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How might we lower crime with design?

A person jaywalks across a road. The cops/law/govt all want to punish the jaywalker. The designer says to build a pedestrian crossing.

Photo of James McBennett
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Why do you want to be OpenIDEO's Visual and User Experience Designer?

While at OMA who use blue foam like IDEO use post-its, I learned the value of prototyping many ideas quickly. I also learned about IDEO and resonated with their focus on human-centered design that I had unknowingly applied in previous student projects. I am currently studying again taking a micro-masters in UX from (U.Mich) and seeking my first UX experience. I am very familiar with OpenIDEO (4500+pts) and wrote a long UX bug list in 2011 to the secret yammer group formed by power users.

How many years of experience do you have?

  • Less than 3 years of experience

How did you hear about this challenge?


What did you learn when developing the deliverables in response to the design brief?

I analyzed previous OpenIDEO challenges and discovered that this is #50! Health is the most popular topic followed by challenges on food, low-income, and youth. My favorite topic of cities affects so many other things but has only appeared three times. I researched the IDEO Pinterest board that has a collection of posters and the brand guidelines. I wanted my poster proposal to convey a sample OpenIDEO idea hopefully sparking interest how participants might propose their own ideas.

How might we lower crime with design?

Fewer people skip the queue when everyone is served instantly. Better design in how quickly people are served leads to less cheating and therefore less punishment. In many cases, citizens have no choice but to break the rules because of bad systems. They are usually the citizens with the least power in society. From this perspective, I think this challenge fits the brief about breaking down barriers creating a more inclusive society. This challenge is about a better design for badly designed systems. Design can solve crime by preventing it from happening in the first place.

Brasilia is a planned city in Brazil where everyone was meant to be equal. The proposed standard of equality hoped that everyone would own a car. Unfortunately, a large percentage of residents are too poor to own a car and have to make their way through the city as pedestrians. With few crossings for pedestrians, there are many jaywalkers and worst of all many people killed every year. In Copenhagen, there are many cyclists and many pedestrians, but unlike Brasilia, the system is well designed for both. The result is far fewer deaths and far less crime. I hope lawmakers, politicians and police forces might realize that good design lowers crime.

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Photo of Kenneth Fernandez

Great idea James! The jaywalking issue is a clear example of how every system is perfectly designed to produce the results that it produces, and it further emphasizes that there are systematic forms of oppression whether intentional or not. Your idea reminded me of the "Norman door" phenomenon, in which users feel that they are at fault when a solution does not work for them. But it is usually a system design flaw that needs to be remedied. This video explains the "Norman door" concept!

Photo of James McBennett

Thanks, Kenneth. I love Vox video essays and Don Norman is inspirational on numerous levels. Didn't previously connect it to this idea, but now that you point it out from the user experience perspective and the feeling of fault, agreed.

From the tech view, timing on crossings are also important as if it takes too long, people also jaywalk. If it changes immediately, traffic will build up. Smarter sensors than simply timers can be more reactive and kinder to both drivers and pedestrians improving the overall system. My favorite crossings from a timing perspective are in Copenhagen where jaywalking is extremely rare compared with other cities.

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