A couple Stanford d.school students try converting people on the freeway



A friend passed me on a video of a project designed by some Stanford d.school students. The process and explanation of the project is quite smart, though their hypothesis maybe not so much and the results were kind of dangerous to all involved. Taking on the issue of the daily commute, they wanted to disrupt the normal highway flow by driving slower to get people to consider that maybe driving wasn’t the best option. Their process in the video makes sense, but what works on paper isn’t always the best idea in the real world. “One guy tried to run us off the road” goes one of the slides as they described what happened when they drove 60 mph instead of the legal limit of 70 mph. To be honest I was like wtf—if I was driving I’d be angry too. While the video is a great example of showing design process I’d say the actual results we far less successful and were possibly a failure. What one person considers disruption another might consider it as design anarchism.

There was no call to action—people were forced to drive slower, but instead of turning that anger from the people driving behind into something positive they just left people angry. There wasn’t any two way communication. While it wouldn’t have been any safer they should have placed a piece of communication on the back of their vehicle to explain what they were doing. Even with a sign it would have been a dangerous stunt. In the end I’m not sure they accomplished a lot of actionable items. Are any of those drivers affected by that one day of slowness going to change their behaviour? Probably not. Would a billboard have been any more effective though safer—again probably not.

Changing people’s behviour through design has never been easy—consumer behaviour maybe, but not necessarily people’s day to day life. In some respects it’s like trying to convert someone to a different religion or turn a beef eater into a vegetarian. If people don’t want to do it, they’re not going to do it. There’s also a balance between righteousness and trying to make the world a better place. It’s a tricky line in the sand for people to consider. As we do live in a democratic world that people can consider options, a better design would have been to set a goal that can be measured through actionable items. Anything that is more about awareness is a good idea, but how will you know if you’ve made a difference?

EDITORS NOTE: 2 hours after the initial post and passing them on some feedback they emailed me this video explaining some of their results.

and in the email “Thanks for your feedback! Based on the feedback of you and a few others, we’ve made another version to cater to a non-design crowd. By the way, we did have signs on the back of our cars, but that was not apparent from the video. The hope is this second video is interesting enough to start getting people’s attention, and then begin spreading through the web.”

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  • http://www.mlarson.org/ Mark

    A few years ago, some students at Georgia State University did the same thing for a student film festival, with similar pissing-off-the-public results: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B-Ox0ZmVIU