I was incredibly excited when I got my invite to Simple. The company seems to be doing everything right, from a beautiful, usable app that helps customers set and meet goals to refreshing, clean design of the actual debit card and its packaging. It’s just what we love at Humans in Design.
I quickly transferred some money to my new account, and set out to try spending with my matte white card. The app worked wonderfully, as did the identity I felt when using the service. This was the opposite of a black card - it didn’t indicate that I was rich enough to spend indiscriminately, but that I was making intelligent decisions about spending and saving.
The associated app is probably the best financial app I’ve ever used - it captures details like location, category, and even how well I tipped. It’s fast and clean in a way that apps from big banks (who almost literally have all the money in the world) just aren’t.
However, I didn’t move my paycheck direct deposit to Simple for one key reason: the rent check. It feels completely anachronistic, but my landlord doesn’t have the means to accept rent payments electronically. I have to write a check on the first day of each month, and Simple doesn’t provide those silly pieces of paper.
UPDATE: Thanks to Rémy Rakić for pointing out that Simple does offer those silly pieces of paper — you just have to order them one at a time. I’m still frustrated that I couldn’t find this functionality without complaining about its absence here, but I might use it in the future. My point about America’s stupid, fragmented banking system stands.
I could work around this. I could transfer money from one account to the other, and plan around the 24-48 hour transfer delay. Or I could move my direct deposit to Simple and get a cashier’s check for the rent every month. Unfortunately both those solutions actually make life a little bit less-Simple.
This old-timey constraint is limiting real innovation in the banking industry. Paying my biggest monthly expense by check is inconvenient in almost every way. It requires physical delivery on my part, and it’s always a guessing game as to when the check will actually be cashed.
There’s a convenience incentive to move to electronic payments, but it mostly applies to individual payers. Banks need to put forth a strong effort to make alternative payment methods into the mainstream by advocating new services like Simple, Square, Isis, Google Wallet, or any number of other innovating organizations. Simple CEO Josh Reich knows this fragmented system is holding them back, too, and he talked about it in this fantastic interview on The Verge.
I love what Simple is doing, and I want to use it more, but for now, the people I have to pay make my big, old, user-unfriendly bank the path of least resistance and the payment network is being held back by the slowest players.
In my last city the train was horrible
In the last city I lived (Brisbane, Australia), I preferred not to use the public train system for intra city transit. I had to walk through a bad couple of blocks to get to the station nearest to my house, and to me, the station platforms weren’t an inviting place to wait between train arrivals. They were often grimey, poorly lit, and it didn’t seem like there was much security around if you were on the platform after business hours. If the stations seemed dirty and a little dangerous, the train carriages were even more so. The windows were almost always scratched out with graffiti, and I felt kind of like I was riding a New York subway in the 1980s.
Brisbane 2012, or NYC 1982?
Nevermind that they only came every 20 minutes or so, and the zone-based ticketing system seemed to me to be unfairly structured against those who lived in poorer outer suburbs. And it’s not just time to wait and the price system. Brisbane trains have a problem with their network and city coverage; basically, where they go. In NYC, Paris, London, and other places with metro systems, the lines worm across each other. In Brisbane they all lead in to the city and out.
The trains in my new home of Santiago are much better.
In Santiago, Chile, where I live now, the system is much nicer. While Santiago has a metro system, and Brisbane has commuter rail, they are both train-based public transportation for the purpose of this comparison.
Santiago metro stations also double as museums.
The stations in Santiago are beautifully decorated and easy to navigate. The train carriages are spacious, with less seating and no carpet on the floor, which makes them seem cleaner. They also come every couple of minutes, so even if you walk onto the platform as a train is pulling away, you don’t have enough time to catch up on your Twitter feed before the next one arrives. Inside the carriage is so clean you could eat off the floor. Well, maybe not, but I’ve seen a lot of people sit on the floor.
Inside a metro car in Santiago.
Obviously, I’m impressed. But I’m new enough here that the novelty of walking 20 minutes to the station from my house hasn’t worn off, so I don’t mind yet. I’m also lucky enough to live in a suburb that has a train line running along two sides of it.
I assumed trains would provide the most benefit to people like Nancy
I live with my boyfriend and his parents in Las Condes, one of the wealthier areas of Santiago. Because of the social system here, it’s pretty normal for households like the one I’m staying in to have a maid, or nana, who comes from a poorer neighbourhood every day and cleans the house.
Nancy and Me
It took some time for me to get used to this, and I still feel bad for leaving my clothes out for her to iron. Santiago is a very class segmented city, and which suburb you were born in really impacts how people treat you, and what sort of employment you’re likely to take up (An article worth checking out that gets into this much further is here).
I initially thought that the metro would be good for nanas who have to travel across the city to get to the wealthier neighbourhoods where they work, because of another thing that the Santiago public transport system does right: flat fares. While the prices do differ between rush hour schedule and normal schedule (670 pesos to 610 pesos, the difference being the equivalent of around 12 cents), you pay the same price no matter how far you go, including two transfers.
These flat fare tickets are much more of a progressive scheme than the concentric ticketing going on in Brisbane. Ticketing schemes like Brisbane’s make it more expensive and difficult for people living in disadvantaged suburbs to travel to the city to work in potentially higher paying jobs. Or at least have the aspiration to work in higher paying jobs. When you decrease the ease of mobility it encourages people to work jobs in certain areas that aren’t expensive to travel to. This restriction, though it may be self-imposed, decreases opportunity available to an individual, which in turn decreases their aspiration for what they can do or achieve.
Brisbane’s concentric public transport fare zones.
According to a report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on socio-economic indexes, the most disadvantaged Brisbane suburb in 2008 was Inala. To travel from Inala to the CBD today would cost $7.90 for a single adult ticket each way ($5.43 if using a go card). To travel from Santiago’s poorest suburb, La Pintana, to the CBD? Around $1.30.
But Nancy don’t use the metro in Santiago
While all this is great, I found out that Nancy doesn’t actually use the metro when coming to work. Instead, each day she catches three buses to get to our apartment, and two buses to get back to her house. This is what the buses in Santiago look like:
This is the first bus Nancy takes in the morning
The black line in the map below is the bus route Nancy has to take to get from her house to mine, with current metro lines marked in as well. The bus icons indicate where she makes exchanges. Nancy tells me that the trip takes anywhere between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours and 15 minutes.
