Design to influence user behavior

Recently, I came across the concept of using design to influence how a particular thing is used, how a particular area is managed and so on. Some good writing is on wikipedia and Dan Lockton website; particularly the architectural lens toolkit.

While I was vaguely familiar with the concept, I did not know how well entrenched it was in architecture and how cleverly it is designed that you can no longer separate the functional design with the part which influences your behavior around it.

Some examples would be in order.

An air draft near the end points of an escalator. It causes slight discomfort in an otherwise cool surrounding and hence causes people to move away and not block the entry/exit points of the escalator. I remember experiencing it in a mall in Delhi where I actually noticed it.

Park benches with arm rests in-between or with gaps in individual seats. Causes discomfort if anyone attempts to lie down and sleep.

Super market aisles which are visible from the cash counter thus forcing any shop lifter to think twice before stealing.

Such design does not take away anything from the functional aspect of the thing in question, you can still sit on the benches or use the escalators; but in an almost invisible way, these designs force you to act in the manner designed by the designer.

In fact the best designs would go completely unnoticed while still influencing human behavior.

While reading about such examples on the net, I felt so proud that, without knowing, I too had such a brainwave recently.

The courtyard in front of our house had two levels with one section being around 3 inches higher than the other. Recently, we got it renovated and put “Kota Stone” all across while still keeping the two levels.

The visitors to the house would stumble there as they would not notice the different level.  My dad was worried that one of these days someone will fall and get injured but getting the whole yard to be leveled also meant considerable expense.

So I suggested putting a separator of white marble where the two levels met. This meant that the white line was conspicuous and even if the person was not focusing specifically, the mind would register that something was different.

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The diagnosis was correct and visitors to our house no longer trip there. Felt quite good that I was following some fancy design psychology while recommending such a small change.

Do tell me if you have come across such designs or have designed something to influence its usage. It would be interesting to know.

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Non-Wood: DIY Car AC Coil Cleaning

In recent times, I noticed a few things about how my car’s AC was not performing as well as it could. Some of the problems were:

– During a long drive with AC on full speed, I suddenly found no air coming out of the vents even though I could hear the fan/blower working. After switching off the AC and driving 10-15 minutes in the boiling Indian summer, I tried the fan again and, much to my relief, I could get the  air back. (In hind sight, I suspect the AC “coil” might have frozen over with no space left for the air to flow through)

– As soon as the AC was switched off, I got a muddy smell from the AC which was not at all pleasant and forced me to switch on the AC back again or roll down the windows

– When I switched the air intake in the car from outside to “re-circulate”, I got a hissing sound as if the air was being sucked in from a small opening.

What prompted this DIY was the Rs 3500/- estimate which the Car service center gave me when I told them about my problems. On asking for more details, I was told that these high expenses were required for doing a “full AC servicing”. This entails taking the dashboard of the car out, removing the “gas” from the AC, removing the AC itself from the car and then putting everything back in and refilling the gas.

I was taken aback about this procedure because I did not expect that just a cleaning of AC should require its removal from the car’s body. More over, the AC was still working perfectly, meaning there was no reduction in cooling per-say so I was not convinced about the removing/refilling of the AC gas. There was also a big no-no about taking the dash board off. No matter how professional the workers, they cannot put the dashboard back with the same robustness as it came factory fitted, I was convinced it would lead to a rattling dashboard.

So I checked for more information on the internet and here is what I found.

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As basic information, a car’s AC is just like a split AC we have in our homes. The external part which throws hot air is located near/next to  the car radiator; that is the grill part at the front of the car.

Inside the car are the cooling coils, a mesh like metal structure which gets cold, the air flows through it turning cold and then coming out the car’s vents. These are located near the passenger side foot area. The adjoining photograph is of a Maruti Suzuki WagonR. I hope other cars have similar arrangements.

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The air inlet is covered by a plastic frame and there is no mechanism to remove it. Also, it is a bit high up behind the glove box which meant I had to lie on my back and see through the opening to have a look at the coil.

