The dominant approach in design theory is that for designing good, useful, user-friendly products, it is important to understand user needs and characteristics. However, technologies in use shape and transform user needs and behavioural routines. To improve usability, the focus must not be exclusively on user needs and characteristics, but also on the complementary aspect of how technology changes people.
The reconfiguration of behavioural routines and preferences by technology is an important topic in the philosophy of technology. To date, little of this knowledge has been transferred to design practice. The Product Impact project therefore investigates how knowledge of the behaviour changing effects of technology can be integrated in product design. Can Product Impact knowledge help to anticipate and avoid use problems? Is it possible to design products that deliberately guide and change user behaviour? An explicit part of the project is to consider the ethical dimensions of this view on technology and the profession of design.
- The pitched roof of the trash bins at Dutch railway stations prohibits people from leaving stuff on top of the bin and guides them towards desired use (the cup in the picture didn’t stay without a trick).
- When the extraordinary curve in this bicycle lane in Paris makes you smile, this may also suddenly make you aware of to what great extend our every day movements are guided and constrained by technology.
- The usability of this remote control is very poor. Users even got confused about what was the top. The sticker (taken from a piece of fruit) at least solves this problem, by guiding users when picking up the thing.
The Product Impact project aims to improve understanding of how users change in the process of interaction with products, and to integrate this knowledge in design practice, by means of a Product Impact Tool. In this way, the project contributes to improved understanding of human-technology interaction and the practice of design for usability.
Method and results
The Product Impact research has resulted in papers and publications on relevant theories about product impact and usability, on changes in humans and society in the history of design, and about analysing the ethical aspects of behaviour changing technology. These publications can be found on the results page and on the blog of Steven Dorrestijn.
Based on this research, a Product Impact Tool is being developed, consisting of a model which frames different types of product impact, and a format for organising a Product Impact Session.
In a Product Impact Session a concept, prototype or existing product is analysed with the purpose of discovering the changing effects of technology on users. To achieve this, one has to deliberately think the other way around: not from user needs to a technical solution, but from a product (or concept, prototype) to its possible effects on the user. The model with types of product impact structures this analysis. In this way user-changing effects are revealed and ideas for redesigns will be generated.
> Download leaflet: Product Impact
> Web-based repertoire of examples: Product Impact Tool beta
> Contact Steven Dorrestijn for workshops, courses and advise
The Product Impact project combines knowledge from philosophy and behavioural sciences with engineering and design in an innovative way. In engineering, technology is mostly considered as an instrumental means to fulfil human needs. In philosophy and social sciences, technology is often shown to change people in ways they had not foreseen themselves. Therefore, technology changes humans, and should not simply be considered as a means to fulfil needs that were always there. The recombination of both perspectives is innovative and promising for enhancing human-technology interaction and usability.
There have been try-out and validation sessions with the Tool with companies involved in the DfU project, using design cases provided by the companies. In this way we investigated what is the best way to translate product impact knowledge from philosophy and social sciences to design practice.
Valorisation and benefits
By means of try-out and validation sessions as well in lectures and workshops, knowledge from the Product Impact research was transferred to the DfU companies an participants of the three DfU symposia. The model with the different types of product impact and a format for organising a Product Impact Session are put together in a leaflet and can be found on the Results page.