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by Zettel 

Posted: 27 September 2007
Word Count: 947

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Neither a typo nor an invitation to my self-abnegation. Indulging a crosswording philosopher's love of pointless word-play, (that's the Philosophy part), and the modern addiction to acronyms 'HUMBLEDD' stands for Human Behaviour Led Design. More in a moment.

This is a cathartic piece, known by its technical sobriquet of a rant. But not a mindless one I hope. Come join me dear reader and let's have a go at the faceless, address-less, paperless (and that's half the problem) bastards who are raising our blood-pressure and ignoring desperate pleas to get out of our lives: yes I mean those whose mission in life is to screw up the little practical tasks of our daily existence usually under the deeply patronising and sarcastic heading of Customer Service. Or some other such solecism.

List ten infuriating things in your daily life. Don't rationalise, just let the emotion flow. Off the cuff for me in no particular order:

1. New Traffic Lights
2. Voice Mail
3. Any organisation conjoining the words 'customer' and 'service' in the same sentence. Which means most of them.
4. Call Centres
5. Bank paying-in machines
6. Unsolicited internet porn. (I pride myself on being discriminating in such matters. Please don't write in and berate me WW ladies - I am kidding. It's all sociological research. Honest Officer).
7. 'Advanced Access' doctor appointment systems which are neither advanced, nor conducive to access.
8. All mobile phone companies without exception
9. All banks without exception
10. Jonathan Ross

Yes 10 is just a playful choice. What annoys me most I guess is that amidst the crassness, crudity, unfunny obscenity, the idiot sometimes makes me laugh. Sod him.

Number 1 may surprise you but is partly what this piece is about. Nothing winds me up more than carefully thought through, expensive efforts to achieve something the outcome of which is exactly the opposite of the intention. Especially when Iím helping to pay for it.

Previous traffic light design at cross-roads enabled the pedestrian to see the status of the lights controlling traffic in both directions. Human beings being human beings, so to speak, a fair number of our devil-may-care fellow citizens would make a judgement, take a chance and whip across in the light-limbo between Red Amber and Green. Dumb perhaps. Terrible example to the watching next generation. But a calculated risk.

So the eminences grises of Highways departments with a distinct tendency to anal retentiveness, put their heads together and thought - "how can we force these buggers to do this the way they should i.e the way we want them to?" Answer - design it in. The result: CORD - Coercive Retrogressive Design. Now at crossroads you can see the status of none of the actual lights except perhaps the one you're leaning on. Your sole guide to crossing safely is the little signal beside you which means that to see when you may cross you are looking away from the road.

Human behaviour? Well a few diehard rebellious anarchists in the human family still try to beat the system but now do so blind, unable, thanks to thoughtful design to see the data critical to their judgement of risk. "Serve the buggers right" I hear you say, "they should cross properly like the rest of us sheep." Well the wonderful thing about the instinctively rebellious human species is that they will always, as a matter of pride, fuck up your very best efforts to make them conform. So, while the dutiful pedestrian is being CODed into conformity, the usual prats driving the lethal badly guided missiles we call cars, are still of course regarding all lights including the first 1.5 seconds of Red, as their right of passage. So dear reader, pity Conforming Colin our dutiful, law-abiding citizen, let alone our poor innocent children; striding purposefully forward from the signal he has received with his head turned away from the road, as he launches himself under the wheels of Ricky-the-Rep's company owned gas-guzzler jumping the light on amber. As his life ebbs away looking at the underside of the badly maintained Ford Focus resting on several of his vital parts Colin weakly whimpers - "you're not supposedÖ." Colin's Epitaph - 'right but dead'.

So a design precisely devised by clever minds to reduce risk and increase safety manages at great expense to achieve exactly the opposite because it is based not upon how human beings actually behave but on how they should behave. So kids donít learn how to make their own judgements about safety on the road having been reduced to the mental passivity induced by CORD. One day we will find a compliant frail pensioner starved to death at a busy junction because with motorists in both directions kept stealing amber and a bit of red so the road was never clear to cross.

And if you think this is a weird issue to be preoccupied about, you can extrapolate that fundamentally mistaken principle into loads of areas of our day-to-day existence, especially in the HEALTH AND SAFETY (industry) versus genuine safety debate. Why we might even induce enough conformist mental passivity to undermine peopleís common sense judgement of danger to the extent that they donít jump in the water to rescue a drowning child because that is not the right procedure. Or they havenít been specifically trained to do a water rescue in the way the anally retentive safety control freaks claim is the only way to do it right.

Can you swim? Is there support at hand? Then fuck the procedure. Save the child. The worldís gone nuts. And I was responsible for Safety for a Major Oil Company for 5 years.

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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 17:56 on 03 October 2007  Report this post
A roistering rant and very enjoyable, thank you.

I suppose you will have seen the very recent newspaper chat about doing away with traffic lights (and almost all other street furniture) entirely. Seems that in some Dutch town accidents have been all but eliminated by the simple ruse of making everyone responsible for looking out for everyone else.



Zettel at 11:31 on 09 October 2007  Report this post
That strikes me as a very good idea Richard - for the Dutch, or the Swiss, or almost all of Europe except France, Italy and UK for interstingly different reasons....

thanks for the comments


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