The cobbler’s children have no shoes.


Studying for MACE has introduced me to the concepts of ‘Design Thinking’.

To the detriment of my sanity it has also made me consider the wider aspect of “Design ‘What were they’ Thinking?”

Kingston University is widely considered to have one of the best furniture and product design courses in the country. The University has a highly regarded business school; design, architecture, engineering and environmental sciences are areas of excellence. Yet, sometimes when I look around the campus I find this hard to believe.

My experience of the Frank Lampl building is a case in point. Here we have a modern purpose-built site designed to provide a venue for lectures. So why is the lecture room I sat in laid out in such a way that a proportion of the class can barely see the screens? Those at the edge are at too obtuse an angle and those in the middle have a large monitor in the way. What were they thinking?

This weekend I spent two days in a room full of Environmental Studies students with the heating on full and the windows wide open.

And… don’t even get me started on the room numbering and signage around campus.

Fortunately, our assignment this week is to observe a system and identify a problem that the user encounters. We must describe a few ways that this problem could be solved through changing or adding a role, a rule or an object based on Corinne’s USER System Model.

I am going to look at just one element of the University’s Environmental Management System.

I am going to examine the bins.

As part of the Kingston University’s Environmental Policy it commits to: the minimisation of waste through elimination, reduction, reuse and recycling.

How very admirable!

When one goes into the Postgrad cafeteria at Kingston Hill it is easy to see the policy in action.

There are a row of colour coded bins for recycling [Rules] that allow students and staff [Users] to divide their refuse [objects] into paper & card, plastics, cans and landfill.

Obviously we all want to avoid putting as much as possible into the landfill bin to the benefit of all stakeholders [community].

So when the genii [Designers] that came up with this plan decided on the best way to communicate, facilitate and implement this system did they use design thinking?

Consider the paper and card bin. We are in a cafeteria. The ‘objects’ that will be going into this bin are mostly paper cups (round) and sandwich cartons (triangular). Admittedly some people may also want to throw away some notes – but what will user normally do first? Screw them up into a ball (spherical). So, what shape did they make the hole for this refuse? That’s right – a narrow slit of course! So where do all but the most committed environmentalists put this waste? In the landfill bin naturally. Arrrgh!!!!

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I don’t blame them. With the bins as the ‘objects’ the ‘rules’ of this ‘system’ suggest to ‘users’ that their ‘role’ in this ‘community’ is not to recycle paper cups and cardboard packaging.

I’m sure with a little observational research and some quantitative research to measure what is actually being sent to landfill that could be recycled a pretty reliable figure could be ascertained; which when extrapolated across the campus and over the academic year would add up to quite a frightening/disgusting volume and a tonnage that makes a mockery of the underlying rules of the system – the environmental policy.

How could it be improved? Well we could ask a 6 month+ child. Making the apperature of the bins suit the waste going into them would be an obvious solution with the most significant impact. In fact, doing away with the ‘shape sorting’ all together would be the best idea. While we are at it, let’s get rid of the rigid bin containers all together and have strong transparent (biodegradable) bags that hang from frames with relevantly coloured rims. The ‘users’ could clearly see where their ‘objects’ are supposed to go on approach (some civic minded people might even be tempted to fish objects out if they see a mistake has been made). In fact, the social pressure on the ‘user’ exerted by the ‘community’ being able to clearly see where they are depositing their ‘objects’ might cause them to observe the ‘rules’ more closely. And, the relevant ‘role’ player in the community could more easily see when the bins are getting full and need emptying.

The colours coding is a good idea, but let’s at least apply a bit of intelligence to it and change the ‘rules’. The colour red is almost universally recognised as meaning ‘stop’, ‘caution’ or at the very least ‘pause and think’. So would it not make sense to apply the colour red to the bin for landfill? Then white for paper, blue for plastics and grey for cans. Would a simple change in the rules like this help reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill?

For the maximum efficiency we could play around with the roles within the ‘Community’. At the moment the onus is on the ‘user’ to classify and seperate the waste. But, what if instead of just disposing of it, the role of the refuse company was also to separate it all properly off-site? It might cost a bit more money [rules] but in theory it would be most efficient. If all these changes were made in combination the extra cost might be minimal in relation to the improvements and kudos of having an Environmental Policy that’s not just all hot air.


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  1. Pingback: Eve, my first persona. « Macedefence's Blog

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