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Responding to Modern Ease, Designers Build in Inconveniences

Modern technology has provided us with a seamless way of life, but we’ve also become accustomed to taking shortcuts.

If you’re riding in an elevator modified by Germany’s Folkwang University of the Arts, you would find yourself being dropped off at the floor below the one you requested, encouraging you to walk one flight of stairs to your destination. 

Folkwang design researchers found that most people don’t request an elevator when moving up or down just one floor, so they reasoned that people would also accept walking one flight, encouraging exercise through a slight modification of modern convenience. 

The school has also modified a standard key rack, asking you to choose between your car key and bike key. If you choose the car key, the bike key falls on the floor, forcing you to pick it and reconsider your choice. And forcing a moment of choice is what works, says Matthias Laschke, a Ph.D. student at Folkwang:

“I think it’s inhuman to force people to do something,” Laschke says. “I also think people are too smart. When they figure out this system wants something they do not want to do, after a while I think they would stop using it. That’s why this system is designed for you to cheat.”

Over at Fast CompanyAdele Peters describes similar attempts being made by other designers:

“Other designers are working on similar approaches to behavior change. A new stool is designed to wobble slightly as you sit at work, forcing you to pay attention to your posture and keep your legs active. A new desk lamp turns on only if you put your smartphone inside, helping you curb your addiction to texting.”

Designers draw inspiration from their everyday surroundings, and today, we’re all surrounded by convenience. Modern technology has provided us with a seamless way of life. We move effortlessly from parking garage, to elevator, to desk, all while answering emails on smart devices. But we’ve also become accustomed to taking shortcuts. We shirk the extra effort that gave our ancestors exercise, jobs, and perspective on the important things in life.

Milton Glaser, creator of the “I Love New York” logo, has had one of the most distinguished design careers of any living American artist. He tells Big Think his childhood inspirations and influences and charts his artistic evolution:


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