The "Unpleasant Design" book is a collection of different research approaches to a phenomenon experienced by all of us. Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of "silent agents" that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities. Photographs, essays and case studies of unpleasant urban spaces, urban furniture and communication strategies reveal this pervasive phenomenon.
With contributions by Adam Rothstein, Francesco Morace and Heather Stewart Feldman, Vladan Jeremic, Dan Lockton, Yasmine Abbas, Gilles Paté, Adam Harvey and many others, the book is in an attempt to recognise this nascent discipline within contemporary design taxonomies.
216 pages, hardcover in b/w with colour images; special book sleeve in sandpaper K240 (Limited Edition: 500)
ISBN: 978-86-910911-1-8 Published by G.L.O.R.I.A Belgrade
Edited by Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic
Pigeon-chiq-wear is a fashion collection that addresses the rise of unpleasant designs; sharp spikes at building facades, monuments, rooftops have been widely deployed in cities in order to deter birds and other animals. Such attitude to animals is seen as a metaphor for similar strategies against marginal social groups.
The fashion collection serves as playground for a future vision on wearables that exert similar authoritarian control. It explores the aesthetics of unpleasantness while at the same time highlighting its hostility increasingly found in contemporary urban design. The fashion collection was presented for the very first time in the streets of Milan in June 2014. A city that is known for its “pigeon problem”, especially around historical monuments, where most shots were taken.
The Unpleasant Design team gave a workshop at the 2014 edition of AMRO – Art Meets Radical Openness in Linz, Austria. The workshop focused on generating pragmatic and site-specific solutions for unpleasantness in Linz.
During the Unpleasant City Research Tour we identified possible targets for such interventions, amongst them the new garbage bin design for city centre; flower decorations in the area where skaters hang out; the space under Lentos museum; open wireless networks which come with take your credentials in exchange for Internet traffic… These and other examples are featured on the workshop tumblr blog.
Following a brainstorming discussion on examples of unpleasantness participants have encountered in Linz and in other cities, we decided to focus on garbage bins. The new bins installed in Linz city centre feature a surface which is resistance to stickers and similar types of dirt. We already identified this bin as unpleasant and documented it on our site. It is made of rippled curved inox surface, impossible to attach paper or similar material to. We assume that the previous version of the bin was often target to grassroots advertising and personal messages, or that this design simply comes as fashion, invented elsewhere where this problem existed.
Our goal was to re-enable citizens of Linz to advertise and communicate on this surface, thus reclaiming a part of public space back from Unpleasant Design. For this purpose we created a ‘sticker-friendly mat’, adapted to the ripples on the bin’s surface. We first took a sample of the ripple pattern using a crayon and a piece of white paper. We copied these images and created a cutting template for the holes. We cut out the pattern on cardboard sheets and installed several of them onto the bins on Hauptplatz (Main square).
Our colleague and book contributor Nikola Korac designed a poster highlighting the exclusive garbage container situation in Belgrade.
The recent change of Belgrade’s garbage collection system is being investigated by Vladan Jeremic in our book “Unpleasant Design”. It systematically performs social segregation based on design implementation. His essay “Greedy containers” focuses on the hidden politics on garbage removal of the city of Belgrade in which authorities deployed a waste container system that strategically eliminates any third-party usage purely by its design. The result is the profit for a few companies on one side and on the other side, displacement and removal of entire settlements of Roma people into the outskirts of the city without a proper social welfare programme.
Unpleasant Design: We use Unpleasant Design as an umbrella term for all objects, devices and strategies aimed at influencing behaviour of people in ways that benefit particular social groups. It understands a design approach in which social impact is an inherent feature, preceding ergonomics or usability in the design brief. In our research, we came across your Camden bench, and other designs you created for urban spaces. Your website is one of the rare design sites where unpleasant design is explicitly listed and embedded in the design brief. How much is your design approach influenced by the Camden commission?
