Engagement and StoryPost

I use the stories below to help inform myself of the wider scope of the project and underpin the direction we are heading in. They’ve each helped me to articulate intuitive thoughts I’ve had about relating to the community and being part of the StoryPost project. These examples illustrate people expressing their need to engage, and using frameworks to allow engagement to happen. It acknowledges the psychology we’re all shaped by, and the need to understand our human motivations and to express ourselves.

Something Alastair, Dave and I have been in agreement with from the very beginning was the project never being the case of just creating something and placing it into the space, expecting everyone to appreciate it. The spirit of the place demands that it is about the community and for the community. Making sure the people of Brereton have the opportunity to engage in this project is essential for its success. We’re planning for the art to transcend the piece and the form, and to create new projects and activities around StoryPost with different points of engagement so people can contribute in the future, as StoryPost evolves into new meanings.

Main photo credit: Merlin and Rebecca

Gary Nip
Twitter @Burnip80

Tweet us @BreretonLife and use the hashtag #BreretonStoryPost

The IKEA Effect

Unconscious human bias is the way people can be biased towards or against something without consciously knowing or being deliberately so. In psychology, there have been many studies about what is called ‘Inherent Bias’ and it can affect people’s preconceptions, decisions, beliefs, values, the choices we make and how we treat other people. It can affect wider society in issues such as gender equality and racism.

“Implicit Egotism’ is the idea in psychology that we subconsciously favour ourselves and things that reflect us. “valuing the self favourably, protecting the self and so forth… at least to some degree reflect the preference for the self and attraction to things that resemble the self”

This can be in examples such as thinking your own idea is better than a colleague’s contribution at work, purchasing from brands that reflect your ethical values, or identifying with people from similar socio-economical backgrounds.

Broadly speaking, these two psychological effects state that people can be biased without consciously knowing it themselves (Inherent Bias), and also people can have preference for something that reflects themselves and their own values (Implicit Egotism). I think there is an interesting connection with mirrored art pieces and these psychological theories. Mirrored art turns viewers into participants. By seeing their own reflection processed by the art piece, whether accurately, distorted, filtered through colour or otherwise, it causes the viewer to affect and become part of the art. Is there a possibility that will also cause the viewer-participant to subconsciously form more of an emotional connection with the piece?

These psychological theories are also aspects of the ‘IKEA Effect’ which is a term coined by researches to describe how people place a significantly higher value on things they have created or assembled themselves. The name is taken from the success of IKEA and the popularity of their self-assembly furniture.

Sometimes this higher value is stated as ‘over valued’ from a research point of view, however I would reframe that, as it places external indicators of value to be the primary reference point. I believe value is subjective and in many cases your personal value on anything, emotional, monetary or otherwise, should be the ‘correct’ value.

“Our hypothesis was that people tend to use products to signal valued identities to both themselves and to others. And we know that an identity people really care about is showing that you’re competent, it’s one of the basics of human motivation. And so, we hypothesise that people use self-made products as a way to signal competence to themselves and to others”

“These feelings of competence associated with products that led to their increase in valuation.”

There is a long process from first identifying the need for a particular type of furniture for your home, seeing the item you want, visiting an IKEA store and physically collecting your item from the store shelves, then paying for it, transporting it home and assembling it. By now the owner has developed a significant relationship with the furniture. When finally installed in the home, it’s natural to feel a sense of achievement, pride or fondness for something you have invested in emotionally, financially, and with care and effort. The added element of assembling is in fact the benefit of IKEA furniture.

Listen to The Hidden Brain Podcast: Me, Myself and Ikea

Adding an Egg

In 1950’s America, the General Wells owned Betty Crocker brand produced a readymade instant cake mix that only required added water. It was a good quality product that baked good cakes. However, it sold terribly and General Wells didn’t understand why. They hired psychologist Ernest Dichter to help understand the situation and find a solution. His research revealed that housewives felt guilty for taking credit for delicious cakes they hadn’t put much effort in. The convenience of the cake mix made them feel like they were neglecting their families.

Dichter came up with the recommendation to change the product so it was necessary to add a fresh egg to the mix, and then shape the advertising messaging around this. This new angle reaffirmed the housewife’s role as the family provider with the focus on baking as a way of showing love. The cake mix started selling well and was a success.

