Connection Boxes

The Background

I was approached by Dance Base to create a collection box for their architecturally designed building on the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. It was recognised that to simply place a large collection box in the middle of the front foyer would be insensitive, unrewarding and simply not work.

As well as the obvious use of a collection box, which is to collect donations, the Dance Base team wanted to raise the awareness to their customers of the fact that they were actually a charity. They are dependant on grants and funding to function day to day and manage a range of outreach programs for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This began a program of activities and design exercises to help the design team understand the environment, the people and the design challenges.

The Approach

I was designing a product to be used by people of all ages and backgrounds brought together in one place by dance. In order to understand the people, the tutors, the infrastructure, and the environment better we enrolled in a dance class. The class I enrolled in was called an Alexander Technique class.

Being part of this class not only showed me the variety of people that attended the one class but also allowed the participants and tutors get used to me. I was the new comers into their environment. This helped to break down any barriers which allowed me to communicate with them more effectively.

To get a deeper understanding of Dance Base I asked several of the employees if they would each create a 3 minute film showing their ‘perceptions of Dance Base’. This exercise was called a ‘Video Probe’. This helped in gaining greater insights and design inspiration.

I took what was learned in the Alexander Technique class and the Video Probes and applied it to a workshop held with board members, staff and customers of Dance Base. I wanted to approach the workshop from their level, to incorporate things familiar to them, not to intimidate them with our initial design concepts.

One of the elements recognised was the use of the space by various user groups. Professional dancers, drop in classes, children interested in street dance, children interested in ballet, ballroom dancers, administration staff, and the board of directors. I wanted to create an object that connected the ‘space’ with the various interconnecting people.

This began an exploration of ‘connected objects’. The objects investigated connecting the people through a dance studio radio, twitter, flickr and youtube. Although interesting objects in their own right, upon review they were not suitable for the dance base. There was still a strong desire to ensure a financial element to the final design; the collection boxes provided this.

The Outcome

The Connection Boxes are essentially self-service communication terminals. They provide feedback through sound to the consumer directly; giving them an instant reward for their donation. Importantly they also communicate to a wider audience as inserting money in one device triggers a reaction from the rest that are placed throughout the building.

This reaction can be modified to suit a particular environment, a particular event or marketing strategy. One of the key reasons for the whole project was to raise the awareness to customers of the fact that Dance Base was a charity. This had to be done in a sensitive and considered way.

The sounds selected are important as they provide an instant reward to the user which in turn encourages re-use of the product. The greater the reward, the more frequent use, the more frequent use the more money collected.

Three objects have been created initially; the aim is to expand on this. Having three objects allows the objects to have 3 distinct ‘personalities’. The sounds projected from the devices can be for example, informative, cheeky or gratifying in content and female, male or computerized in delivery. By giving the devices a personality the aim is to promote the feeling of trust, encourage repeat use and ensure an unexpected but rewarding experience for donating money.

The objects have been designed to be distinctly different from any other collection boxes that are routinely ignored on counter tops around the country. There is a certain ambiguity about the form. This is deliberate. The aim is to create an initial interest in the object that will attract potential donators. Once the initial interest has been captured then there should be no confusion of how to use the device. There is a large area on the top of the device for instruction and branding. The money slot is prominent, protruding toward to user; this clearly indicates where money should be inserted.

The Impact

The Connection Boxes are to be placed at locations within Dance Base. A series of studies will be held to asses the impact in terms of amount of funds raised and if the devices have increased the awareness with in the community of the fact Dance Base is a charity.

The methods used to understand the impact of the designed object with in the environment will be developed in conjunction with the Dance Base team but will be transferable to different sites, charitable bodies and industry. Understanding how to measure the impact of an object within a community is an important factor of the research element of this project. The insights gained through the partnership with Dance Base will help in the understanding of the consumer experience of other self-service objects and how the designer can impact that experience.

The Development

The connection boxes have had an upgrade! Now fitted with a super strong wireless chip which means they do not all need to be connected to each other. This is much more in line with the original concept and should make them much more reliable.

They have been installed in Dance Base as of last week. They are essentially a blank canvas for the Dance Base team. I will be interested to conduct further studies with them to understand what feedback they have uploaded onto them and how successful they have been in attracting customers to use them.

As part of the feedback I will be trying to understand what makes a consumer use a self-service device? What type or level of reward/feedback is appropriate? Also, what makes a consumer use the device again and again, how can you instill loyalty in a device?

Connection Boxes Video

The video includes sounds that were created by the Dance Base team. They were deliberately fun and even slightly cheeky to reflect the Dance Base ethos, environment and marketing strategy.

For further updates, information and other design activities you can check out Steven Birnie’s blog here.

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