View Nancy’s Route in a larger map
Nancy’s route to work is shown in black
The buses in Santiago aren’t nearly as inviting as the metro, and it’s not just that the metro is necessarily prettier than the buses, it’s also more sensible to use them in terms of congestion - Nancy often complains of having to be late to work due to traffic conditions. One of the big pluses for trains is the separation from the rest of the transit system.
The reason Nancy catches buses instead of the metro is because the metro line doesn’t reach out as far as the suburb where she lives yet. So, as she says, she doesn’t have an alternative. Of course, were she to take the metro, Nancy would still have to make the 20 minute walk from the station to our apartment, so perhaps a bus is preferable for that reason too, but the point is that it’s not really an option for her. The bus and metro systems are integrated for the most part, and both use the bip! card for electronic ticketing. (It’s called a bip! because that’s the noise it makes when you press it against a card reader.)
But for some reason, changing from bus to train incurs a one-sided fee, strangely not charged when changing from train to bus. This fee can be seen as a disincentive, albeit a small one, and I’m not sure why they don’t just do away with it. It could be part of Santiago’s “Arsenal of Exclusion”, one of the almost invisible but intentional things which urban planners use to keep neighbourhoods separate (I recommend listening to the 99% Invisible podcast on the topic for a better understanding). When New York City changed their buses to link to their subway, they saw a massive increase in cross usage. This cross usage is something poorer residents of Santiago would benefit from, without the subtle barrier of a small fare increase.
Santiago transport’s bip! card (actually, this one belongs to me)
I wondered whether Nancy’s experience was the exception or the rule
Here’s a map I made of current metro lines and Santiago suburbs, broken down into quartiles of median household income (using 2009 figures). There are 32 municipalities, or suburbs, of Santiago, so each quartile is made up of eight suburbs. The pink areas make up the first quartile (lowest median income), the green areas make up the second quartile, the yellow the third, and the orange the fourth quartile (highest median income):
View HID STGO 2012 in a larger map
The location of the metro in comparison to Nancy
I put my house in as the girl icon (right near the red metro line), and Nancy’s suburb in as the star with the arrow (because the woman is a star). There is no metro stop anywhere near her. As a matter of fact, of all the suburbs in the same quartile as Nancy, only three of the eight have a metro line going through or on the side of them. Of the upper quartile, where I live, six suburbs have metro access. So it’s the rule. The poorest neighbourhoods in Santiago don’t have access to the metro.
Does the expansion of the metro into it’s area change it’s wealth?
We have a natural experiment to test this question. The metro lines have been expanding over the past decade. New lines were constructed and extra stops added to the current lines. A lot of construction was completed in 2005 and 2006. The map below shows the additions made to lines over this time (including the introduction of Lines 4 and 4a), along with the median income quartiles as they were in 2006.
View HID STGO 2006 in a larger map
Metro lines with grey shows work performed in 2005-2006
So what happened to the suburbs that had line extensions?
I took a look at some historical figures of income by suburb, and mapped them against line expansions to see if there was anything interesting going on. I also looked at previously ‘poor’ areas that had the metro lines built through them recently, and tried to find out if getting a metro seemed to make residents richer.
Of the 11 suburbs that had a new or improved line run through them, the very richest generally saw a slight decrease in their median income, followed by an even sharper increase in 2009. One rich suburb did see the opposite happen (an increase then a slight decrease), but it still remained within the highest income bracket.
The poorer households generally saw an increase in their average income, and then another increase, albeit a slightly lower percentage increase than the first. Of the three suburbs in the absolute poorest quartile, one suburb saw its average income between 2006 and 2009 increase enough to allow it to cross over into the second poorest quartile.
Is this a lasting effect?
One other area worth noting is Puente Alto. Not technically a suburb of Santiago (it’s part of the neighbouring Cordillera Province), Puente Alto was included in the line extensions of 2005-2006, and the introduction of the blue Line 4 saw the terminus constructed in its plaza. If you look on one of the maps, it’s the only non-coloured area with a metro line. Puente Alto’s median income levels were on-par with those in the second-poorest quartile of Santiago suburbs before the line extension, but in 2006 income levels rose sharply, and would have seen Puente Alto in the second-richest group of suburbs.
However, in 2009 income levels were almost back to what they were before the extensions (they were slightly higher, but not by a lot). So while the building of more lines could be perceived as bringing money to this poor area, holding onto that momentum has been a problem for Puente Alto.
Here’s a map of how the lines and income quartiles changed from 2006 to 2009 (Remember, the pink areas make up the lowest median income quartile, the green areas make up the second quartile, the yellow the third, and the orange the fourth, or highest median income quartile.) I put it in .gif form, so you can see how the suburbs around the metro lines have changed. Watch it for awhile and you see the pattern:
Change in income quartile from 2006-2006 and metro lines
The overarching pattern for income in suburbs being newly serviced by metro line stations is that basically, the rich got a little poorer and then much richer, and the poor got a little richer and then a little bit more richer, with some exceptions.
Can we really say the metro caused this change?
Of course, there were increases in incomes in those suburbs that didn’t have line extensions, so it’s hard to definitively tie income growth exclusively to metro expansion. Also, in 2003 Chile was beginning to recover from an economic slump, and the increases in 2006 incomes across poorer households could just be reflecting this relief from income poverty.
We cannot be totally sure if the change is correlation or causation. That said, infrastructure like these metro expansions create jobs and allow poorer people to travel to jobs, so the contribution of projects like this to Chile’s recovery from an economic slump, and the benefit of a metro system to poorer suburbs in general is silly to ignore.
So what’s happening in the future of Santiago?
Even more new work is planned, including two new lines. Here’s a map I made of the upcoming work with the 2009 median income quartiles:
View HID STGO 2017 in a larger map
The future metro lines with the current neighbourhood incomes
The purple Line 6 and brown Line 3 are expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017 (Please note, these are just an estimation of where the stations will be; They aren’t marked in Google Maps yet. You can check back in five years and see how off I was). I left the markers in for both mine and Nancy’s houses, so you can compare to the first map, showing where the lines are today.
As you can see, most of the new tracks go through already affluent suburbs. Apart from Line 6, which links one more of the lowest income suburbs into the metro system, the majority of the planned work still won’t allow travel between the poorer suburbs and the richer ones easily, so nanas will still have to catch the bus.
