Category Archives: united kingdom

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.

phone booth

Have you used a public phone booth with a door for purposes other than using the public phone? It is used as a shelter from a sudden rain, using mobile phones inside, changing clothes, rearranging the bag, or even crying for a while if you must, though being inside a phone booth proper is becoming a faded memory for many. With mobile phones, choosing the physical environment in which we make a call is often up to us. In the early phase of adoption of public phones, phone booths were advertised as essential tool for privacy, making the caller feel more comfortable. Now, some places force mobile phone users to use the phone booth for the comfort of others around the caller.

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In any case, I reckon that designing a phone booth is a challenging task, satisfying the need for privacy as a comfort zone for a voice call (regardless of whose comfort that is) while minimizing the opportunity for exploitation and valdalism by making it too private and comfortable at the same time. With the vast diversity of the telecommunication culture, I always feel that the design of the surviving phone booths still communicates the attitude of the space that they reside in.

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This booth, in front of Meguro station in Tokyo, has semi-ransparent brown walls. It is complete with emergency numbers and a printed phonebook. On the door is a sticker that bears a warning to those attempting to place pinkupira*, issued by the police.
* pinkupira: the kind of advertisements you would find in London’s landmark phonebooths, like this – though it seems to have become significantly less as sexual advertisement became illegal in 2001 in UK.

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This is from London’s old street tube station. With space constraints and the heavy traffic of people, these public phones do not resonate with the concept of comfort or privacy, but serve the necessity of anyone who needs to reach out to someone quickly and efficiently (especially tourists, nowadays).

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This phone booth design in Paris seemed fairly new, very spacious inside and totally transparent.

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These pictures were taken in New Molden, Surrey – London’s suburbia. I never saw anyone using the email / text function in public phone. Booths for silent communication – through keyboards, gestures, screens, would probably require a whole new set of design brief.

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The classic London phone booths, in Smithfield market.

shine a light

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Korean Cultural Center is hosting an exhibition titled ‘Shine a Light‘ at the moment, till March 2009. The artist, Jeonghwa Choi is an unusual artist who is dedicated to observe and understand all forms of everyday life. The space he creates is memorable and touching, if you are in the resonant mood, without being pretentious; it leaves plenty of room for you to make the meaning and an experience out of it.

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It is a bit of late notice, but together with the exhibition curators I will be co-mediating a casual panel discussion with the artist on February 5th, 2009 at KCC near Trafalga square, London. It starts at 3pm.

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The exhibition will be on till March 21st, 2009. The exact address of Korean Cultural Center is Grand Buildings, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5BW.

About the exhibition at Art Rabbit

sharing resources: street car

I don’t and can’t drive a car. And I do not wish to change that ever. But the concept of Streetcar: self-service pay-as-you-go-car is still intriguing. I don’t know how successful they are, but it does sound like they found a niche market for city dwellers that need a car just occasionally for those unavoidable ikea trips, or big grocery shopping days – considering most regular car rental companies have their pick-up and drop-off locations for out-of-city travelers or foreign visitors. It is a business model that is made possible because of the substantial percentage of their customers booking their cars through internet and mobile phone calls, micro-managing their rental duration, location, reservation changes, and post-payment with credit cards. Streetcar states that it takes just 60 seconds for the booking information to reach the specific car, and charges are made by the hour.

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Having witnessed all the failed examples of free city bikes where bikes ended up miserably valdalized, I was surprised to see that the condition of the streetcars was really good, without any sign of coercion present in the car itself like cctv, or sensor monitoring any damage to the car.

This business model does have the potential to increase the inherent value of the resource, provided that it is helped by tools for effectively managing and negotiating its utility and the supply-demand is on balance. What other commodities could we expect to adopt this model? Chain saw? People’s excess leisure time and skills? Storage space?

Streetcar membership card is indeed another near field communication device. As people’s wallets are getting populated with more than one of these cards now, I wonder how the industry will cope with the presence of multiple NFC-enabled devices at the point of input.

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Better pictures and videos of UK’s streetcar are found on the company’s website: http://www.streetcar.co.uk/

shopping carts and independence

My neighborhood grocery provides two types of trolleys – one with a holder for shopping list (or whatever your reading material is), another with a baby seat. While I haven’t seen anyone making use of these considerate installations so far, the idea is easily understandable.

waitrose shopping cart, london

waitrose shopping carts, london

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These handcarts by no means are provided as a standard in the society, so the question is how many of us are willing to and able to modify our future behaviors once they learn about the availability of these tools? To make use of these carts, it would involve writing the shopping list on something that can be clipped on the board, or bringing the baby without the buggy. Depending on your existing habit, this all may require planning in advance in order to turn these into your benefit – if you want so.

