals have a picture of a fly stuck on them in a strategic location. The target behaviour in this example is more accurate ‘aiming’ by users, reducing the need for cleaning and increasing amenity. The company that makes them claims that they keep bathrooms up to 85% cleaner.
A second example is the Poor Little Fish Basin – a sink with a gold fish bowl above it. This device is aimed at encouraging water conservation. It’s pretty fair to assume that if someone can turn the tap on, then they can turn it off. The interesting aspect is how the design motivates. When the tap is turned on, the water level in the fish bowl begins to drop. The water in the bowl is not connected to the tap, but it’s rigged to give the impression that it is.
A more serious example comes from the intensive care unit at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. The open bed bays have red lines painted down part of the wall and across the floor next to the handwash station. This is a visual reminder for clinical staff to wash their hands before interacting with the patient.
Winston Churchill understood the impact of design on behaviour when he said “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” referring to the rebuilding of the House of Commons.
A building’s design teaches and/or reinforces behaviours in its occupants, therefore the question architects and designers need to ask ourselves is: what messages are we sending?
It is possible for designers to support and encourage sustainable behaviour in buildings. The examples above show that the possibilities are limited only by imagination.