Do you take the car or ride your bike?
It’s a small, everyday decision. But in some sense, it’s a perfect distillation of a much greater struggle. The bike stands in for personal fitness and social responsibility. The car is the avatar of convenience.
Keymoment is a clever concept that forces you to acknowledge those competing forces. The wall-mounted keyholder has two hooks, one for your bike key, one for your car key. If you grab the bike key, you’re out the door and on your way. If you grab the car key, the machine drops the bike key on the floor, forcing you to stoop down and pick it up. At that point, you have both keys in your hand–effectively giving you a second chance to weigh your options.
The device was created by Matthias Laschke, a PhD student at Folkwang University of the Arts, in Germany, and Marc Hassenzahl, his advisor, as part of a collection called Pleasurable Troublemakers. Each project in the series is based around some small annoyance, nudging us to change our behavior for the better. The Never Hungry Caterpillar, for example, is a power strip that battles vampire draw. By squirming around when your devices are powered off but still silently sucking up electricity, it’s a little visual reminder that unplugging is preferable for conserving energy.
Where designers are so often focused on efficiency and ease, Laschke and Hassenzahl are interested in friction. Through its elegantly engineered inconvenience, Keymoment introduces a new decision point in the days of weak-willed commuters. “We thought that picking up the key from the floor is literally like picking up and revising your options,” Laschke says. “With both keys in your hands, you have to choose, you have to do something. This choice is deliberately created by disturbing a routine. It creates a moment of choice after a routine choice has already been made. It’s a bit as if turning back time.”
Using friction to change behavior isn’t necessarily a new idea. Clocky, an alarm clock stocked by the MoMA Design Store, jumps off your nightstand so you have to physically get out of bed to shut it off in the morning.
You want to give people the chance to make a better choice without turning them off on your product altogether.
Pleasure vs. Pain
The challenge with these sorts of interventions, however, is fine-tuning that friction. You want to give people the chance to make a better choice without turning them off on your product altogether.
Laschke and Hassenzahl are deeply sensitive to this dynamic, and they take great effort to balance the “pleasurable” and the “troublemaker” in their work. Each device “deliberately tries to make the friction bearable,” Laschke says. In the case of the Keymoment, you can always just put the key back on its hook, or leave it on the floor. Moreover, the holder is designed so you can put the keys on top, circumventing the mechanism for a day or two. “You can even cheat the thing by changing places of both keys,” Laschke points out. Now you have a key rack that favors you driving your car.
All of these tiny considerations amount to a certain level of built-in forgivingness. That, in combination with the cheeky way Keymoment makes its intervention in the first place, are central to what Laschke sees as “good” friction. Bad friction, he says, would be something that didn’t offer alternatives, or that strictly prescribed behaviors requiring superhuman willpower. “When it comes to changing habits with interactive technologies, most designs are rather precise. Serious, strict and very persistent,” he says. “They do not acknowledge that failing is human.”
A Partner, Not an Enemy
Instead of forcing people to deal with a house full of “righteous nuisances,” Laschke yearns for objects that become “partners in crime” in changing our behavior. Figuring out exactly what those accomplices should look like, however, will require some careful thought. The occasional mischievous alarm clock aside, friction is a relatively unexplored element of the designer’s toolkit. “We cannot rely on available design knowledge alone, especially not in contemporary industrial design or interaction design,” he says. “Both have a tradition of making objects convenient.”
That doesn’t mean Laschke’s notion of good friction is incompatible with some of the other trends informing cutting-edge product design. In fact, you can imagine how this sort of object could be made even more effective with a small dose of internet of things-style intelligence. Call it smart friction. In this future version, Laschke suggests, Keymoment could stop itself from dropping your bike key during bad weather–and perhaps be a bit more persistent on a particularly resplendent day. “Nobody wants to ride the bike in rain,” Laschke says. “Keymoment understand this. But if the weather is good, what actually keeps you from taking the bike?”
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