This story is often repeated as an example in marketing and business texts. The exact details are a bit more complex, however there is truth that the eventual success included the use of Dichter’s research. The ‘add an egg’ messaging was part of the change that saw baking the cake as only one step, a small part of a new longer process in cake preparation. Home bakers were encouraged to create elaborately decorated home cakes, presented with frostings, glazes, fillings, and decorated with a variety of imaginative themes.

The focus on baking became smaller, the quality of the cake less important, and essentially the moral and emotional satisfaction provided by home baking was restored to the baker.

Read the full story here

Find out more about Ernest Dichter

Half a House

In 2010 an earthquake of 8.8 magnitude struck the town of Constitución in Chile and caused a tsunami with six metre high waves that devastated the district of La Poza. Alejandro Aravena from architectural firm Elemental were tasked with creating housing for residents with only the budget of $10,000 per house.

The most logical solution was to house the families in apartment blocks, however this option was so unpopular, that people threatened to go on hunger strikes. The residents were used to being in control of their homes and their space, and deeply felt that the apartment blocks would be too limiting.

With the limited resources, they decided that rather than building small bad houses, they decided to build half a good house. They came up with the controversial idea of designing houses that were split down the middle, half and half. On the left was a very small, but regular two story house with bare rooms and connections to essential services like plumbing and electricity. On the right, under the roof was a completely empty space. These were literally unfinished houses. Residents were free to use this space as they wish, to construct what they wanted, when they had the means. The residents sourced their own materials, provided their own labour and ultimately what they built, they owned.

The theory stems from the architect John FC Turner, who taught Urban Settlement Design and Developing Countries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wrote an essay in 1972 called ‘Housing as a Verb’, and considered housing to be an ongoing project, that wasn’t just a finished product sold to residents, but residents should be co-creators of their own homes. This is sometimes called ‘Sites and Services’ or ‘Incremental Building’. Elemental used ‘Incremental Building’ to “make something that can be improved by time”

“Alejandro Aravena epitomises the revival of a more socially engaged architect. Especially in his long term commitment to tackling the global housing crises and fighting for a better urban environment for all.”

Although the political issues meant the journey hasn’t been completely straight forward, most residents were happy with their homes, upgrading and expanding them bit by bit. Some residents have completed their house and now own a home larger than what they would normally be able to afford. Some residents have used the space to open small shops selling bread and candy. Alejandro Aravena, was awarded the Pritzker Prize 2016.

Listen to the 99% Invisible Podcast: Half a House

Find out more about the rebuilding of Constitución here

Painting Tirana

Edi Rama, a former Art Professor and now Prime Minister of Albania had spent 11 years as Mayor of Tirana, the capital of Albania. Tirana was a poor city with limited resources, aging infrastructure and little money. The cityscape were grey blocks of old communist era architecture. When Rama became mayor, he made an unexpected and controversial decision. He decided to paint the city in bright abstract shapes of colour. At a time when there were few lights for the streets and the roads needed mending, this decision could have been a disaster for public confidence.

“The colours of the buildings were not art for me. It was a political action, with colours. Because we didn’t have money to make big construction projects. People needed everything: water supply, roads, lighting. When I became mayor of Tirana, there were only 78 lights functioning in the streets. So, imagine going to ask people what colour you want your building to be! …it would seem the most exquisite way of saying you are not interested in them.”

However, it turned out to be a success, and as the colours appeared, people’s attitudes and behaviours changed. There were the beginnings of trust between the public and the council.

“It had a chain effect I didn’t imagine. Once the buildings were coloured, people started to get rid of the heavy fences of their shops. In the painted roads, we had 100% tax collection from the people, while tax collection was normally 4%. People accepted to pay their share for the city, because they realised that through the colours the city exists.”

It seems entirely illogical to spend scarce resources on a superficial task, especially in a situation when essential city maintenance was required. What the art did was transcend its surface function, and connect the people of the city. It was a message to communicate that somebody respected and cared for the people of Tirana, and wanted to help positively change their situation. Of course, street lights still needed to be fixed, roads needed mending and water supply repairing, but this was a catalyst that gave people hope and changed their mindset to take tangible positive actions to support the improvement of the city.

Read this article on Edi Rama

Watch Edi Rama’s TED Talk