Category Archives: signage

Behaviour-shaping public signs

Public signs are good indicators of the prevalent behaviours, concerns, or ideal norms in the society. Here are a small collection of such public signs collected randomly during my travels in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Switzerland, India, China, Ghana, Vietnam, Denmark, and UK. I compiled these photos for THEME magazine article in 2008 (unfortunately the magazine is no longer in publication).

A few public signs are culturally unique. Most of them demonstrate the nuances of the expected norms of the public behaviours. One of my pet interests to write and dig more about in the future.

HIV prevention awareness signage in UP

HIV prevention awareness

HIV prevention awareness signage in UP

A signage for warning the danger of HIV and promoting the use of condoms, found across in Uttar Pradesh.

Rural health center in west Karnataka

Getting condoms however may not be an openly accepted behavior. In rural health centers, they try to distribute condoms for free, but people may not visit the center while others can see. One solution to the problem is to place the condom dispenser outside so that people can take them whenever they feel comfortable.

Condom dispenser outside the health center in west Karnataka

condom dispenser in a health center in west Karnataka

a rural health center waiting room in west Karnataka

I wish smart bollywood stars could do more on sexual education in India, given their influence and what they are selling, even though the reality in India is still quite harsh.

an instructional poster at a rural health center in west Karnataka

animals in our lives

Domesticating animals is a long part of human history. It is speculated that there are and will be more pet dogs than children in some parts of the world. My sister declared that her lifetime partner will be a Russian blue cat, not another human being. Her mother, in the hope of persuading her, argued: “imagine you will get sick one day – your cat cannot help you with anything.” My concern for her is more about the discrepancy of the life expectancy between humans and cats. One of major reasons why modern city dwellers have pets is for emotional attachment. In that sense, you may say their roles will not change much, but here are two provocative scenarios of ‘useful pets’:

Networked dog in Brinkland: my ex-colleague and design ‘futurescaper’ anab worked on a concept of networked dogs with implanted chips that turn them into mobile hotspots and digital data storage (you may remember Anab from her yellow chair story as i did, from ubicomp 2005 in tokyo).
Life support: Using human-friendly animals for life support, replacing the role of non-functional organs in human bodies through the ones in living animals, was shown in last year’s graduation show in RCA designing interaction, by revital cohen.

Did you think about the lives of these animals when reading through these scenarios? Would you argue that this may make their lives ever more meaningful for them and their owners? How would you compare this to the currently wide-spread practice of castrating house pets? Human race has genetically modified or influenced the evolutionary development of domesticated animals for a long time. Furthermore, we have started to see genetically cloned animals. I cannot yet form my opinion around the topic of modified and ‘enhanced’ non-human life forms, but it will surely be a space to watch.

Back to the present, I found some photos of animal-related signage that highlight public behavioral issues living with pets.

dogs_2_scary
Warning of potentially hostile dogs can be an important safety issue – or ensuring the effectiveness of employing the dog. In Japan, each household is asked to put a sticker indicating there is a dog in the house. A new sticker is issued every year, so you can guess the age of the dog by looking at the number of stickers.

dogs_3_dontbringdogin

dogs_3_notallowed
The most common sign about dogs is to indicate whether dogs are allowed or not in that space, in an attempt to promote the right behavioral norm suitable for the space.

dogs_6_onleash

dogs_4_notallowed

dogs_5_guidedog
Sometimes, dogs are conditionally allowed if they are kept on a leash. Service or ‘working’ dogs are typical exceptions. I once saw a ‘working’ dog in the underground helping a blind person. He was impressively calm and controlled in the extremely crowded tube. I don’t know how they are trained and qualified, but they certainly seemed to deserve a special treatment.

dogs_8_bigdog
In Helsinki, public parks have dogs’ playgrounds. These playgrounds are usually divided into two different kinds: Big dogs’ and small dogs’. There are a huge variety of dogs people have domesticated, and many of them still have the perfectly preserved instinct to kill.

dogs_10_waitingoutside

dogs_11_dogbarmiyakohotel
It is not so common but there are occasional facilities prepared for dogs. Some Helsinki supermarkets have hooks on the wall to tie your dogs or metal cages outside the entrance. In Tokyo, I saw a water fountain named “dog bar”.

