The New SL Website

I haven’t been very consistent with blogging these days, the truth is I have been busy working with students developing the Sustainable Living Departments New Website.  In block 8 I taught a High Performance Team Building Class that did the marketing research, implemented the marketing research through the web site design, developed the website, and created an 80 page marketing plan for future classes, all with in a month.  WOW! Go Team!

We felt the  Sustainable Living Department should be marketed for students by students. So here it is, please have a drive of the Beta SL Site.   All Feedback welcome. MUM Sustainable Living WebsiteColin Heaton and I will be writing a case study on this unique pedagogy  and will be working on a publication next year.  Stay Tuned.

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Visual Thinking: Key Skill for Sustainable Change Makers


Click to exspand: Wordle

Change Makers:  Visual Thinking is a critical skill that we must develop to help influence positive social change.  Why?

  1. Gets People’s attention quickly
  2. Helps us to learn faster and more effectively
  3. Lets people do their own thinking
  4. Helps us tell stories


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Aesthetic-Usability Effect and Sustainability

Can bad visual design slow sustainability efforts?  If the Aesthetic- Usability Effect holds true-you bet.  First lets see how  Ashley Towers operationalize aesthetic usability effect in her blog post.

The aesthetic usability effect is where a user will perceive an attractive product as easier to use than an ugly one. It doesn’t actually matter if they are easier to use or not they are perceived as such so users will make subconscious concessions and overlook many difficulties. The seminal work on this principle is “Apparent usability vs. inherent usability: experimental analysis on the determinants of the apparent usability”. This is available for ACM members to download from the ACM Portal (If anyone knows of a freely available source for this paper please share it in the comments!). The conclusion from their abstract nicely sums things up though:

These results show that the apparent usability is less correlated with the inherent usability compared to the apparent beauty… This suggests that the user may be strongly affected by the aesthetic aspect of the interface even when they try to evaluate the interface in its functional aspects and it is suggested that the interface designers should strive not only to improve the inherent usability but also brush up the apparent usability or the aesthetic aspect of the interface.

The aesthetics of a product have far reaching consequences. The desire to posses attractive items is an innate part of the human condition and we should use this to our advantage. All other things being equal, when comparing two products:

  • The attractive product will be perceived as easier to use. Ease of use is often a criteria in purchase decisions – easy to use products require less training and support. So by improving the attractiveness it increases the perceived ease of use – improving the chances of making a sale
  • Users will be more likely to develop positive feelings towards the attractive product. This can lead to:
    • Positive reviews – leading to more sales
    • They’ll tell their friends – resulting in more sales leads
    • They’ll tolerate faults more – reducing support calls
  • The attractive product will be perceived as of higher quality
  • And, perhaps most importantly; customers may overlook feature deficiencies so they get to use the more attractive product

Spending time and money on the outward appearance of your product makes a lot of sense and that it can more than pay for itself in increased sales. So, if users are complaining that your product isn’t user friendly it might not be a problem with the interface mechanics – it might be their way of saying that it isn’t pretty enough!

With that being said have a look at the photos below showing the same technology, most likely same 25-30 year warranty.

Which do you think will last longer?  Which makes you feel like you would want it if the price was right?

Comments welcome…

Good Idea, Bad Design

Good Idea, Good Design

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Over Coming the Bystander Effect to Increase the Effectiveness of Sustainability

All people have had the experience of being out in public and witnessing a situation that made them feel uncertain of what to do. Consider this scenario: a teenager screams as he is chased down a city street by a group of rambunctious fellow teenagers. Does he need help? Should someone intervene, or is it just a teenage game? People on the street stop and look and then glance away, confused and uncertain as to the appropriate response. This phenomenon is called bystander confusion or bystander effect: the tendency for individuals in a crowd to avoid helping another person who appears to be in need. The psychological explanation for bystander confusion is that the uncertainty of the situation (i.e., does he need help, or is he joking with friends?) causes people to look for cues from other people to tell them the appropriate response (i.e., call the police vs. ignore the noisy teens). The others present are equally uncertain, and interpret everyone else’s lack of action to mean that action must not be appropriate. The group becomes locked into uncomfortable, mutually reinforced inaction. Though it seems counterintuitive, the likelihood of individual action decreases as the number of bystanders increases: more people doing nothing increases the social perception that “nothing” is the proper response.

Environmental writer Janisse Ray has likened our current world climate situation to a society-wide case of bystander confusion. The analogy also works equally well for other social and sustainability issues. For global climate change, the comparison is this: despite urgent warnings from scientists that something must be done, most people have made few personal changes. When one looks around, one sees people making a few minor changes (perhaps changing light bulbs) but nobody appears to be taking the kinds of significant steps that might actually be commensurate with the urgency of scientists’ messages. Thus the social cues tell us “Serious action is not the appropriate response. The appropriate response is small action or ‘wait and see.’”

How do you break bystander confusion? In fact, the cycle of inaction dissolves at the first sign of someone stepping forward to take decisive action. In the screaming teenager scenario described above, a single voice yelling “Call the police!” would likely prompt six or seven of the onlookers to reach for their cell phones or even to rush to help the pursued teen.

Recommendations and examples:

• Make people aware of the phenomenon of bystander confusion. Let them know that people are often frozen in inaction simply because they don’t see anyone else taking action. Practice simple but compelling responses. This knowledge may give people the confidence to be the one to break the bystander confusion.(PSB Christie Manning 2009)

Watch the video to see a social experiment that shows text book results of the bystander effect.

Much of my new work in the “field” uses social psychology and principles of sustainability to create positive social change.

More to come on how the bystander effect was applied to the  Sustain Angoon Project.

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Open Source Ecology

Is anyone into this?    Have a look at Open Source Ecology?

Open Source Ecology is a movement dedicated to the collaborative development of tools for replicable, open source, modern off-grid “resilient communities.” By using permaculture and digital fabrication together to provide for basic needs and open source methodology to allow low cost replication of the entire operation, we hope toempower anyone who desires to move beyond the struggle for survival and “evolve to freedom.”

By our analysis, most of the technologies needed for a sustainable and pleasant standard of living could be reduced to the cost of scrap metal + labor. There is immense potential for social transformation once this technology is fully developed for building interconnected self-sufficient communities, since people will be freed from material constraints and able to seek self-actualization.

We understand that this is an ambitious task, but we have accomplished much and are making rapid progress. Factor e Farm is the land-based facility where we are putting this theory into practice. Our means of achieving these goals are meticulously detailed in the “Global Village Construction Set” and the OSE Proposal.

What are the benefits of getting a chapter started in Fairfield?  What are the obstacles?  What are your thoughts about getting this started at MUM?

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