From the Frustrating Design …

The concept of ‘Thoughtful Interaction Design’ is rather self-explanatory. It may difficult to achieve but it can be as simple as it sounds. ‘Thoughtful Interaction Design’ is as simple as resolving frustration. Simply, finding the solutions to the many ‘Norman Doors’ of everyday life.

“Yes. I push doors that are meant to be pulled, pull doors that are meant to be pushed, and walk into doors that should be slid. […] The answers should be given by the design, without any need for words or symbols, certainly without any need for trial and error.” The Design of Everyday Things (1988), Don Norman.

In the case of a plausible ‘Norman Door’ solution: flat panel to indicate push and handle bar to indicate pull (as in the featured image above). A simple problem is solved by creating visibility. ‘Thoughtfulness’ comes from ensuring the design does not cause misinterpretation of the form and/or deliberation on its function. The design has to make itself visible. The reason why we are irked by ‘Norman Doors’, that we stumble upon in our everyday lives, is that they cause us to question even for that split second, “what were they thinking when they made this?” And that, screws up usability, interaction and satisfaction.

So, how do we resolve this frustrations? The opening chapter of Thoughtful Interaction Design gives us the broad strokes of how the book intends to go ahead in the discussion of what ‘Thoughtfulness’ really is and how designers can prepare themselves in applying it. Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman have also expertly helped us to unpack a few broad, ambiguous terms like design process, design theory and digital artefacts. I appreciate how they enter the topics from more of a philosophical and even ethical standpoint, with emphasis on “the relation between what can be done and what ought to be done.” What we can design is decided by the willpower to realize a sketch, an idea, a cause. I will attempt to use what I think I’ve learnt from the reading to analyse what I consider to be effective Interaction Design in the area of ‘Thoughtfulness’.

… on to the Amazing Design!

From 2009 – 2011, Volkswagen Sweden and DDB Stockholm introduced an innovative campaign Rolighetsterorin (“The Fun Theory”). This was an initiative aimed at generating design ideas that would encourage positive behaviour in the general public in everyday spaces. The philosophy is simple – society can improve its behaviour if you make it fun for everyone.


Firstly, I’d like to share here the Piano Staircase (2009). Even if you have not heard of “The Fun Theory”, it is highly possible that you come across this one on some social media platform. It went rather viral that year.

Basically, the plan here was to see if interactive design could make people choose to take the stairs instead of the escalator when exiting Odenplan subway station in Stockholm. The staircase was transformed into a life-size piano, each step fitted with sensors that play different musical notes activated.


Kevin Richardson’s idea is also an equally whacky one. His award-winning project, The Speed Camera Lottery (2010), was installed on a public road in Stockholm, aims at promoting road safety by encouraging drivers to obey the speed limit. The contraption recognizes who is speeding and who isn’t. Speeders were fined and the non-speeders then got themselves registered into a lottery to win money from those speeding tickets. (Random Thought: When I came across this, I was thinking whether it is possible to make paying for our ERP fun too?)


In those two examples we have seen how “The Fun Theory” proves itself. But more than attesting to the fact that fun in design can effectively convey the design concept and induce satisfactory interaction, I feel that what made the design thoughtful is the ability to address human needs. The Piano Staircase employs the ‘bystander effect’ in which people tend to follow the patterns of other people in new or unfamiliar situations, in this case arriving at a surprising ‘delighter’ of hearing the musical notes tingle underneath their very feet. Also, whether or not we are musicians, tapping piano keys and creating ‘our own music’ satisfies the human need for autonomy. And people do realize that they choose the healthier option for themselves at the end of the day. The Speed Camera Lottery employs ‘gamification’ to satisfy the human be possibly rewarded for sticking to the rules. We never get recognize for doing good because perhaps being law-abiding is taken for granted and maybe punishment doesn’t hurt enough.

These are just some of the aspects and strategies in the design concepts that show how human-centred design can drive a connection from designer to user through the designed artefact. There are no ‘Norman Doors’ here to create complications. No second-guessing. People understood how the design functioned and they responded accordingly. Piano Staircase saw 66% more people using the staircase rather than the escalator, while The Speed Camera Lottery saw a reduction in average driving speed by 22%. Because the designs understood human behaviour and was thoughtful about human needs, they successfully met their aims of encouraging change for the better.

Design is indisputably rooted in pragmatism. Even “The Fun Theory” projects have to show documentation and statistics to prove its ‘fun-ness’. Balance has to be found. Certainly, like what Löwgren and Stolterman have stressed in their introduction, “design can be both amazing and frustrating”. I will definitely want to delve into this further to learn more about how interaction can be better articulated through the language of design for the user. All in all, ‘Thoughtfulness’ is a quality of design that any user can and will appreciate. The gratification may not always be openly expressed but this is how designers can change the world and put meaning into the everyday.


Löwgren, Jonas and Stolterman, Erik. “Introduction”. In Thoughtful Interaction Design A Design Perspective on Information Technology, Massachusetts, United States: MIT Press, 2007.

Norman, Donald A.  “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things”. In The Design of Everyday Things, New York: Doubleday Publishing, 1990.

Volkswagen Sweden. The Fun Theory. (Accessed 10 March, 2018).