dogs_9_dogwasteonly
Dog waste disposal might have had a leaping progress over decades but I don’t think I have witnessed it in my lifetime yet. Considering the elevated level of hygiene standard, it is unbelievable that some dog owners let their dog soil the neighborhood under their surveillance. After all, it’s the density that makes the waste disposal a real problem. So as pet dog population increases, we may see stricter rules about this in more places around the world. In places where dog walking is popular, you will see dedicated bins only for dog waste.

dogs_14_cleankamakura
Perhaps your dog will one day be your guide to behave properly in public space?

dogs_13_dontletdogmarking
The text-heavy orange sign below is a request from the district health center asking residents to forbid dogs from marking in the neighborhood. Considering that marking is a fundamentally instinctive behavior of a normal dog, it is an indirect message to tell the residents that they should either not walk in the neighborhood, or seek surgical solution.

dogs_12_donotthrowpetsaway
A disturbing phenomenon of all this is that there are a lot of pets that are discarded by humans. In Kamakura, a quiet neighborhood outside of Tokyo, I found this sign saying that throwing pets away is a crime subjected to a fine of 300,000 yen (~1800 pounds).

I recently watched the movie A.I. (artificial intelligence) with bitterness. As appearance can be deceiving, robots that perfectly replicate human children would always spark up much more debate and emotional reaction than (hypothetically) equally-able teddy bears, thus making it humane vulnerability. A mighty robot engineered to pursue its dream without any constraint subjected to the rules of its environment seems fundamentally violating the basic rules of the robot engineering, or the very virtue of all ‘beings’. More so, if the appearance had no bearing on what it can be capable of, as it will defy our own human instinct that we developed over the long path of evolution. Will our relationship with pets change? Will the functions of the pets get ‘enhanced’? Will we adopt new species of pets of our own creation? How will we evolve our notion of ‘the right thing’ to do when it comes to treating and living with non-human beings?

dogs_15_puppyseller
This last photo was taken in Seoul a few years ago. She is selling puppies on the street. She didn’t have much business going on, but surely playing with all her puppies kept her busy.

I am looking forward to my sister’s cat, Summer, next week in Seoul. Even though I have cat allergy, I always look forward to having him lounging around me.

service availability / discovery

By the entrance of a convenience store in Seoul, stickers indicating the service offerings available in the store are shown – all printed in a standardized size. The potential to make the service availability indication digital, making them searchable and discoverable remotely? Who would be the right organization / institution/corporation to take up the role to issue such a standardized service availability database?
kor_sel_combini011

Stickers are:
A brand of newspaper
A mobile phone charging service; Payment options called pre-p
Door-to-door delivery service; Bill payment
Cash receipt for taxation; Loyalty membership scheme
Cigarettes

Listing that, I realize how much I miss these always nearby, always available convenience stores in Korea and Japan…

stimulus

what types of stimulus allow for maximum imagination of viewers’? and when does the maximum imagination become just too much to make any sense?

it is certainly an important question in designing products for which people’s opinions matter but the present lifestyle and environment does not provide sufficient experiential references to the subject. as for the experience of a researcher/designer, this phase is the most tricky part because it is all about a game of stimulus-interpretation-linkage process, for the researchers, the facilitator, and people participating in the research as opinion givers. personally this phase can be also less fun compared to the exploration phase because of the pressure of making decisions and conclusions. no pain, no gain.

spent last week in these rooms, first time to be back since 2004. it was most refreshing to see once again how vulnerable this method is to numerous factors – the stimulus material, facilitator’s cultural/domain knowledge and ability to improvise, tone of the voice, translation, recruitment, group dynamics, and whatnot.

leaving the packed lunch, caffeine overdose, lack of natural light, and midnight dinners behind, happily landed in singapore for a couple of days.

