Fixing crap UX… literal crap
How a better UX got dog poop off the streets of my neighborhood
I recently moved to a new neighborhood in a new city and there are a lot of great things about it. However, there was also dog poop all over the place.
This is an up and coming neighborhood and a huge part of its success will be determined by the branding and reputation. First, the city tried marketing it as, “The New Modiin” — Modiin being a poplar city with advantages that this neighborhood was aiming to imitate like lots of green, good schools, solid infrastructure, and convenient transportation — until it realized a lot of people were moving here from Modiin (including me) because there were other things we didn’t like — skyrocketing real estate prices which is causing an aging population since young families can’t afford to buy homes.
Now my new city is trying a new campaign, “The New Center”, and it’s working. “The Center” is associated with the best jobs in the country, the most hi tech, education, and young, diverse population. While there isn’t a hi tech hub here (yet), there is super convenient transportation options to everywhere else, so it’s a fair claim.
Anyway, in order to attract the people the neighborhood wants to attract, it’s got to be known as a clean, beautiful, modern, green, comfortable, affordable, convenient place. Poop is basically the opposite. The city had a real problem on its hands and needed to address it urgently.
UX to the rescue!
How do you change user behavior? How do you get people to pick up poop if they don’t want to? First, you dig into the motivation behind the user behavior. What drives them?
The first hypothesis was money. If a behavior is too costly, users will stop doing it. So heavy fines were put in place… but everyone knew they were unenforceable. We don’t have that cool DNA system I’ve heard some cities in the US use, so the only way to get slammed with a fine was to get caught red (brown) handed. Obviously, that’s basically impossible. People knew it wasn’t enforceable and so they did not change their behavior one bit.
So the city thought again and decided to try social pressure as motivation and convenient receptacles to lower friction. To increase social pressure, they spray painted a “Pick up after your dog!” sign all over the sidewalks with a cute image of a dog and a reminder about the fine. These make it a little more embarrassing to be seen not picking up since the reminders are absolutely everywhere, and also give a sense of picking up being the “done thing”. We are inundated with this messaging everywhere we go on the sidewalks and it’s sinking in.
To lower friction, cute little dog poop trash cans were installed in every park. They have no novel functionality and there are already normal trashcans nearby. But these send the message that throwing out poop is easy! And it’s right here! They’re bright red so you can’t miss them (normal trashes are an inconspicuous light grey which makes sense because normally I wouldn’t want to draw my eye to garbage everywhere); they’re propped up on a pole closer to eye level than normal trash cans; and they have a cute icon of a dog on them screaming that these are for that! It’s so easy! It’s right here! It’s for you and your furry friend!
And so that’s the story of how UX came to the rescue. Dig into user motivations, address those with cheap solutions, all in the name of the ultimate business goal which in this case was getting people to move here. For more on all that business stuff, you can check out my new book :) Available from A Book Apart.