Factory Furniture: The ways in which seating is used in public areas has always interested us and in particular the effect of its use will have on an area. The positioning of furniture in urban areas has its problems and can attract anti social behaviour which can be unacceptable to residents especially if it is seen as a meeting place for groups. Ultimately we just like to produce well designed furniture, but the Camden was an extreme bench for a very specific brief. We have learnt a lot from that commission but we are firm believers that if you produce a good environment the problems of anti social behaviour are also reduced.
UD:The Camden bench is not your first “unpleasant” bench, if we might call it so. You feature numerous designs that “naturally deter skaters, rough sleeping and provide minimal surface area for tagging”. What inspired you first to focus on these design features?
FF: The Serpentine seat was our first public furniture design launched in 1991 and our first foray into the world of landscape furniture. At this point we noticed some very specific points of that design when compared to what was on the market at the time and noticed it was difficult to spend much time on if you were lying down and that the seats were not so prone to tagging or to skate abuse. We identified the main points about this design which encouraged its positive use and promoted these features as a way of not only promoting the product but to also draw attention to how behaviour can be manipulated to good use in design.
From Chindogu to NSA Unpleasant Design workshop given at the Urban Kinghts event gathered some inspiring designers, artists, and theoreticians around the topics of design, exclusion, discrimination and participation in the urban environment. We formed a small think tank to cogitate current trends in urban design and the social control inherent in them.
Having set for our goal a design that will enable only a particular behaviour, we considered Berlin-specific behaviours like bottle collecting, hipsters, walking with babies, drug dealing. We listed different persuasive and coercive design techniques that could target these groups (for example facial recognition software could be used to match criminals but also to distinguish whether somebody is a hipster).
In the light of the multitudinousness of ongoing protests against different forms of oppression, and the pending economic crisis, we decided to focus on businessmen. Our businessman is someone with rather uncomfortable routines, having a strict dess-code, always carrying a briefcase, always after creating profits. Although probably enjoying his income, he is somebody who has very little time for day-to-day joy, and he rarely gets to express his own beliefs. Thus, we decided to work towards enhancing the life of a businessman with a multi-purpose suite which can be worn to regular business meetings, while at the same time serving as a kit for spontaneous, sudden protest. What we came up with is a set of designs that subvert standard businessman’s outfit into an urban protesting kit.
We are happy to announce a talk and a workshop within the Urban Knights series of events on urban practices and real-world situations organised by Teresa Dillon.
After a successful experience at the Lift Conference in February 2013, our next design challenge is “Between Chindogu and the NSA”. At the Unpleasant Design workshop, the participants will use persuasive and coercive design techniques to invent a design which targets a specific group, behaviour or product. We will focus particularly on technology enabled discrimination. As pervasive technology enters urban space, the configuration of the built environment will eventually change. The participants will be invited to actively take part in this change.
The workshop will be given by Selena Savic and Nikola Korac.
Workshop: Tuesday, 12 Nov, 11.00 – 16.00 at Weise7.
Places are limited. Cost €20. Book directly weise7.org Talk: Tue-12 Nov, 19.00-21.00: Free Betahaus, Prinzessinnenstr. 19-20, Berlin
We hosted a sprint-workshop at the Lift conference 13 in Geneva. Around ten participants joined the occasion to develop quick prototypes for unpleasant designs after we had brainstormed through various near-future scenarios.
We asked the participants to think about the “definition” of UNPLEASANT DESIGN, searching for techniques and tactics to be employed when designing “unpleasantness”. We then created a map of possible behaviours and/or social groups to discriminate against, out of which our protoypes were to emerge from. The following two sheets show the results of this thinking process.
defining unpleasantness: tools, techniques and strategies to be used when designing unpleasantness
the ‘to forbid list’ – a map of behaviours and social groups unpleasant design could discriminate against
Cobble stones, metal grids used on rooftops and staircases as well as soft ground materials are ideal structures where people with high-heels will have a hard-time. Fashionable victims risk ankle sprains and/or loosing their footwear. Interior architects might rethink carefully their material based on their clientele. The city of Lagos informs their visitor for “unpleasant” high-heel experience in its old downtown full with cobble stone.