* top photo: ‘welcome – OL (office lady) or beach girl’, osaka, 2008
* second photo: signage for a strip club, tokyo, 2008

visual examples

as we all know – some messages are delivered much more efficiently by the accompanying visual examples, though they may not be an exhaustive set.

a restaurant/bar in rio putting up a sign saying that they have the right to reject those with inappropriate or ‘minimal’ clothes.

rio scenarium bikini

at the domestic airport in osaka, this post gives a pre-warning that certain types of shoes will be subjected to security inspection before passengers are entering the security check area.

osaka domestic airport

video calls: intrusion potential

i read a short korean newspaper article today about sexual harassment through video calls. illustration below & the original article from kyunghyang.com.

sexual harrassment through video call

according to the article, the reported callers disabled the caller identification so the receiver could not judge who the call was from before deciding to take the video call. one of the victims captured the video call with a camera and reported to the police. the victims said that the received video calls showed either masturbating scenes or exposed genitals. another sexual harassment case was also reported on a man who repeatedly made video calls of sexual nature to his (ex)girlfriend. the article urges a solution to prevent harassment attempts through video calls as their impact on the victims can be more substantial than text based messages or voice calls. particularly, in these cases, police failed to identify the callers through the mobile phone operators because of the caller id protection, which did not seem to have been designed for cases like this. if you can read korean, the original article is found here.

i pick on this as it is a good example of abusing a useful tool: can there be a smart design solution that could prevent or reduces the impact of the abuse without compromising the regular, normal usage (including the phone, calls, and the caller id function itself)? or a solution that would discourage people from attempting so to begin with, like advertising the existence of the surveillance cameras? the intrusion potential does become higher as the bandwidth of information transmitted through each communication session increases as with the potential benefits. furthermore as mobile communication channels diversify, it is important that people can be still in full control: how do i want to be connected and disconnected? this question has so many facets that relevant answers may (have to) come from – device user interface design, communication infrastructural design, legal enforcement, transformation of social norms, personal lifestyles and preferences, competence in using the device. people have incredible ability to adapt to or reject changes and the trade-offs between the cost and the effect will be always assessed before it is fully integrated as a behavioral change.

perhaps my past project called ‘defined delivery‘ may be a slightly related example of a design work on the topic of increasing mobile communication modality and therefore the social sensibility. the zest of the concept was that text messages can be delivered to the recipient in the desirable / desired context as the sender intends to, as this is our natural communication behavior. for voice calls, it is not rare that we ask upfront to the recipient whether it is good time for a call, implying that the caller does not want to interrupt the recipient and/or the call needs to take place in certain contexts – be it the recipient’s physical state or attention level, or the noises from the environment. translating the same principle into text messaging context, we designed and built a new messaging prototype application on Nokia 7650s that enabled the sender to define the context in which the message should be delivered (in fact notified) to the recipient. the prototypes were tested with a group of high school students and the result of this work was presented at CHI 2005, and the presentation can be available upon request to jung at younghee dot com. the official conference paper can be downloaded here (but beware of the boring language if you are not familiar with CHI paper format).

without going further on speculating the specific design solutions to relieve the mishaps of the intrusion potentials of the video calls, i would like to jump onto a simple example on how japanese people came up with solutions against sexual harassments in crowded commuter trains. have you have been to one of those super crowded trains which designated personnel to push people into, wearing white gloves? all illustrations are from other websites – click on the image to go to the webpage where it is originally posted from.
beware of chikan

it is difficult to identify the owner of the hands in an extremely crowded, confined space. and even if you do, it is not easy to deal with the situation when most passengers are under time pressure without being able to move freely. one solution is to designate women-only metro cars during peak hours.
women only metro car

another is to raise the public awareness of the fact that being ‘chikan’ is a criminal act through posters and signs. photo below is from jan’s weblog.
chikan is crime

there are a number of personal mobile accessories designed to prevent ‘chikan’, like a pen-sized stun gun or an alarm buzzer.
alarm pin

the legal system has also developed to promote victims to report cases. but it seems that the side effect is also substantial as once accused, it is difficult for men to get away with it. read these humorous tips for men below about avoiding false accusations of being chikan, with the original article in japanese found here.

[ excerpt from mari’s diary ]
No.1 Don’t stand behind women. especially you should skip beautiful woman.
No.2 If she misunderstands and glares at you, never look away. You should glare at her back. There was a precedent case that the testimony “he looked away, so I was convinced he was the molester” was accepted in the court.
No.3 Unfortunately when you are misunderstood as a molester, you should never go to staff room in the train station with her, even though she insists. The law of criminal procedure permits the immediate arrest by a private individual. If you follow her, it means you are arrested by her and she can turn you in the police. To take the best chance of clearing yourself, you should leave the place after giving your contact address to her.
My friends say they try to read a book using both hands, or one hand in the bag and the other holding on a strap.

surveillance techniques

Do you check your surroundings before you decide to quickly pick your nose, or adjust your underwear nowadays? We are increasingly aware of possible surveillance around us. Many authorities assume their legal right to place surveillance cameras, often as a measure to provide better security. In some countries, encouraging everyone’s participation to keep an eye on the suspicious people or objects may be necessary for the common good of the society. In some places, the signs of surveillance may be used as a measure to prevent people from misbehaving.