Leaping from this stream of thought (even though these shopping carts are not even a brilliant example), not many places in the world provide supporting tools in the first place for those who want to shop or take public transport with disability or carrying a baby without other people’s help. Even if there were tools, for one part, it is about how easy it is for people to discover the use. Once they discover them, it is a matter of how adaptable people are in planning their behavior accordingly to make the appropriate use of them.

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I tried to put my folding bike into the shopping cart. I wasn’t told off by any of the staff, so not having a bike lock doesn’t discourage me from dropping by at the grocery on the way home anymore.

counter-intuitive, or thought-provoking

my first days in london were hosted by a hotel in a bustling city center. the close-to minimalist interior of the hotel was compensated by the very mixed set of interface designs – mainly door knobs and light switches, which may be seen as annoying at a first glance or confusing, but which i came to enjoy as an experience of pondering on my temporary living space.

the room key literally looks like a mechanical key – but it was just an electromagnetic stick. so i could not put the key in and turn it. but then i tried to push the door in without turning the handle. the handle, in a smooth sphere shape, was quite difficult to turn to open the door.

key inserted
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was it just my good mood that i took the counter-intuitive interface as an amusing opportunity to take a break from the routine of unconscious actions? without causing any harms to the user, i think it is important not falling too much into ‘annoyance upon the first time use’ in designing things and ideas. design that gets better over time – a dimension that is increasingly important for me in design – does not always cater well for the strangers.

st martins lane hotel room

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

airport mess, humanity, digital divide

circling around

i was one of the unlucky who was heading to heathrow airport on wednesday, feb 20th, 2008. the natural disaster was the fog. my flight from helsinki landed as my flight to back home to tokyo was taking off somewhere in the nearby runway.

to make the day more memorable, my gigantic suitcase came out with no wheels. the ticket sales booth had such a long queue that the customer service desk didn’t want any more people to go there. but instead, i was given a phone number to call the next day and a polite and vague request to find a hotel room on my own in london, with a tip that all airport hotels were already fully booked.

the work

to make my time more useful i took the trouble to report the damage on my luggage, while searching for a vacant hotel room on my laptop. by the time i reached the agent past the thorough open-bag-search security screening, i had already called about 15 hotels in london which were all full that night.

the nice lady

i couldnt help but sharing my frustration with the lady at the counter that there’s no vacancy in any of the hotels and that BA wouldn’t/cannot do anything about it. she paused for a perceivably long moment. when she started to speak, her face brightened: “you can stay with me tonight. i finish my work at around 10pm, if you can wait for me.”

i was lost for words for a longer while. i never expected anyone working in that bloody bleak airport in a particularly spectacular chaos could possibly be so kind. she gave me her mobile phone number to show how serious she was. touched by her kindness and my embarrassment of not believing in the good of humanity for a while, i thanked her and left the place, doing more eager search for the vacant hotel room late on wednesday night with my 23kg of broken luggage.

this is my second experience of missing a connection here. if you dont have a laptop with wifi access and a mobile phone and do not have home in the nearby area, beware: the internet terminals in the departure area block all access to hotel/airline booking websites. the one and only hotel reservation center at the airport charges you not only the booking fee but offer rooms at the seemingly over-the-rack rate. mobile internet connectivity was a bliss for me to eventually find a room at 300 quids/night, but i felt the strange guilt leaving the airport full of people still queuing for their turn to find some hope to get out of there, as if i lived a very brief scene of digital divide.

had i had any tool for finding out – would i have saved another person or two with me from the temporary misery that night? would we have started to collaborate in that space and context to find a sharable solution instead of standing passively in that queue? it is appalling how our actual life contexts are still so absent from the potentially useful tools that we all are using for playing around. but that night, the real question for me was: would i ever have the guts to accept her kindness, and what will it take for a city girl to trust a total stranger?

london sky view

I had a chance to fly to London city airport from Geneva on a sunny afternoon. Here are a few shots from the airplane. London is indeed a very green city. The city center is densely packed, incredibly sustaining its diverse mixture of architectural styles. You can also compare these views with those shot on the way to Seoul’s city airport.

Over St. Paul’s and City of London. Barbican is partially shown (on the right with two tall towers) – an area that I am considering to get a flat in.

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london view 5

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Impressive arrays of houses, which are all identical.

london view 2

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