Skaters (skateboarders) all around the world’s parks have become a concern of the non-skating citizens. Skating is said to damage pavements and wall surfaces (e.g. an opinion expresses in this article on Victoria Gateway square), while people pasing by can feel unsafe when exposed to possible collisions with a person speeding on the board. Different strategies are used to deny them possible skating surfaces outside of specially dedicated skating parks. Many of these strategies involve adding screws, rings, or other metal obstacles to curbs, walls, pavement edges. These are all reactions to this newly-perceived problem, they do not necessarily have much to do with ‘design’.
To the countrary, some examples found in the city of Lausanne show that the skating-prevention thinking is already embeded in the design of some newly installed benches like the one bellow. Rings on the edges here are a built-in feature of the sitting surface.
Wth this case study, we are going to and analyse the phenomenon and consequences of ‘unpleasant design’ for certain parts of population in our cities. We will do so by focusing on ‘unpleasant design for pigeons’, which itself is a niche within unpleasant design in general.
The majority of data is collected by direct observation – watching, photographing and noting different ways pigeons are prevented from landing on facades and other surfaces. We consulted documentation from mass media advertising, focusing on online resources for pigeon-deterent devices and services. We extensively survey blogs and forums where people discussed problems with pigeons.
surveillance with cameras on the streets? nothing new.
going beyond the power of video equipment based on earth, gait recognition uses satellite imagery to recognize and trace a person by the way they walk.
###HOW TO AVOID:
never walk in sunshine (avoid having a shadow);
carry an umbrella;
ride a bike;
Cameras installed on high-ways and roads where drivers are expected to drive very fast, allow police to track the cars going over the speed limit by taking photos of their license plates and then matching the image to the number. This way, they end up simply sending you a bill without stopping the traffic and having to keep policemen on the street.
install very bright LEDs around your plate, making it impossible to photograph the number;
use photo blocker spray (http://www.motorshop1.co.uk/photoblocker.htm);
install a slave-flash, triggered when you are at risk, overexposing the photograph;
For the same reason benches got handles, a new design of very short benches is introduced. These benches can fit only one person, so they prevent sleeping in public space. They are usually found in groups of three or four, presenting an image of a gathering and socialising, while actually keeping people away from each other.
An attempt of sitting on a '1 and 1/2' bench together; Vienna, May 2011
Old benches in parks used to be put there for people to sit together, so that more than 2 or 3 persons could use them at the same time. But then, people could also sleep on them, cause their average length was only a little shorter than a real bed.
In the past 10 years, there is a tendency to install benches with handles in parks, at bus and train stations. The space between the handles is enough for only one person, so people sitting together on the bench are separated by handles. This way, a body of an adult person could not fit to lay down. Because the presence of homeless people in city centres is less and less tolerated, this became a very popular solution.
All metro stations in Rotterdam are furnished with this type of bench: cold metal and handles; Rotterdam, March 2012
Recently most European cities have been invaded by large scale commercial displays which got shamelessly embedded into buildings and façades. Their main purpose is to illuminate the visual cortex of passers-bys with brands, advertisements and short excitations. During the last decade artists and designers have been encouraged to produce content for those screens to re-appropriate this quasi-private space. Those attempts hardly ever have gotten more exciting than being purely aesthetic and decorative versions of already existing screensavers and visualizations. Other artistic strategies include attacking the gist of those LED walls.
Since most of those media façades consist of a huge multiplexed grid of single controlled LEDs, their control is based on a high-frequency pulse which can be interrupted by emitting a directed high-voltage electromagnetic impulse. By doing so, multiplexed signals get slightly distracted and some dead or glitched pixels will appear. Such a device has been proposed by Martin Kaltenbrunner in June 2011 and we are curious to see various realisations of that device popping up around the globe. I guess a couple of those devices wouldn’t be a miss at Shanghai’s embankment next to the Huangpu river. A similar even though reverse effect has been discovered by moddr_ while using a self-built LED billboard consisting of blank copper wires and an AM radio for generating sound based on the current animation. A self-explaining video of that process/discovery can be found here.