The sight was not good. Using a small flashlight, I could see that most of the surface of the coils was covered in greasy mud. The aluminium metal used in coils is very fragile and it is quite easy to bend them, as I found out when I tried to use a screw driver to try take some mud out.

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Almost two thirds of the coil was blocked with mud. I am a regular user of the car AC and although I clean the car from the inside every week or so, it was surprising to see leaves inside that area. There is no good way to remove that stuff. A long tweezer, 15-20 minutes and a blister on my thumb later, I had removed a handfull of leaves from that area. I am sure there could have been an easier way (maybe a small pipe in front of a vacuum cleaner) but I did not have access to it.

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Searching on the internet for a medium to clean the coil, I came across CVC coil cleaner. Cost me around Rs 425/- including shipping from a shopping website. Surprisingly, none of the local Car AC servicing shops had one of these, possibly to discourage anyone trying this on their own and losing out on business.

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The can came with a long thin pipe. It helped me in getting the spray to reach as close to the coil as possible. I got a few good presses of the spray and had a look again. The spray immediately turns into thick foam, almost the consistency of a shaving foam. Then slowly it starts turning into water.

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Ten-fifteen minutes into the process and the foam turns into water, taking with it a lot of grime and dirt. You should then start the car and switch on the AC at full speed. It helps more condensation to form on the coil and thus helping the draining of more residue.

I sprayed on the top portion and took the picture (above-right). You can see the way the dirt is flowing down. I emptied around half the contents of the can. I could have used up more to reach a better clean state but saved up on the can so that I could use it in my father’s car.

Before – After

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The air flow has definitely improved. There is no more the hissing sound which was coming earlier. The muddy smell is gone as well.

I am not sure if there would be any impact on the AC unit itself but for sure the overall performance of the AC has improved.

I am sure something similar can be done with a home AC without the need of physically taking the unit out. Have you done anything like that? Do share.

More so because the humid Indian Summer must be taking its toll on your AC and your electricity bill as well 🙂

Thanks to people at Team-BHP where I found lot of how-to’s and articles on this topic.

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DIY: Serving tray to Soap dish in three (w)hole steps

Step 1: Buy Service tray.

Step 2: Drill a few holes.

Step 3: Start using it.

Sometimes even the most basic DIY can give you a certain satisfaction which is hard to describe. On one hand you think about the “so little” effort required and on the other hand you marvel at what you thought of and brought to reality.

Instead of buying a normal soap dish, I thought of buying any thing which looked good even if its initial usage was not to hold soap bars. While on our weekly home shopping I found this simple service dish. Its color and shape looked quite nice and it seemed a good candidate for adding a bit of color to our otherwise staid washroom.

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So out came the drill and a few drill bits.

One small trick I tried was that after drilling the hole, I achieved a bevel effect by using a larger drill bit and shaving off the top surface. Its visible in the leftmost hole in the image below.

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Three holes and five minutes later we had an unusual soap dish in our hand.

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Do share any project where you got a good outcome by spending just some minimal effort.

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A handmade Table Light for a gift

Being buried up to my neck in work means there is no time or energy currently left for any new DIY project. However, I have as yet not documented completely the project that I introduced in my earlier post where I stained wood using tea. My sister had requested for a table lamp for her on raksha bandhan when she got to know about my new found hobby.

So I had decided to use my learning from the floor lamp. I enhanced it by using the aforementioned tea staining.

The dimensions for the table light were 1’ x 6” x 6” (inches)

This time, to get as close to perfectly aligned joints as possible, I marked out perpendicular lines on a piece of newspaper.

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These acted as guides for the gluing portion of the project. This also helped me in keeping the dimensions of the squares in check.

The result was quite good and I made both the top and bottom pieces using the same technique.

