Choice Architecture

Submitted by: Dave Trott 21/04/2017

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Rory Sutherland gave me a brilliant example of choice architecture.

At a school in the USA, the girls in their early teens had just discovered
lipstick.

They would go into the female toilets to apply it.

Then, giggling, they’d leave the imprint of their lips on the large mirror.

This made a lot of extra work for the cleaning staff.

The head teacher asked the girls to stop.

Of course they ignored her.

So she took the girl’s to the female toilets for a demonstration.

She said, “It takes a lot of work to clean the lipstick off the mirror.”

She said to the janitor, “Please show the girls how much work it takes.”

The janitor put the mop in the toilet, squeezed off the excess water and
washed the mirror.

Then put the mop in the toilet again, and repeated the process.

From that day on there was no more lipstick on the mirror.

That’s choice architecture.

You don’t try to force or nag people into doing what you want.

You accept that they are free to choose.

But you set up the choices to help them choose what you want.

The girls could still choose to kiss the mirror.

But now they know, and everyone else knows, their lips will be touching water
from the toilets that everyone uses.

Suddenly it’s not quite so attractive.

No one wants to be kissed by lips with water from public a toilet on them.

Of course they’re still free to choose.

But the architecture of the choice encourages them in a certain direction.

Just the way architecture encourages people to use buildings in a certain way.

You design the building the way you want people to use it.

That way you don’t have to nag people.
At the National Portrait Gallery the problem was very few people visited the
upper floors, while the ground floor was always packed.

People couldn’t be bothered climbing flights of stairs.

So they borrowed an idea from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim building in New York.

And they changed the entrance.

They installed a large escalator right by the entrance, taking visitors straight
up to the top floor.

The exhibition now started at the top floor, and worked its way down to the
ground floor.

The stairs were now for walking down not up.

Quite literally, choice architecture.

Recently, M&S had been running a campaign about environmental
responsibilities.

Their strapline was, “Plan A, because there is no plan B.”

One of the ads they ran said that instead of throwing your old M&S clothing
away, you should give it to Oxfam.

And, when you did, you’d get a £5 M&S voucher.

Think about that.

M&S found a way to get customers to feel good about buying more clothes.

Firstly, they needed them to create more room in their closet.

To get rid of some clothes.

But don’t just throw them away, recycle them.

And when you do you get a voucher to encourage you to come back to M&S.

Look at the way the architecture of choice was set up there.

You’re free to choose.

You can either hang on to your clothes or throw them away if you want.

But no one else will benefit.

If you give them to Oxfam other people will benefit, and so will you.

You’ll get a £5 voucher.

Of course you can only use the voucher at M&S.

But you don’t have to use it, no one’s forcing you.

And incidentally, look how environmentally conscious it makes M&S look.

A writer at our agency, Rob DeCleyn, found another great example in his local paper.

A particular village in Kent had a problem with litter.

Sweet wrappers, crisp packets, soft drink cans and bottles.

So the local shopkeeper didn’t complain or nag the children.

He just wrote the their name on the crisp and sweets packets when they
bought them.

That’s all, just the child’s name.

And the litter problem cleared up almost immediately.

That’s choice architecture.

The children could still choose to throw their wrappers in the street when
they’d finished with it.

They didn’t have to put it in the litter bin.

The only difference was that now everyone would know whose litter it was.

See you don’t have to threaten, or restrict or dictate anyone’s choices.

If you’re clever, you can just rearrange the architecture.

Taken from 'One Plus One Equals Three' 
Written in Dave Trott's distinctive, almost Zen-like style, One Plus On Equals Three is a collection of provocative anecdotes and thought experiments designed to light a fire under your own creative ambitions.