In Korea, a country technically still in truce, there’s a dedicated phone number, 111, to report spies (North Korean or industrial), terrorists, or international criminals. The rewards for reporting spies or spy ships are also clearly written in the commonly found posters: Approximately 65kEur for a spy, 1.5 times more for a spy ship. Having the dedicated phone number for turning spies in is a practice with a long history, which provides immediate ways to act for those who are willing and have access to voice calls.

surveilence_seoul01.jpg

111 number korea

An ad placed in buses in London encouraging people to be alert about the “suspicious”. Less direct than the Korean approach, but it at least stopped me to think about what would be appropriately suspicious enough to tell the bus staff or police.

london bus suspicious

london bus sign 2

In Helsinki, you may see stickers very visibly indicating the existence of surveillance cameras even though you don’t see the camera itself on taxis or in the airport. The camera icon without any written description implies that people would understand the meaning of the icon being the function of surveillance cameras.

helsinki camera icon

helsinki camera icon on taxi

The more typical signs possibly built with the intention of amplifying the effect of having the surveillance cameras are easily found in UK. The first sign is from London, second from Whistable.

london street surveillance sign

london surveillance sign

Buildings with security companies behind them often display the company logos on the building. Perhaps the reputation of the security company among the petty criminals in the neighborhood is something we would need when selecting which company to turn to.

london surveillance house

In buses or metro stations in Tokyo, this sign featuring big eyes are often found. It is issued by the Tokyo police department, read “We won’t let evil escape” – a message very indirect, but probably functions as a reassurance of the police’s presence.

tokyo police slogan

In addition to the formally established surveillance mechanisms, the emerging form of surveillance is enabled by the majority of individuals carrying recording and communication devices – as already discussed 3 years ago in South Korea over the ‘dog poop girl’ incident.

Leaving the debate on the good and the evil of the citizen journalism enabled by the proliferation of digital tools aside for now – I am wondering how people’s public behavior may be influenced by the implicit potential of people near you reporting your bad or good deeds. ‘Nearby’ people may be those who share the same physical space and time or communication channels like a chat session or a wifi hub with you at the same time. With digital devices’ increasing ability to capture contextual information such as location coordinates, reconstructing a coherent scene or a story with digital data collected by hundreds of people will become relatively easier as well.

Surprisingly a lot of people see mobile phone as a useful tool to capture evidences to prevent lies or fraud and to be used against future disputes in our recent work hosting a mobile phone design competition called Open Studio. On the other hand, the rejection for adoption may be well on the way as well. During the first trial of Lifeblog prototype in 2002, some people showed the fear of collecting the comprehensive personal mobile data including their whereabouts. It was the fear of giving up the protection of ambiguity, the plausible deniability when the usage of technology becomes widely known and adopted.

That leaves another interesting question: How would people drop out of, or at least minimize their digital traces and minimize contributing to create others’? We are probably not expecting stickers and badges showing “this person does NOT have cameras” or “this person will NOT use cameras”. One of the memorable Ubicomp conference talks was on the interesting concept of creating capture-resistant environment, preventing camera phones to take photos by overexposing photos attempted in the region covered by this technology. While I am sure there are certain types of places this technology would be very useful, I do have my doubts if there would ever be any technology successfully controlling people’s digital behaviors.

geneva – a pragmatic city with european warmth

I had a chance to visit Geneva, Switzerland for a few days to attend LIFT08 conference. I only had a few hours of sightseeing, but it came across to me as very pragmatic in a way that people have optimized the design of the city for living over time. Here are a few things I noticed from its public space. I didn’t have the luxury of the local’s commentary on my observation, so I would welcome any other thoughts.

