Design Culture Salon 18: Is designing for behaviour change ‘creepy’?

Friday 20 November, 6:30pm, Clore 55, Victoria and Albert Museum

Design for behaviour change has been one of the most compelling instruments of design practice in fields from politics, marketing, transport to urban planning. The concept has received enthusiastic reception by many inside government, who apply ‘Nudge’ principles in the formulation of policy. Design insights are regularly applied within PR and advertising strategies. But many critics of behaviour change are uneasy about the ethics and morals of this mode of design thinking and practice. This critique has a long history, since the publication of Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1957) to the more recent criticism of the influential Nudge (2009). So, how justified are these concerns? What are they based on and what are the alternatives?  Is there a better way of articulating what we mean by ‘creepy’ or being more transparent about the motives and techniques of designing for ‘behaviour change’?

Chair: Dr Dan Lockton, Research Tutor, Innovation Design Engineering, Royal College of Art

Dr Simon Blyth, Founder of Actant design research consultancy
Professor Peter John, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, UCL
Dr Phoebe Moore, Senior Lecturer, Department of Law and Politics, Middlesex University
Dr Alison Powell, Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Communication, LSE.
Dr Jessica Pykett, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham


Simon Blyth founded Actant in 2011. Prior to this he was Head of the European Food and Beverage Practice at the design and innovation consultancy IDEO. Over the past years his clients have included: SAB Miller, Mondelez International, Bacardi Global Brands, Department for International Development, Nestle, Unilever and Premier Foods. With a PhD in Sociology, he’s passionate about identifying ‘cultural opportunities’ and designing new ‘social practices’ for his clients. Simon is regularly invited to write and speak on material culture, design thinking, the sociology of consumption and consumer insight. Recent publications include ʻDesign Thinking and the Big Society: From Solving Personal Troubles to Designing Social Problemsʼ,ʻThe Dig: Is Archaeology the New Ethnography?ʼ and ʻRe-thinging (typo intended) Market Researchʼ. Simon has taught at the universities of Bath, Oxford and Southampton .

Peter John joined UCL in September 2011 as Professor of Political Science and Public Policy. He is known for his books on public policy, such as Analysing Public Policy (2nd edition 2012) and Making Policy Work (2011). His book with Keith Dowding, Exits, Voices and Social Investment: Citizens’ Reaction to Public Services was published with Cambridge University Press in 2012 and with Anthony Bertelli (NYU), Public Policy Investment by Oxford University Press in 2013), a study of how governments approach risk when selecting policies. He is currently using experiments to study civic participation in public policy, with the aim of finding out what governments and other public agencies can do to encourage citizens to carry out acts of collective benefit. This work came together in a book with Bloomsbury Academic, Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Using Experiments to Change Civic Behaviour which was published in 2011.

Dan Lockton specialises in the links between design, understanding, and human action, particularly with respect to behaviour change for social and environmental benefit. As Visiting Research Tutor in Innovation Design Engineering, he supervises PhD research in areas including cybernetics and the Internet of Things, design for behaviour change around product repair, and applications of synaesthesia in design. From 2013–15, Dan was a Senior Associate in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, as part of the Age& Ability and Work & City Research Labs. Dan was previously a research fellow at WMG, University of Warwick, and a research assistant at Brunel University. For his PhD at Brunel, he developed Design with Intent, a multidisciplinary toolkit for designers working on behaviour change.

Phoebe Moore is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Middlesex University. She has been teaching International Relations and International Political Economy since September 2000 in the United Kingdom and has published a number of books, articles and reports about labour struggle, industrial relations and the impact of technology on workers’ everyday lives. Her PhD is from Nottingham University was entitled ‘Neoliberal Globalisation and Labour Struggle in South Korea’. She won the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) Post-doctoral Fellowship at that time, served at the University of Manchester. Dr Moore won the British Academy/Leverhulme award from the small grants scheme to research the use of self-tracking health devices in companies. This project is entitled Agility, Work and the Quantified Self. She is lead Social Scientist researching the project The Quantified Workplace at Colliers International and has published her first report on the project on the company’s website.

Alison Powell is Assistant Professor and Programme Director of the MSc in Media and Communication (Data & Society). she researches how people’s values influence the way technology is built, and how technological systems in turn change the way we work and live together. She is currently working on a book about technological citizenship and governance in data cities and Internet of Things-enabled ‘sensing cities’ and working on several projects related to citizenship, cities, data and ethics. This work tries to understand the discourses, practices and governance structures that are part of our society’s orientation towards data. Her past research projects have looked at community wireless networking and its policy impact, digital rights activism in comparative perspective (including Net Neutrality and the opposition to SOPA and ACTA legislation) and the expansion of open source, DIY and hacking culture from software to hardware to open science.

Jessica Pykett is a social and political geographer with research interests in citizenship and the practices of governing, the geographies of education, and the formation of neurological and psychological citizen-subjectivities. Before joining the University of Birmingham in September 2012, Jessica was a lecturer in Human Geography at Aberystwyth University. Here she worked on a Leverhulme funded grant on the ‘Time-Spaces of Soft-Paternalism’. Previously she was an ESRC research fellow at The Open University and has held research positions at the University of Bristol and Futurelab Education. She is co-author of ) Changing Behaviours: On the Rise of the Psychological State. (2013).

This is a free, drop-in event. No need to book.
Directions to Clore 55 here. 

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2 Responses to Design Culture Salon 18: Is designing for behaviour change ‘creepy’?

  1. Pingback: Two-faced: Looking back and forwards | Architectures

  2. Pingback: Two-faced: Looking back and forwards | Imaginaries Lab | Dr Dan Lockton

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