Why isn’t Santiago building the metro into poor, urban fringe areas?
It could simply be because the current lines would be hard to connect and there is no specific bias. However, discovering the decision making process behind station placement is difficult. The best justification for adding a new metro stop I’ve been able to find is “passenger demand”. However, in Santiago, the more densely populated areas are the poorer outer suburbs. So if you were trying to connect as many people to the metro system, it would make more sense to build stations there.
Perhaps focusing so much of the metro lines in the richer areas may have been an effort to stop people using their cars. Nancy agrees, thinking that it’s “to decongest the highest traffic areas within the city”. If this is the case, it’s not working; people still use their cars, and there doesn’t seem to be a big rush to sell them. My boyfriend’s parents actually bought a second car (a cheaper one they use to drive into the city, in case it gets scratched when they park, or stolen). So the metro has not as yet positively influenced their behaviour in this respect. In fact, they rarely even catch it. You can’t imagine the nightmare that is Friday afternoon traffic.
So while the design of Santiago’s metro stops, carriages, and services are by themselves excellent, the wider placement of lines and stations in regards to access for lower-income suburbs needs improvement. Is there a lesson? Maybe. The metro system works well when people use it, and people do use it, but I think the aim of future planning should be to get more people incorporating it into their routine, and the right people.
What lessons can we learn from Santiago?
The metro is an effective way to travel across city; it doesn’t block up traffic, it’s fast, and it’s clean. It seems that the addition of a metro to an area might be an effective tool to improve the economic outcome of areas, though there is the chance that the effect will not last or simply displace the poorest people to other areas.
But it’s worth the change. Future line expansions should be designed to give poorer people the opportunity to travel across the city easily. Better employment opportunities are available with greater mobility, and linking suburbs will bring down some of the social class barriers that are a big problem for Chileans.
The lessons here also translate very well to almost any city, especially those with a large class differentiation. The lessons are even more relevant to areas where the richer are more central and the poorer less so. If Chile can address its problem of social exclusion with its metro system design, it will become a model for success that other cities around the world can follow.
- Charlie - Guest Post
For those interested, Charlie got all her information about suburb income levels from this site (it’s in Spanish, but if you want to check it out, click on a comuna and then check out point 2.4): The source only lists median income levels, not the mean, and it would be interesting to be able to compare mean and median income levels, were both sets of figures available.
It’s election eve for the American half of Humans in Design, but I’ve already voted. In my new Pacific Northwest home, the default method for voting is a mail-in ballot. People are casting their votes from home rather than a polling place. I mailed my ballot two weeks ago, and it was amazingly satisfying. It made me think this change of voting context was important.
Voting from home changed the election for me. My first presidential election was in 2004, and I was voting in Utah. It was no butterfly ballot, but pushing a stylus through paper still felt incredibly antiquated. And it didn’t help that everything I voted for that year lost, either. 2008 was better - electronic voting machines had arrived, and my polling place had changed from my old elementary school to a government building near my downtown Salt Lake City apartment. My candidates still didn’t win locally, but no one can deny that the election was thrilling.
But aside from those major candidate disappointments and victories, all those minor ballot initiatives and less-prominent candidates felt like a test I hadn’t studied for. Instead I chose to vote directly along party lines, or for whichever candidate had the most foreign-sounding name. I took about 5 to 10 minutes to fill out this ballot.
This year’s ballot felt more like an open book test. There was no line behind me, and I took the time to carefully consider each question that I didn’t already have a strong opinion about. And it helped that this time I was voting for great things (gay marriage! sensible drug laws! second terms!). I sat there with google chrome tabs open on each of the issues I felt I needed more information on, learning about them as I cast my vote. I took 45 minutes to fill it out. That’s around 5 to 10 time longer than I spent in the last two elections.
I don’t expect everyone out there to be like me but it absolutely made me a more informed voter. I feel it’s undeniable that this change of context - voting in your own time with access to all sorts of information - is important and, in my opinion, better.
The ballot wasn’t completely perfect, either — the long sheet of paper was a little unruly, and I had to go out and buy a book of stamps to mail it back. There’s also an option to drop off ballots at designated locations, but for a process that is otherwise almost completely painless this seemed like just-enough of a participation barrier to stop some people from returning their envelopes.
Efforts by political groups to collect ballots and deliver them on behalf of voters have rightly been met with derision, and I really think that simply buying and giving out free stamps would be a better way to ensure a large turnout.
Also, the ballots are verified by signature, and the system isn’t fool proof. A friend of mine (who has been casting absentee ballots for years) told me a story of having to re-send his signature after the election commission determined that his original ballot wasn’t a close enough match.
On the whole I think mail-in ballots are one of the best options for American elections. They drive down the costs of participation for voters. No one has to wait in line or take time off from work. And there are at least some voters who, like me, will consider the issues in more detail during voting.
Part of me is disappointed that I won’t get an “I Voted” sticker from the polling place. Also, my election buzz is slightly deflated, but not enough to think that this was anything less than the best ballot I have cast in my time as a voter.
A paper banknote featuring a national icon, a denomination, and the countless details that assure us that it is indeed valuable: It’s the interface that has served us well for centuries.
However, we all know that soon enough physical currency will be a distant memory. Even today, I probably only pay in cash 5% of the time. The rest of the time I use a credit or debit card.
Knowing that how we pay will change, and is changing, I wonder what the future of payment will look like, and more importantly, how it will influence our decisions of what to purchase and why.The way it is and the promise of NFC
A credit or debit card makes payment very simple. It’s a small, single purpose device that allows paying with a swipe and a confirmation. The swipe is easy. The confirmation of a PIN number or signature makes one feel secure.
Although the rumors that Apple will start using near field communication in the iPhone 5 were false, Google has been using it with Google Wallet for some time already. It sounds great, right? All you need is your phone, you tap it to the NFC-enabled merchant device, and you confirm your payment. Fantastic.
But I was inspired by the article on cooper journal titled ‘the best interface is no interface’ to take a second look at this idea. That sounds like a lot of the same steps as a card. Let’s compare them, in painstaking detail:
Credit/Debit Card Payment:
- Remove the card from your wallet
- Swipe the card
- Confirm your payment
- Put back the card back in your wallet
NFC Device Payment:
- Take the phone out of your pocket
- Unlock it
- Find app the to pay with
- Tap the phone to the NFC chip
- Confirm your payment
- Lock your phone
- Put it back in your pocket
While it may seem insignificant, the NFC device requires more steps. The ‘find app’ step could probably be combined with the unlock function with a UI tweak. But, at the very least, we are at the same number of steps as the credit card. Where is the benefit?
