Designing Out Behaviour

On designing out behaviour:

Make the easy choice the right choice.

The first instinct of most people when presented with an unwanted behaviour in others is to try to change it (by talking, training, putting up signs). It’s understandable. I get a lot of well meaning advice about this, often from parents, teachers, managers etc - people whose job it is to manage the behaviour of others, and if that were my job it would be good advice. But it misses a few salient facts:

  1. It’s not my job to manage the behaviour of others and I don’t want to give up my job in order to do that full time.
  2. Agency Carers are badly paid and exploited, overworked and constantly jerked around. They quit a lot and no bloody wonder. You get different ones all the time. You can invest weeks or months of your life training one and they leave the next day. It’s not like having children, where you get the same ones to work on for 16 years!
the recycling system that stumps all comers
  1. Bureaucracy is pointless. Nobody reads signs. That’s just life. The sign reading people are almost wholly the signwriting people and are blissfullly unaware of the other population, who press OK on every dialogue box and have never opened the instruction manual for anything ever, or even clicked on page 2 of Google. The sign readers don’t know this about life; I occasionally toy with the idea of a series of signs explaining it to them. :P
every week I am asked if this is a battery
  1. There’s a limit to what people can absorb and remember, and with complex care that quota is taken up with life-critical information. If you load people up with cleaning protocols and laundry sorting preferences, they may take your ADR response procedure or postural care less seriously. It’s dangerous to confuse your wants with your needs. You have to prioritise.

Another way to think of it is that there are behaviours YOU can adopt, which is a more pragmatic and effective approach. One more observation/dictum that is pretty useful to know:

Dictum: Don’t change things unless you have to.

A surprising number of people cannot generalise information and apply it to new contexts. Especially at work, where, frankly they often don’t want to be there at all: they may be exhausted, getting divorced, on medication, you know? This isn’t their home. This isn’t their life, and that is ok. Some people learn to do things as a kind of “dance” that they act out each time. At work, they are like the automatic breakfast machine in Back to the Future. They will put the dishwasher on every night even if it’s empty. They will feed your cat until he is sick. If you change the context they are lost and will do weird things you can’t anticipate. Stuart calls this secret option 14b.

It’s better not to try to address this (see point 1), just approach it as a design challenge.

So, armed with this information, a different approach is needed. We call it designing out behaviour. Another way to say it would be make the easy choice the right choice.

Zone, group, place

The sink zoning is a good example. It’s easier to use the hand towel right there than walk into another room and use the cat’s blanket, so that’s what everyone always does. The hand sanitiser is right there, so people use it. Similarly, the washing power is always next to the washing machine. Everything safe for Stuart to use (cleanser etc) is in one drawer, right where the pull out table is for a bed bath. Whatever you need should always be in the first place you look. So, this may seem obvious but: pay attention to where people look for things and consider putting those things there. If you don’t need it, get rid of it.

Try to think up mnemonics for people and repeat them as you show them things. Stuart has two large drawers for his clothes. I put his bottoms in the bottom and his tops in the top, and I repeat that out loud as I show people. If you have something you need in two places then buy two. It is easier in the end. Group things into stations. Put like with like. Be prepared to simply throw away anything that needs any special care. You cannot have cast iron pans or cashmere jumpers. It’s actually fine! They are only things and things are not very important. Accept this early and cheerfully and your life will be happier.

You know the housewife’s axiom: don’t put it down, put it away? That’s a behaviour modification, that you might teach your children so they are tidy. Well if you REMOVE surfaces then things will get put away without teaching anybody anything. Take away tables, block up ledges, buy chairs with slippery or rounded backs. Make it so there is nowhere to set anything down and people will automatically put it away. They won’t even be aware of it.

If people don’t put clothes in the laundry basket, try moving the laundry basket to where they are throwing the clothes. Look at desire lines that emerge in your home and, as much as you can, build your systems along those pathways.

Think of the flow of humans as a river - you can divert the flow, edge it around a town or dam it up in places - but you can’t really stop it. Figure out how to best direct the energy, with as little ongoing cost to you. You don’t argue with a river, you build a watermill.