So called “Anti Wee Wee”, a simple corner intervention is intended to stop men from peeing in the corner of buildings and alleys. They are made from a triangular piece of wood or metal, angled so the pee would end up on one’s feet.
After carefully examining a railing on a very tall bridge in Vevey, Switzerland, we noticed it is covered with a rough material, something of a sand-paper quality. The reason for using this material might be to discourage suicidal attempts, as the contact with the railing is already so unpleasant. On the other side, the reason might be purely hygienic, for it probably gets less dirty when nobody is touching it.
Railing on a bridge in Vevey, Switzerland that is unpleasant to touch; September 2011
Pink lights have recently appeared as a measure against teenage loitering, because they are supposed to highlight skin blemishes. When they were first installed by a resident’s association in Mansfield, UK in 2006, even though many sarcastic views were expressed in media, to the Mansfield residents it seemed like a cheap and doable solution.
Blue neon lights were successfully used in public bathrooms and publicly accessible toilets, as a means of preventing drug users from injecting themselves. Because it makes veins harder to see, it is expected that drug users will stop using these bathrooms for the aforementioned purpose.
Blue lights used in the public toilet in The Hague City Hall; men's toilet
Blue lights used in the public toilet in The Hague City Hall; women's toilet
The Mosquito device functions as a high frequency buzz (17,4KHz) is employed to keep away teenagers from gathering in publicly accessible spaces like shopping malls, street corners, courtyards, etc. Mosquito is supposed to target specifically the population under 25. Unlike their older cohabitants, the young population should be able to hear the repelling sound buzz at 5 dB above background noise levels. In practice this age border does not function exactly as intended.
The Mosquito device patented in 2005 by Howard Stapleton, was installed in the last few years in numerous spots in European and American cities, where young people would gather and exhibit the so-called ‘anti social behaviour’.
It turned out some older (more than 25 years old) people can hear the tone but at the same time not all teenagers can hear it. It became popular amongst teenagers as a ring tone for cell phones during classes, especially the ones given by elderly teachers.
Mosquito devices mounted on a street light pole in downtown Chicago; courtesy of Dave Hoffman
A lot of debate has been going on around closed circuit video surveillance in cities, since the mid 1980s when they became regularly introduced in US and later the UK. Simple video surveillance is today often equipped with facial recognition and motion tracking, to make more efficient use of the system. With the excuse of the ‘war on terrorism’, enhanced video surveillance systems have been deployed at airports, massive(sports) events, and night clubs.
un·pleas·ant Adjective /ˌənˈplezənt/
1. discomfort, unhappiness, or revulsion; disagreeable
2. obstacles, psychological and sensual manipulation in common/public space
3. … and ways to overcome it
Open Call for Submissions
Unpleasant design is an accumulation of urban phenomena in which social control is inherent in the design solution. It is playing a significant role in the way we perceive and engage in public, semi-public and private space. Can there be such a thing as intentionally unpleasant design? Can we use these solutions to impose a code of conduct in public space? Does it solve the problems or generate new ones?
We need your design solution.
Submissions due: Friday, May 25, 2012, 6 pm (GMT+1) Saturday June 30, 2012, 6 pm (GMT+1)
Unpleasant design is an accumulation of urban phenomena in which social control and its inherent design are playing a significant role in the way we perceive and engage in public, semi-public and semi-private space. This page aggregates appearances of urban design processes and tools aimed specifically at people to make them feel uncomfortable or interfere with their general behaviour within certain frameworks; hence its research title “unpleasant design”. These implementations range from architectural interventions within the built environment, to electronic devices modifying and diffusing our lived environment. Our claim is that designing “unpleasant design” is an intricate process. It is planned in detail and its execution is delicate.
When talking about Unpleasant Design as an urban phenomenon, we like to refer to historical examples from the times when the meaning of ‘urban’ was being defined. For example, one can find relevant the following excerpt from the book The Bridge on the Drina by Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić (p. 112). He talks about an ongoing negotiation process between the authorities trying to implement systematic illumination on the streets of the old casbah, and the citizens who were used to spending their evenings on the bridge, dicsussing daily topics in darkness.