Yes, you can leave your credit card at home, because you’ve linked it to your app. But, your wallet is not just for payment, what about everything else? Are you going to leave your ID at home? What about your cash in case the merchant doesn’t accept NFC or even credit cards? Your metro card?
I’m sure Apple’s Passbook, or another competitor, will try to replace your ID, metro card, club cards, etc.. but let’s be honest. Even though an iPhone can replace a driver’s license, how long until your government accepts this? I don’t know about your government, but mine… moves… slowly… Look at US software patents.
And replacing cash entirely? Even credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere, and the concept has been around for over 100 years. I’m guessing that you’re going to need a backup payment method for a while.
So if I’m going to be carrying my wallet anyway, the weight of a credit in addition to my ID is not enough inconvenience to convince me that the infrastructure change needed for NFC is worth it. And when governments finally does acknowledge such a move, congratulations, we’ve upgraded to the same numbers of steps. Why is that exciting?
At best, NFC may be a slightly useful but quickly outdated technology. Think of things like QR codes or Blu-ray discs. Even though they offer something useful, and provide benefits over previous solutions, they are so quickly obsolesced that many people will just skip them completely.
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
- Wayne Gretzky
If we are going to change the way payment works, it can’t be technology for technology’s sake. It needs to work the way next generations think. It needs to useful. To me that means 2 key goals:
- Remove steps that are superfluous.
- Offer something beneficial that current payment systems don’t.
What if you walked into a store, you ordered, and you’ve already paid?
Square is already doing this with Autotab.
You don’t have to find the an app. You don’t even have to take anything out of your pocket. Granted, there is some initial setup required, but that happens once. After that, it’s as simple as ordering:
“Siri, I’ll have a Sam Adams.”
However, as the tongue in cheek example above shows, there are plenty of situations where a person taking your order is part of a cultural tradition that we enjoy. I don’t see the role of the bartender disappearing so that I can order a beer from my phone.
In other situations though, a person at checkout just creates lines. And lines are torture. Like any job that can be replaced by a machine, it will happen. Walk into any grocery stores and you’ll likely see a large, and relatively expensive, self-checkout machine. Once the incentive of every customer having their own checkout machine in their pocket, cashiers are gone.
In the case of Autotab and your bartender, the right interface isn’t a GUI, it’s a person. For that interaction, it’d hard to see much room improvement.
In a big-box store, human interaction is more valuable to provide expertise about a product. The interface for payment could very easily be a phone GUI. It eliminates the need to wait in line and doesn’t require installing one more screen.
The idea is simple: a function that reacts to your location. Motorola calls it Smart Actions. Google has filled a patent for location-based actions. Rather than drastically changing payment infrastructure, like NFC, you just use existing GPS or triangulation.
I decided that the first thing this needed was an icon. So I combined the Location icon with the action/go icon to create a location-based action icon.
You can see how this would fit in with existing smartphone interfaces:
Let’s imagine this: You’re in a big-box store, you’ve found what you need, it’s time to pay and leave. You push/swipe the button, the store you’re in is detected, and you’re presented with a simple interface for checkout.
Scan your items and pay with a linked account or stored credit card. No lines. Just show your digital receipt on the way out. Location-based actions extend beyond payment, but could drastically change the infrastructure of the retail experience.
Whether the interface is visual or verbal, human or machine, all the above could happen now. If we want to change the way we pay, we could very easily do so. If anything, we don’t have a technology problem. We have a behavior problem.
As a part of the generation that saw it all fall apart, I have to wonder. Twenty-somethings in America (and then all around the world) watched as ill-advised spending habits collapsed what our parents assumed was a strong economy. And I’ve been writing about how to make spending easier…
While I’ll admit that there are plenty of mediums that have not figured out how to get people to pay for what they are consuming, I’m not going to pretend like we are struggling to part ways with our cash. If anything, maybe we should be in the process of learning how to add a little more friction to that effort.Design for Good
Products like Mint let me know that I’ve spent too much on take-out food every month. This is information that I get when I decide to login to the application and check. What if I was confronted with this information the next time I decided to order take-out? This could be as simple as changing the color of the ‘pay now’ button based on whether this purchase is a responsible one.
But we can go even bigger, what if the next time I’m trying to make a purchase, I’m reminded of how much one should save per month to retire comfortably and helped to make that saving:
You’re shown a savings alert
Next time, ‘Pay Now’ is already green because you’ve saved previously.
In the interface of payment, there is also an opportunity to bridge the gap between bits, physical objects, and labor. What if you understood the process of making something? How far it traveled? What makes up the product? Your settings could allow you to check what your priorities are when making a purchase:
Deeply Flawed Hope
I understand that people will trade for convenience at almost any turn. Why would you add friction to your payment process? And what retailers would support such a thing? One would assume they’d rather offer coupons than financial advice.
Well, maybe we can learn from our mistakes. We are witnessing what some are calling the cheapest generation. It’d be hard not to learn the mistakes of the baby boomers. We are watching the rise of services like Kickstarter and Kiva, and the fall of automobile and home purchases.
It seems like we could be the generation that thinks a bit more deeply about our purchasing decisions, as we’re forced to live through the consequences. I mean, we have to, right? …Right? At least we can try.
We all know humans can be impulsive. We often times ignore what is best for us. If we are to be responsible designers, designing systems to counteract this may be the next step in payment interfaces.
We’ve done a great job at making it easy for us to part with our money. We don’t have to part ways with pieces of paper that we’ve earned. We don’t have to watch as money leaves our bank accounts. We just watch numbers change, if we choose to pay attention.
Perhaps the next step is designing systems that allow for more responsible spending and help build a sustainable economy.
- Matt McInerney - Guest Post
Graphic Designer at Pentagram. Co-host of On the Grid
I constantly find it amazing how very small differences in language can have a large impact on behaviour. This is primarily though framing the decision in different ways. Most people feel they intuitively understand the term framing, but it’s worth taking a look at a explanation before we get to some examples. Here is the social sciences explanation:
People build a series of mental filters through biological and cultural influences. They use these filters to make sense of the world. The choices they then make are influenced by their creation of a frame.
