Bricolage is a podcast for makers, made in the united kingdom by dominic morow with new episodes more or less every week!

Engine of More: Making it easy

Engine of More: Making it easy

I have a tweet pinned to my twitter page, maybe you’ve seen it?

What did I mean by this in a Hackerspace context? I’m talking here about design. When you need everyone doing something you make it so doing anything else feels totally wrong.

You’ve heard the phrase, good design is 99% invisible (also an excellent podcast named for the same idea). When we say that good design is invisible* what we mean is you don’t notice that something HAS been designed. An easy example of this is ergonomic design. The practice of designing items to entirely suite the users of the item. For instance you toothbrush fits in your hand and is the right size to fit between your gums and your cheek, it’s also a good length to not tire your arms and wrist whilst you operate it. The toothbrush of course, did not come off a tree, it was designed and has been through some evolutions to get it to the item we take entirely for granted today.

* I would not feel right if I did not point out that design is invisible to many of us who are fit, and entirely able in our movements, vision, dexterity etc and as is often the case, there are many people for whom “one size” does NOT fit all.

Let’s talk about Poka-yoke.

Poka-yoke is something you are incredibly familiar with but never notice too. It’s almost certainly a defining factor in your modern life. Take the British 3 pin plug. You can not plug the 3 pin plug wrongly. It will not go into the socket upside down. If the earth pin is broken the socket won’t work. It is essentially fool-proof in terms of how to push it into its socket. Compare the 3 pin UK plug with a USB cable. How many times have you ended up flipping a USB cable over because you tried to plug it in wrong? Or plugged it into an ethernet port because weirdly it glided right into that socket hole? The UK plug doesn’t suffer this way. This is Poka-Yoke. A form of idiot-proofing if you like.

If you have a process that is so important absolutely everyone in your hackerspace needs to do it, you need to make it simple. What do I mean by simple? Not simple in that YOU can do it, simple in that anyone can do it, so simple in fact, that to do anything else would make us feel odd. Like walking against the arrows through an Ikea kind of odd*.

*sure I do this all the time, but I know I’m being subversive.

What simple does NOT mean, is simple to YOU. Writing something up in GIT HUB might be simple to you, it does not mean someone who never uses GIT HUB will find it simple, same goes for a mailing list or a Wiki. What we’re talking about with simple is not the same as stupid. By simple I mean that no one has to do something outside of their normal ability or visit somewhere strange or learn some new skills. Of course there really isn’t anything wrong with learning new skills, but when you absolutely need everyone to do something, the simpler it is, the more likely it is to get done. Make your processes as simple as possible for everyone. Still not getting done? It’s still not simple enough.

Making a simple process is not in itself simple. It requires combinations of ergonomic design and poka-yoke. It needs to be thoughtful and not judgemental. Do not rely on that old staple of “common sense” there is nothing common about our sense, except laughter, don’t touch hot things and red means danger, and even some of those are questionable.

I like the bins at McDonald’s with the big wide open mouths and the target at the back. I don’t 100% know their story, but I like to think it goes something like this.

“Good god Ronald, people keep throwing their McDonald’s wrappers out of their car windows in the parking lot. We HAVE trash cans right-there in the lots. Why don’t people JUST USE THEIR COMMON SENSE and decency and get out of their car and walk to the trash cans? I mean, my god Ronald… whats wrong with this generation? We’re having to hire extra people just because they won’t get out of their cars to put stuff in the bin.”

The point of what I am trying to say is this. There is no point in getting angry and wishing people were different. Instead accept that people are going to do the thing that is easiest in the moment (and they’ll do this for an infinite number of reasons many of which might surprise you) and make it so easy to put the stuff in the bin without leaving their cars. By making the bins big enough to toss the rubbish from the car window right into the bin you’ve made it so easy to do, it would be foolish to do otherwise or more likely downright subversive, which of course is a whole other story for another time.

Today’s thumbnail was taken in the car park at Sleaford McDonald’s.

Engine of More: Bikeshedding

Engine of More: Bikeshedding

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