Not only does design make our lives better, it shapes who we are. Design changes us.
Design does not get its due in India. Most people think of design as decorative, without realising that design is intrinsic to every part of our lives: from the beds we sleep on to the plates we eat off, the phones we are on all day to the cities we live in. And not only does design make our lives better, it shapes who we are. Design changes us.
The Ugly Indians understand this well, and when they started work on a project to clean up dead flyover spaces in Bengaluru, they turned to design in order to change and influence human behaviour. And it worked! There are hardly any posters on the flyover pillars now — and if a few crop up, they are flagged off quickly by vigilant citizens on social media and it becomes a news story with negative publicity for the company that sponsored the posters. This happened recently when a few Uber posters appeared overnight on pillars at Anand Rao circle and was picked up as a story by news outlets leading to a bit of an egg-on-face situation for the taxi aggregator.
[Update: Uber subsequently denied the posters had been put up by them or any known associates. “These posters use the wrong logo, contradict our brand guidelines and employ an ineffective not to mention illegal marketing strategy. We are investigating this on priority and WILL ensure that the individuals responsible for this act face the law,” said Bhavik Rathod, GM South and West, Uber.]
But how did this happen, and where does design come into all this? A few months ago, the Ugly Indians started a project in Bengaluru called the UFO (Under Flyover Operation). The aim of the UFO project was to prevent ugly posters and flyers from being stuck on flyover pillars. Working with the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike), they realised that removing the posters did not really work — new ones came up faster than they could be scrubbed off, and the never-ending cycle of removal and repostering left the pillars looking ugly as hell.
The group found a solution to this based on behavioural design. They figured that if the pillars are painted and brightened up, the frequency of posters coming up reduces drastically. UI believes it is human nature to make ugly spaces uglier, while there is an inherent tendency to preserve nice and and clean-looking spaces as they are.
But there’s more to it than that.
Why were these particular geometric patterns in vibrant colours chosen, and how do they work? Well, there’s a very well-thought out design process behind that. According to the Ugly Indian, this 3-D Pyramid Design works to deter posters for the following reasons:
1. The design is exactly at the same height that posters appear (eye level).
2. There is NO SPACE between design elements to stick a poster — ALL the space is taken by the design.
3. Even if a poster is stuck, it would not be visible against this background. Any poster would be visually vanquished!
4. This design is inclusive and meant for community participation — amateur volunteers of all ages and artistic abilities can create a good-looking finish as a team.
5. This design is easily replicable by amateurs and can be done at scale using community involvement. Mass community involvement creates a sense of ownership, and a clear signal to the illegal advertiser not to mess with work done by locals.
7. The same design template across 200 pillars and 30 km sends a clear signal to all advertisers (who often paste their posters on multiple flyover pillars) – this is a serious, ‘official’ effort and needs to be respected.
8. The design allows senior BBMP officers participate to personally and they then take responsibility for chasing down violators (if any).
9. The bright colours reflect vehicle headlights at night – brightening up an otherwise dark neighbourhood. The Traffic Police appreciates this. The poster guys usually come at night too.
10. It is an abstract design, and the colours used are neutral which indicate that this work is apolitical, and not leaning to any religious, caste or ethnic bias (this is critical). There is no message either – that would make it no different from an illegal advertisement however noble the message. The Traffic Police also does not like messages on pillars – it distracts drivers.
The project shows that civic problems can be solved using behavioural psychology and smart design as opposed to laws, fines and enforcement.
Basically, when you believe in ‘kaam chalu, mooh bandh’, good things happen.