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The extra glue that is visible in the picture becomes transparent once it dries and anyway is sanded away as part of finishing. If you look closely on the right strip, the width is different and so there was a risk of skew if I aligned the wrong way. The guides on the paper below helped eliminate that. The wood strips that I used were not very consistent and I could not have much control over that. Instead I used this piece at the bottom of the lamp and got away with it 🙂

Combining these two sides to make the frame of the lamp was a bit tricky and I got carried away and forgot to take a picture for that arrangement.

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If you see closely, there is a small off-set between the top (stained) and vertical frame. I decided to have this so that the paper is “inside” the top and bottom and gives a better visual effect than when all pieces are flush with each other.

Once the frame had dried up, I sanded it up to 320 grip emery paper and then used tea to get a wonderful golden hue.

For the lighting part I just used a bulb holder to be placed independently of the lamp frame.Bulb-Holder  I used the one shown at the bottom of the picture. It was much easier than trying to have something attached to the frame and I let that effort pass.

I taped the bottom of the holder so that it hides away the wires and acts as a kind of protection against accidently touching the wires.

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The end result:

A very happy sister 🙂

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Wood n Paper Floor Lamp

Here’s my latest attempt in the DIY world. A wooden floor lamp with Paper Cover.

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The result is a bit of a saving grace because I learned a lot of things which work  and which don’t in this project.

For this floor lamp, the intended dimensions were: Three feet high and six inches wide & deep.

I started with half an inch thick wooden strips. After cutting them to the desired length with a handsaw, I lightly sand-papered them with emery paper number 80. This was to remove any splinters from the wood surface and also make it smoother. There was no need to smooth-en it any further because I was going to attach the paper on it. In case you want to make some kind of removable cloth or paper cover, you may want to smooth-en the surface further.

I decided to nail the wood together. Not a very good idea. The wood strips are very thin and also it is difficult to keep the long and small piece exactly perpendicular while nailing them together.

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Because of the fact that I could not figure out a very good way of nailing the wood at 90 degrees, the result was a slightly skewed frame. Although not visible in the photograph above, there is a slight bend towards right.

Anyway, moving on, I attached some wooden board at the bottom to act as the base for the eventual bulb holder.

Not visible in the frame picture (you can see it in the top photo) is the support I added halfway in the frame. In hindsight, I don’t think it is required and also breaks the clean view when the lamp is lit.

I found a very beautiful hand made paper at the local stationary shop and used paper glue to attach the paper onto to the lamp.

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I glued a tracing sheet onto the frame before attaching the hand made paper. The reason was to ensure that light spreads evenly inside the frame and the bulb does not see-through the paper.

To attach the paper onto the wooden frame, I placed the paper on the floor. After applying glue to one side of the frame, I placed the frame on top of the paper. Slightly tricky as the paper may move and cause you problems. You can tape the paper to the floor to prevent it.

Then, apply the glue to the next side and roll the whole thing over. You may want to rub the paper where it joins with the frame while it is still wet. This is to prevent wrinkles forming on the paper.

I just placed a bulb holder on the floor and used a 20 watts CFL (compact florescent lamp) to test. Advantage of CFL is that it gives less heat than an incandescent bulb. It also saves electricity.

The result is quite good and I am kind of satisfied with my first attempt.

What all things I would change about the project:

1. Instead of nailing, it might be better to glue the wood together to achieve close to perfect alignment.

2. The bulb holder mechanism is now raised to the middle of the lamp. Even after using a 20 watts CFL Lamp, the light was not reaching to the top when the CFL was placed at the bottom of the lamp. You can also use two bulbs at top and bottom to achieve a uniform glow from the lamp.

3. There is no anchor weight at the bottom to keep the lamp steady. Standing alone, it is ready to topple over if a gust of wind comes thru the window. Some mechanism to add weight at the bottom would be a nice add-on.

Do you think it has come out decent or should I make another attempt? Ideas, suggestions are always welcome.