So, what are you doing when you frame a question? You are forcing it through a different filter with hopes of a different outcome. The social-science/psychology world is full of examples of framing.
Here are three of my favourites:
1. Photocopying and skipping the queue:
We’ve all stood behind someone at a photocopier and wanted to push in. Obviously, some psychology experimenters felt the same and tested different phrases for effectiveness. The photocopier is called ‘Xerox Machine’ in this example. Here are the frames:
Previous Frame: ”Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
Altered Frame: ”Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”
You can see that the second frame had extra, seemingly redundant, information. However, in the second frame the addition of the word ‘because’ followed by a reason forces the decision through a different frame (at least for some people).
Result: In frame 1 about half (60% of people) said okay. In the altered version almost everyone (93% of people) said yes.
2. Hand-washing and and Hospitals
Inadequate hand washing is still a leading cause of infection in hospitals. We previously made a video about it. The goal here is to get hospital staff to increase washing their hands.
On a visit to a hospital an organisational psychologist saw signs above the sinks directed at hospital staff. He thought by changing one word on the signs he might be able to increase hand washing. Here are the frames:
Previous Frame: “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.”
Altered Frame: “Hand hygiene prevents patientsfrom catching diseases.”
It’s pretty obvious what the experimenter was betting on here. He was betting that framing through harming another (the patient) would be more effective than harm to oneself. This was probably because you’d assume people got into healthcare to help people. Also, as humans, we tend underestimate the risk to ourselves especially without a history of negative effects.
Results: There are some caveats, but from observation the adherence to handwashing seemed to increase about 10% (from 89.2% from 80.7%). The is only a relatively small change, but seeing as the consequences of infection are so high, it’s a significant drop in risk.
3. Appointment Booking
No-shows without a cancellation are a problem for many businesses, especially restaurants. Legend has it that a Chicago restaurateur, Gordon Sinclair, was having issues with no shows and, therefore, made an instruction to his staff. They were to change what they say at the end of phonecalls when customers were making bookings. The frames are:
Previous Frame: “Please call if you change your plans.”
Altered Frame: “Will you call us if you change your plans?”
This second frame requires the person to engage in the thought process of cancelling – envisioning calling if they have to cancel. Perhaps it makes them think about if they would call. Perhaps it makes the confrontation of cancelling seem lessened. Whatever it is, it worked.
Results: At least according the New York Times, his no-show rates dropped from 30% to 10% with this change. Basically, a three word business-saver. Note this one is a bit of an ‘urban legend’ – which does not mean it’s not true but rather just less verified.
What have I learnt from this?
I have learnt how to talk to my wife. Or more specifically, how to elicit a different response to music recommendations I give to my wife.
A couple of years ago when the band Best Coast broke I knew she’d like them. I was going to be on the road and the songs are all girly pop songs about missing for a partner. When I told her about this band I said:
Previous Frame: “Rebecca, you’ll like this band.”
Well my wife does not like to be told what to do, by me or anyone. So she didn’t listen to Best Coast for 6 months… only to discover that she loved them.
This year, I discovered some other music she’d like, the dream pop of Grimes. I had learnt my lesson. When she got home I asked if I could put on some music. I said:
Altered Frame: ”Rebecca, is it okay if I play some music that I like? I think you’d like it too, but tell me if you want to change it.”
The first frame was a direction. The second an invitation. She was the judge. For the last few weeks I’ve been hearing this track at least twice a day.
Some call it manipulation. I call it listening with love.
We’ve all seen a ‘no parking’ sign scrawled on a sign across a driveway.
Recently I started to seem them scrawled on the ground in driveways.
Then I saw some people who’d gotten annoyed at people parking across their driveway and extend it into the street.
This seems to work reasonably well.
Some people even started to mark a whole space that wasn’t big enough for a car.
Then, getting even bolder, some started to extend further into the street and give a direction:
Then, just around the corner from my house, one appeared that broadened an already existing yellow line.
Some of my neighbours obviously saw this and decided it was a good idea.
I live in inner city Brisbane, Australia and the street is always full of cars.
However, I did feel this was a bit of an overkill. I had never had any issue.
But I had spoken too soon.
This guy came and parked across my driveway.
I put an arrow on the photo so you can see the space the car has blocked.
Then some other joker did it too!
Can’t they see the driveway? It’s right there!
It was at this point I figured my neighbours might have been more than just angry, over-zealous vandals.
Standing back, it did really seem to make an area of their driveway much clearer.
Mine on the other hand, wasn’t so clear. This is especially as my house was set on the street and my driveway curls downwards with the slope of the land.
I came to appreciate how, at night in a rush, you might miss it.
Then I thought about getting the perspective of a driver coming down my street looking for a park. Here it is:
The yellow shape is really clear and the ‘no parking’ become clearly readable as you get close.
Plus the handmade writing has a ‘get off my porch!’ feel. No way I’d be messing with these dudes.
I did see a car parked on it once, but I think they owned it. Otherwise it was never covered.
Awhile later it appears the council came and took it away… as much as they could.
My neighbours probably got a fine or at least a warning. But I had sympathy for them. They saw a problem and, knowing the council wouldn’t take up their suggestion, solved it.
I actually called the council about this and suggested they take the hint and place properly designed lines.
Per Mollerup addresses ‘user-generated’ signs in his great book Wayshowing.
“Environmental signs are generally commissioned by those in power. Rulers and owners use signs to inform and regulate society. Signs - as a rule - are signs of authority.
However, a rich flora of unofficial ad hoc signs exists along with professionally designed and officially produced signs. These unofficial signs are made by citizens who for one reason or another though official signs failed to meet their needs. Unofficial signs are the visual voice of the people, a graphic vox populi…
… Sometimes unofficial signs are the result of irritation caused by the lack of other signs or the lack of sufficiently expressive architecture. Letterheads that state ‘this is not room 411’ or ‘Entrance next door’ are symptoms of dysfunctional official wayshowing…
Normally, unofficial do-it yourself signs are symptoms of unsuccessful planning. Sometimes these amateur signs are considered more credible than professional signs… Some of the first signs in the world were probably a kind of graffiti.”
In these signs the council sees vandalism, but I see a search for effective signs.
Perhaps councils should embrace the principles of co-design and be more open to innovative ideas from the public.