The trash collection bin was all metallic and left in the middle of the road, which I found unusual. Cornavin is the area where the central train station is, so this may be an exception.

geneva trash bin

The newspaper dispenser accompanied by a recycling bin.

geneva newspaper distri

An oversized road sign for the school area. This supports our experience in crossing streets. It seemed that pedestrians had the right of way wherever there was a mark for crossing without a traffic light. My colleague and I were honked at because we were waiting for the car to pass us. Having such an overt sign for the school area makes sense if this rule is in any way legalized – in giving the car driver the responsibility for protecting the pedestrians at crossings. This habit was not easy to adopt as it is counter-intuitive in any other countries I have been to. I wondered how residents here coped with this when they went abroad. As a german friend of mine nicely puts it: “I don’t know how many Germans and Swiss people have died because they thought they had right of way in other countries.”

geneva school road sign

Another rare sight was the trash bin combined with the traffic light post, a benefit of being the neutral country.

geneva traffic sign

The typical park signs – dogs and plants.

geneva park sign - dog/flower

I liked the intuitive flushing buttons at the toilet in a restaurant somewhere in the old part of the town – removing the questionable moment of wondering which one to press for number 1 or 2.

geneva flush

A sign that seems to go well with the city.

geneva yes to all

Empathetic Service Mindset

I rarely have a chance to travel with Korean Air except when I visit my family in Korea. However – whenever I travel with them, I can’t help smiling at their one unique service:
Stickers for the passenger sleeping or away from the seat during the inflight service.

If you had experienced waking up in the middle of the flight hungry, or even worse – woken up by a persistent flight attendant who wants to fulfill his/her duty by distributing the goods to you, you will appreciate this little attention to detail. There were two different kinds of stickers I have seen in Korean Air flights.

This simple sticker was used during the domestic flight from Busan to Seoul, of which the flight time is just 45 minutes. It was put on by the flight attendant during the complimentary drink service.

guy sleeping

real grey

This set of stickers were in the seat on the 2-hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo, so that the passenger can choose appropriate ones to put on the seat before going to sleep or any type of ‘rest’ mode. A suitable variation of the same service intent when there were more types of services offered.

grey sticker

The definition of a good service may be inherently subjective. We probably all have our own opinions on it, as we surely know the feeling of being served properly. Restaurants are probably a good place to discover the meaning of a good service mindset that suits you. Personally, I started to distinguish services in general in two criteria:

1. Ones that are motivated by the server wanting to be recognized
e.g., In a very posh Indian hotel restaurant, the waiters came to our table every other minute to ask ‘Is everything alright?’, interrupting our conversation every time.
e.g., In a busy restaurant in Tokyo, the waiter cleared the plates away from the table immediately when I was eyeing on my last bit of the remaining sauce.

2. Ones that are motivated by the server’s empathy to the served
e.g., In a restaurant in California, the waitress brought a new fork as soon as she noticed me dropping mine on the floor.
e.g., In a restaurant in Seoul, the waitresses roams around the restaurant and refills the kimchi plate constantly till your meal is almost over, which allows adjusting the amount of kimchi served to each customer, without the customers always having to ask for more portions.
e.g., On a rainy day in Osaka, a cafe owner offered me an umbrella as I was paying the bill. She must have noticed that I didn’t bring one despite the weather, and discreetly offered it to me at the right time.

I draw a parallel between the real world services and the interaction design solutions in computer software or mobile phone service. Both take a great deal of understanding of the individual clienteles’ preferences and recognizing the intentions of the situations that are not explicitly communicated. And it is becoming more and more complex to do this as many design solutions are done to serve a large group of individuals with extremely diverse cultural backgrounds. Given the complexity I find my two simple criteria for distinguishing the restaurant services helpful in deciding features in service design that should be done invisibly or automatically, from the ones that you should prompt for the user’s decision based on contextual observations. Something that our old friendly office clip understood well – but executed rather poorly.

Most my references come from my restaurant experiences, but increasingly from inflight services. So far, my worst bit of inflight service experiences was the BA flight attendant refusing to help me with loading my luggage because she was not insured to the injury incurred by helping me”. Services are a tight interaction between the server and the served. Sometimes external constraints like BA’s policy on its employees prevent the server from providing a good service. It was nice of her to explain the reason for not helping me at least – as I could use some sympathy towards her rather than feeling angry. A nice gentleman helped me with the luggage anyway.