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Wood Staining using Tea

I started work on a table-top lamp shade. I intend to make it with wood exposed on the top while the sides are covered using paper. The wood that I used for making the frame of the lamp is no-name cheap wood available at the corner wood working shop. It is also very light in color and so I decided to color it. There were two choices, to paint it over or to stain it. Painting it would have taken away the charm of the wood and I really like the wood grain to show thru. So I decided to stain it.

Since the surface of the wood was not very large, coupled with my inexperience in staining the wood using laakh-dana or commercial wood stains, I searched around the internet for something which I could use from household things. I found one article (link is pending) about using tea leaves to stain the wood. I decided to use the same as it appeared easy and non-messy.

It turned out to a wonderful golden brown and after varnishing the piece, it looks amazing.

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Only the top is stained and varnished, the sides will be covered with paper. I stained one side (in foreground) just to check the surface and the unstained light colored wood is visible in the background of the frame.

Here’s how you can use tea leaves for staining wood.

Based on the surface to be covered you can estimate the amount of liquid which will be required. I figured that half a cup will suffice as the surface to cover was not very large. Take around four times the quantity of water. So I took two cups. Put in 2-4 tea bags and cover the container so that water does not evaporate. Taking the benefit of the harsh sunny summer, I put the container in the sun for a day. The water had turned brown black because of the tea leaves by evening. Now, boil the water in an open container along with the tea bags till the water reduces to around one fourth the quantity, leaving you with the desired amount of tea colored water. Let the liquid cool before you use it on wood. It will be dark brown in color and slightly thicker then, say, tea.

Instead of leaving the water out in the sun for a day you can directly go to the boiling process but then you should start with some more amount of water as it will require extra boiling to reach the desired strength.

Sand the wood with emery papers number 120 or 160 till you get a smooth finish. Clean the surface with a cloth and check that the desired smoothness is achieved. Now, apply the brown liquid using a brush in even strokes. Make sure you do not apply too much in one go as it can give patchy results. Instead, go quickly thru the entire surface and let the wood dry. Do not worry about not getting the required darkness in the first coat itself. Instead let the wood dry before applying the next coat. You can apply as many coats as you want but make sure to let the wood dry out in between the coats. I applied 3 coats to reach the shade I wanted.

Once the wood has dried out, apply a thin coat of clear varnish. After the varnish has dried out, sand the surface using 160 number emery paper and apply a second coat. I found that the surface was not very smooth after the first coat but was quite smooth to touch once the second coat had dried out.

I did not use any wood fillers or chalk-putty on the wood and hence not sure how it will take to the tea-water. So you may want to test on a side before you go ahead on the whole surface.

How is it looking? Have you tried using tea or any other non-traditional stuff to stain wood? Do let me know about your experience.

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Tools first or results first: the cycle seems to have started

Ever since I became interested in woodworking as a hobby (which is not very old, just to point out), I scourged the net for more information. Sadly, there are only few wood working enthusiasts based in India and hence the relevant sources of information were few. Obviously, I had questions about the tools I needed to begin following this hobby and I spent some time trying to find out what all things & tools would be required . At one end of the spectrum I found some people making do with very little in terms of equipment and still turning out amazing stuff. At the other end I found people who had turned the hobby from wood working to collecting tools. There were elaborate drills with scores of drill bits, complete sets of screw drivers, pliers and other assorted stuff. Photographed and adorned on the bulletin  boards, they seemed more to do with comparison between school kids about who has the bigger collection.

I am still trying to figure out who got the things right. At some place in the back of the mind, it does seem so “cool” to go ahead and buy a couple of routers and circular saws and such. But till I am able to do justice to the few basic tools I have got, i want to avoid going into that trap. Particularly when it could turn out to be a difficult pursuit and I could end up with tools I am no longer interested in or not able to use.

In my case, I have just got the basic stuff currently. But I would love to hear views about what others think. Does it make sense to pick up projects which can be done with your existing arsenal of tools or should one select a project and buy the tools required to execute it.

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