Otherwise, people will take matters into their own hands.
Roman is asking for support to keep it going strong into a third season. Please watch the above video and visit the kickstarter page.
Even if you only donate a measly $1 this will help. Debbie Millman from Design Matters will donate $10 000 if the campaign reaches 5000 backers at any level.
Also, as if supporting a it wasn’t enough of a no-brainer, if you kick in enough money you’ll get a nice Plimsoll Line t-shirt we helped bring back to the glory it deserves:
You could also choose a set of notebooks with a Plimsoll:
Of course, Tristan doesn’t need it on a shirt…
Design outcomes can often be serendipitous. A designer means for an object to achieve one thing, but it actually achieves another. This idea probably already exists but if it doesn’t, I would like to coin it:
The Accidental Affordance.
In this instance I am making reference to Don Norman’s definition of affordance. That is:
An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action… and is readily perceivable by the actor.
In short, a use for something that someone can perceive.
So why the accidental affordance? Here I am just making reference to an outcome as which was not foreseen by the designer - an affordance that was not designed.
A famous example of this is twitter. Twitter was originally intended as an SMS site to communicate with a small group. However, it’s most famous uses now extend to globally networked connections, real-time comments through to organising revolutions. Twitter has even ended up turning the hashtag, which was originally an accidental affordance, into a major part of its business model.
Even if you don’t use Twitter, you probably still touch an accidental affordance every day. Levi’s (and pretty much any other company that makes jeans) have always put a fifth pocket nested inside the right front pocket of their pants. This pocket was originally intended as a place to put a pocket watch, but as Levi’s itself pointed out in one of its most famous ads, it’s almost never used for a watch:
Watches have moved from pockets to wrists, but they’re still creating accidental affordances. My watch is a prime example. My wife needed an analogue watch for an exam, so with the idea I’d take it afterwards, we bought a man-sized one with a big clear face. Here’s the watch:
The first night I was wearing it we went to a concert and I looked down to check the time. It was dark, but the light automatically came on when I looked down! I was stoked! Magic watch! It looked like this:
After a second wondering at the amazing design, I realised that it wasn’t magic. I was just extending my wrist and the back of my hand was contacting the light button on the side of the watch. You can see it happen in this mega-short little video:
Even though it’s an accident, I find it really useful, and other people seem to wow at it a little when they don’t expect the light to come on.
Similarly I bought a glif from studio neat to hold my iPhone in a tripod. This was mainly talk hands free to my lovely wife during travel. It’s easier to drink scotch that way. That’s her on the screen below:
Another problem I have had in travel is that my headphones always end up in a tangle. Turns out the grove in the glif helps me out with an accidental affordance:
Perhaps the greatest example of an accidental affordance is milk crates.
Originally intended for this:
There are at least 101 accidental affordances including shelves…
… even street art.
In fact, one of the best unintended affordances for a milk crate - use as a 12 inch record crate - was designed out when milk was switched to metric. They are now a couple of centimetres too short. Some say this change was intentional as its use as a record crate was a leading cause of theft.
So why is this important? Well people think of good design as sparks of genius. But really mostly it’s through iterations and accidents. However, the accidents are normally not perfect.
For example, my dad bought exactly the same watch, partially expecting ‘automatic’ light. It does not work the way he wears it. In fact, it only works for me 80 percent of the time. It would be better if it worked every time, for everyone.
Similarly, wrapping my headphones around my glif also covers the screen, and is only mostly secure. It would better if there was a way to wrap them up totally securely that didn’t cover the screen.
So, be on the lookout for an accidental affordance. You might just be able to steal an almost design and adapt it into a perfect one. It might be the next penicillin… or just a way to light a watch up at night.
As Don Norman himself said:
The value of a well designed object is when it has such a rich set of affordances that the people who use it could do things that the designer never imagined.
The results for the 2011 Australian census came out today. We think the results of the religion question were (unintentionally) distorted by the design of the question. Specifically, with believe that the number of Australians who are not religious is greater than the number counted as ‘no religion’.
Counting correctly is important because census results will be used, at least to some degree, when making public policy decisions where religion is involved. The question was formatted like this:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported the religious affiliation results in a table. On the surface, it seems that ‘no religion’ continued to get a bump. However, there was something hidden. The bottom of the table listed 100 percent. However, it had an annotation that the total…
“…includes inadequately described (supplementary codes) religions and people who did not state a religion.”
Strangely, there is not a row in the table that lists how large this group is. We ran the numbers. Turns out it’s almost one in ten people and the fourth largest group:
If approximately a quarter of those people were actually not religious for the first time ‘no religion’ would be the largest group on the Australian Census. If you’re a strong adherent to a religion we think it would be unlikely you’d leave that question blank.
We’ve criticised this design before. The core of our argument was that the design reduces two questions into one and hides the ‘no religion’ question down the bottom. This could partially explain the large ‘inadequate’ and ‘blank’ responses. It was for this reason that we proposed some alternate designs which we put to a public vote. Our final proposed redesign is revealed for the first time below:
This is not about activism, but appropriate measurement. Accurate measurement in the census is important. We think there is no malice involved from the ABS, but their design has promoted an error that works against the ‘no religion’ option. Australia has changed and the design of the census does not reflect that.
Keep reading to hear our full story and proposal to the ABS.
Hit us on twitter @humansindesign or in the comments with your response.
Ever gone to the fuel pump and not known which side the fuel is on? I have. I even do it in my own car if I’ve been away for awhile. So I was pretty interested see the following tweet:
PSA: The arrow next to the fuel pump symbol tells you what side of the car the fuel goes in:
I went out to my car to see if I’d been a fool all these years. Turns out this arrow is not universal. It’s not included in my car. But going back to twitter, I saw the following claim by Gerry Gaffney:
“Actually, *orientation* of the pump tells u. If handle on left, fill on left; if on right, fill on right. But not universal…”
This is a visualisation Tom drew to illustrate this claim:
This is correct in my car - the pump handle is on the right and my car fills from the left. But it turns out it’s a urban myth - Gerry actually found this out and informed me. It started with a chain email called ‘The World’s Best Kept Auto Secret’. This has propagated into online videos.
If it was true, it would be a stupid indicator. Even if you knew the meaning it would take a ‘left means right and right means left’ moment. The point of a pictogram is to convey meaning in an easily understandable way. In this case, the fact that the fuel pictogram requires explanation means it would fail this test.
