Changing Behavior Can Be Fun

I stumbled on a fascinating project sponsored by Volkwagen called Fun Theory. The idea is simple but elegant. Design “games” that are fun to play and teach lessons about the importance of taking care of the world at the same time. It’s not too hard to design objects to contain hidden values that enter one’s consciousness when they are used. The challenge is to get people to use them. Some examples are built on making the objects impossible to avoid, like a speed bump or a two-button toilet.

When you encounter these artifacts they break into your consciousness and become present. After repeated encounters, you take away the lessons and embedded values they transmit. The speed bump teaches us that street crossings are dangerous places that motorists need to be aware of. The two-button toilet teaches us that there is no “away” to where the stuff goes and that we are responsible for our actions.

The Volkswagen projects enlarges this general concept through encounters with artifacts driven by “fun,” rather than by force. This link takes you to the site where you can see all the entries to the contest. I was particularly taken by the bottle recycling station shown in this video.

Another one aims to educate children about energy through a playground with interactive games that demonstrate how hydropower works for example.

The ideas are terrific all by themselves, but some of the videos are very clever and a pleasure to watch. The one above about playgrounds was submitted by a design class at the Olin College of Engineering, a relatively new school in suburban Boston. I gave a lecture to the class shown in the video. They are very serious at Olin about making sure every student gets an experience of learning through doing in the design courses. When these students and the others involved in all these clever designs get out into the world, I would expect to see a lot of change happening and a lot more fun in the process.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” Carl Jung