It would fail in a technical sense too. Years ago I was almost part of the international standard review for public information pictogram (ISO7001). If I remember correctly, to be included in this standard, the pictogram had to be correctly interpreted by 80% of people with less than 10% of people interpreting the exact reverse meaning (the 80/10 rule). Up for debate at the time was tsunami signs like the below. Can you guess what it means?
It’s on the side of the buildings in Japan to indicate that the building is a vertical refuge that will survive a tsunami. Personally, I thought it meant get out of the building and run for it. I think this failed the ISO test, but it’s still better than the fuel indicator. That wouldn’t come close. Which leads to the first lesson.
Lesson 1: If a pictogram fails the 80/10 rule don’t use it. Redesign it or simply use words.
Still, the fact that the myth exists and propagated so widely indicates an issue existed. People were clearly wanting a way to determine which side their fuel was on. If people didn’t resonate with the problem the myth would have died out quickly. In this case, clearly, somebody figured this out and the arrow has been added to at least some new vehicles - indicating the original failed to correctly identify all the meaning people would want. This leads us to the second lesson.
Lesson 2: If a myth exists it’s often a search for meaning that can be used to identify a design problem, which is the first step to a solution.
If you like pictograms I recommend you check out The Noun Project. The goal of the project is to organise pictograms of the world into a visual language library. It’s really great, but I do wonder how many things like this would pass the 80/10 rule.
PS: If you like this, you may like a post I have have previously written about how the design of my fuel indicator lead to my wife running out of fuel, leaving me stranded at the airport.
It’s true, Humans in Design has money on the mind. We’re really proud to have been featured on an awesome episode of 99% Invisible talking about the differences between American and Australian currency design. It’s something I’m so interested in that I even got a tattoo of it.
But we also know that David Wolman is right, and the use of physical currency is diminishing, soon to be primarily in the domain of retro-loving hipsters. We had this in mind when we prepared our talk at Next Bank Asia. In our talk preview, we wrote about how banks can ease customers into new ways of thinking through gradual change that doesn’t diminish the value of old systems.
Banks have already done this with credit card and ATM transactions, but the next big domain to conquer is mobile banking. Too many banking applications are just facsimiles of bad paper statements — forensic lists of transactions that are only useful if a user is trying to figure out what went wrong. Instead, banking apps should be tools that users can use to plan for a stable future.
Using a lot of the same principles we applied in our still-popular mortgage statement redesign, we designed a banking app that we would actually want to use. It’s just an image prototype, but we still think it’s great:
First, we wanted to give customers a proportional representation that shows how their money and debts are distributed. Names and amounts are big, and useful for what we think would be the most common scenario — “Is there enough money in my account for this.”
Tapping on one of the accounts brings a page that shows the customer how much has been both deposited and withdrawn from the account in a given time period. For the sake of this example, we used a week but ideally the customer would be able to choose a unit that fits their needs — fortnights, days, months, etc.
We also included a graph that shows the year-to-date history of the account and a projection toward a user-defined goal. In this example we showed an upward trajectory on a spending account, and a debt account like a mortgage or auto loan would use a graph similar to the one int our mortgage statement redesign.
When it comes to making a transaction, we wanted to replicate that tactile feeling of cash; the feeling that actual objects are moving from one party to another. We talked about the playful quality of games like Monopoly or Life and how one of the appealing aspects of those games is the physical movement of money from one player to another. We imitated this mechanic by animating banknotes moving out of the sender’s account when a transaction is completed. For this example, we made the bank notes in the shape of American currency, but with the colours of Australian currency. In practice, the animated currency should change to look like the currency of the country the user is in.
The recipient would get a push notification…
…And would see an animation of the same bank notes entering their account and their amounts being updated. This takes the transaction from digits on a screen to something that feels real.
We think the first banks to make truly innovative mobile applications will see a huge increase in customers, and a big improvement in stability for customers using the application. They may not make as much on overdraft or late payment fees, but that will just allow them to make money on bigger transactions.
It’s also important for banks to work together on a universal set of standards for banking applications. It’s still too hard to transfer money between two banks, and smaller community banks and credit unions often don’t have the resources or user base to justify developing an app on their own. Banks have come together on a standard for credit and debit card number processing; they should do the same for mobile transactions.
A little while back, I blogged my observations on the effectiveness of a yellow “do not cross” line at Helsinki Airport. The line worked for awhile:
Until it didn’t:
I compared this to previous broken windows studies which we’ve reported - In short, in small social situations a rule works, until other start to break it. Then we all break it.
In response to this we received an excellent post in the comments below from Ali Robertson talking about the yellow ‘do not cross’ lines at a train station from Melbourne, Australia. His observations was that the texture of line seemed to matter:
“In Melbourne, Australia, we had something like this at train stations. The solution was to actually use rubber studs in the floor to texture the ground very differently, and provide multiple threshholds for people to ‘break through’. This was done at pretty much every station. I’ve attached a couple of images of a crowded platform 7 at Flinders street station… One from the 1920s, and one from 2007. Note the distance people now maintain from the edge - this is not due to any signs or announcements.”
1920s Melbourne Train Platform - Crowds huddle close to the track.
2007 Melbourne Train Platform - Textures seem to move people away from the track.
I had actually made the same observations as Ali. He just beat me to the punch! The below is my comment response:
“I have actually taken photos of this in a number examples of just this point and intended to blog about it.
I believe (though I have not confirmed this) that these studs are actually for the visually impaired.
However, they definitely seem to work to provide a tactile barrier. My post was going to be if this was an unintended side-effect of a design change - I was going to try and coin this ‘unintended affordance’.
Do you know I’m incorrect that it’s unintended?
Thanks so much for the comment and pics.”
Here are some of the pics I have been collecting:
2011 London Tube Platform - Textures seem to move people away from the track.
2012 NYC Subway - Standing on the textures made me feel I was too close.
Well it turns out I was right.
These raised, dome-shaped studs are technically part of a method called tactile paving or Tactile Ground Surface Indicators. These studs can be detected by a white cane, a service animal, or even by standing or walking on them.
Ramp with Tactile Paving in New York City
Stairs With Tactile Paving in New Zealand
The method was first introduced in 1967 to Okayama City, Japan. And, at least from a google image search, they’re still leading the charge today.
Japanese Subway including textures/shapes to indicate locations.
The bumps don’t make it impossible for stand in a hazardous or high-traffic place, but they make it much more pleasant to stand somewhere else - a nudge if you will.
It’s another example of how inclusive design is not only better for the persons who rely on it. It’s better for everyone.
It can even be beautiful:
Beautiful use in Japan, leading the vision impaired around a manhole.
As a ‘human factors’ guy, one thing that bugs me about the interaction design community is a feeling that they created the concept of intuitive design.
Many assume that usability started at Xerox PARC or with Jonathan Grudin, but intuitive design was not created with electronic technology such as web pages and mobile apps.
Designers have always used shape, orientation, color, texture, context - you name it - to speak to users. Almost everything, from a cathedral to a typewriter was designed with intended uses and outcomes based on human behavior.
The best designs speak without words.
Physically, intentionally, or otherwise.
Door handles speak to us every day. They say two things:
Touch me like this.
The door opens this way.
Here is a great example I found. The first handle says “grasp me with you hand horizontally and pull back”. The second “stick your fingers in me and pull sideways”.*
The first time, it took two people, two minutes to figure out how to open it unlocked.
Those of us with dinosaur titles like ‘human factors engineers’ and ‘ergonomist’ were part of early professions that first tried observe tasks, code and catalogue behaviours into languages and use the codes to make observable improvements.
User-centred design did not start with iPhones, webpages or even computers. It’s in all the technology around us.
Arguably, the first attempt to systematically use observation to design for the user started with the laying of some humble bricks:
We’re excited and honored to be speakers at Next Bank Asia in Singapore in a couple of weeks. Our talk will build on our still-popular mortgage statement redesign. We’ll deal with how banks can make both their paper statements and mobile applications into tools that customers want to use. Here’s a taste of what we’ll say:
“Every month when I get my mortgage bill I’m overwhelmed. The information is so dense and so flat that my eyes glaze over. They’re so boring that I’ve stopped opening them, and my junk drawer is filling up. Each new statement comes with a feeling of contempt and detachment, and I know I’m not the only one who has this problem.” — Tristan
On the surface, bank statements are there to meet a legal requirement — a list of transactions with a sum at the end. Over time, banks have added some other elements (like graphs) to show customers how much they’ve “saved”. It’s an attempt at emotional design, but fails to actually make people feel better about the product. It feels like what it is: marketing.
In the best cases, customers ignore this stuff. At worst, it perceived as condescending. Informed customers are aware that this discount is imaginary.
But either way, the current bank statement is not useful. These statements only tell customers about the past when they should be helping people plan for the future.
A bank’s goal should be to actively communicate with customers to help them make informed decisions; we want to increase awareness and engagement with financial data.
This is different than financial literacy - it’s not about making people understand finances, which has been proved ineffective. It’s about making sure the right information is available at the right time.
We want this information to be available for all sorts of decisions, from the big (like refinancing a house) to everyday choices (like whether to buy a new pair of shoes). So we have to find out where people are making decisions and give them tools instead of junk mail.
If financial literacy is learning how to read traffic signs, then were about putting those signs up in the places where they should be.
So why bother with the bank statement? Aren’t paper bills on their way out anyway?
Yes, but mortgages are important and what we have to work with today are paper bills. Unfortunately, too many online banking systems are simple facsimiles of paper statements. So get rid of them, right?
Well, jumping to a new system may jarring to customers who have had a lifetime of boring bank statements. Some will make the leap, but for if you make the step too far many will fail to follow. Banks should ease their customers into new tools by creating a journey.
Banks have done this before. Think of the journey from cash online transactions. If you’d have asked people to make that jump directly, many people wouldn’t have felt comfortable going from something that is physical to numbers on a screen.
The first step was ATM card in customers’ wallets. It took customers some time to get used to to getting cash from a machine instead of from a person, but that new comfort prepared customers for the next step — credit and debit cards at shops and restaurants. Customers were making purchasable at same points, but without physical cash.
After that, customers were ready to make purchases online. Now customers are perhaps even more comfortable dealing when electronic transactions than cash.
It’s a unified system that’s good for customers and good for banks. But the journey isn’t over — near field communication transactions will soon be available on most cell phones.
This ease-in method isn’t limited to the financial industry. The 2010s saw a down-and-out company ease us from iPods to Macs to iPhones to iPads to iClouds.
To get to a big goal we can’t just focus on the endpoint; we must create a journey, starting with a first step. For banks, this is the paper statement.
Bank statements are ephemeral, and they’ve been adapted to meet technological advances in payments and processing. However, paper has remained the optimal medium for statements until about five years ago. Now, users have digital tools rich in customisable, graphical data. Users can see their past and evaluate their present situation. Most importantly, they can easily explore the effect of future decisions and plan accordingly.
However, like the iCloud or mobile phone payments, this jump is too big for many users to make in a single bound. We need multiple steps before a customer is comfortable using digital graphs to understand their financial situation.
We began thinking about these changed when we took Tristan’s boring mortgage statement and prototyped a more engaging experience, where customers can plan for a variation in how much they pay each fortnight, and anticipate how interest rates might change.
We imagine customers choosing these variables at the start of their loans, but being able to adjust them later on. The graphs we made for this prototype wouldn’t be right for everyone, but customisable modules could comprise the right combination for many users. Then, when these graphs start appearing online, customers will already feel familiar with them.
But why would banks want to do this?
All this sounds great for the customer, but we believe that it’s also better for banks, too. On a purely superficial level, transparency is great marketing. Customers like honest companies, who acknowledge when things are tough, and try to make them better.
The first bank to make things better will undoubtedly win customers for years to come. In bank language, this is the reverse of ‘reputation risk’, which is the pillar of new holistic bank risk management strategies.
We all know that banks are having a reputation crisis, especially after the GFC, for using and abusing customers. A lot of banks are using huge advertising campaigns to improve their images, but helping people be more personally in control of their money means that customers will be happier with their allocation of funds.
Even if customers pay off their loans faster because of a system like this, it just opens that customer up to make a new loan, likely with the bank that already made them happy, or refer their family. The width of the slice might be smaller, but it could be of a bigger pie.
It might start with just a paper statement, but this is a road leads to happy, stable customers. If banks misstep their customers might be left behind - or with other banks. We’re sure that the first user-centred bank to make the journey will have a hoard of customers going with them.