Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Unpleasant Design (99percentinvisible.org)
373 points by sndean on July 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 206 comments

One of the most important paragraphs:

> Most of these goals seem noble, but the overall effect is somewhat demoralizing, and follows a potentially dangerous logic with respect to designing for public spaces. When design solutions address the symptoms of a problem (like sleeping outside in public) rather than the cause of the problem (like the myriad societal shortcomings that lead to homelessness), that problem is simply pushed down the street.

Can't agree more. It's so common in France and really depressing. On the linked video (which looks to be shot in Paris, actually), we see dozens of these contraptions right in front of metro ads which cost most than it does to feed and shelter homeless people for several weeks.

Also quite often this design mindset hurts the legit users, too. For instance, lean-on bench costs the same as a normal bench, takes up almost the same space, but doesn't give (valid) users the same benefits. If you are old or obese or have varicose veins, etc. you would certainly prefer to be able to sit down while waiting. Leaning against a wall/bench is just not the same thing. Also if you have a bag you can't put it on the bench or in your lap, you have to keep it on the ground (this one really pisses me off, specially when it rains). If you really go into details and analyse all the angles I'm sure you'd find a dozens more of the little sacrifices that've been made just to keep some people off the benches.

If you miss the last train, you can no longer just sleep on the bench for a couple of hours until the first one arrives in the morning.

If you feel ill, there's nowhere to lie down for a few minutes.

You can't change your kids diapers on a bum-safe bench.

The ground is perfectly flat as well. It works great for sleeping, laying down, and changing diapers.

Except you get dirtier, you get wetter lying in the rainy puddles, there is a greater risk of rats in a subway station, and you are suddenly visibly demoted from being someone who wants a lie-down on a bench to someone who looks homeless, which decreases passers-by's sense of empathy towards you.

Hey, cool, the Camden bench also dissipates water faster, too!

Not in all climate zones.

Quick hypothetical you have a choice between taking cover from rain in a small bus stop which sadly has only this lean-on bench; or you take cover from rain in the same small bus stop expect this time there's a homeless guy sleeping on the only bench.

In that case, I suppose I'll try not to wake him up, and in general I'd rather a regular bench that's useful even to someone who happens not to be me.

I don't blame people who suffer an ablation of their sense of shared human dignity in response to situations like that often decried in San Francisco. It's hard to be constantly exposed to that kind of privation and not become inured to it, in self-defense if nothing else. But I try not to become that way myself, either.

Good reminder to start voting in such a way that your government actually starts treating them as human beings. Where i'm from it's absolutely super easy to get a good apartment from the government, and i almost never see homeless, despite having lived in various cities with varying levels of affluence and density.

>>Where i'm from it's absolutely super easy to get a good apartment from the government, and i almost never see homeless, despite having lived in various cities with varying levels of affluence and density.

Genuinely curious. Can you provide the name of your country?


More details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartz_concept#Hartz_IV

If you go through the system, you'll be provided housing. It's only if you actively avoid or can't deal with the system that you can end up homeless in Germany. Part of the deal (it's a contract, actually) is having to look for work. If you can't find any, you may be required to accept any kind of job to continue to receive benefits.

Yep, good summary. Just one detail:

> any kind of job

Within limits. People have successfully sued against having to take jobs unreasonably (physical incompatibility, far away from family, etc.).

Given only those two options, I prefer the world where the homeless guy has a place to sleep.

I also prefer a world where the bus is half an hour to an hour late because the drivers are striking over one where the driver has no rights.

We can have it both ways.

We will live in different places.

I can have my world with unpleasant design, and you can have yours without.

Chances are, we already do.

=) Now If only people did not want global consensus on everything

It might surprise you then that nearly every homeless guy you see "has a place to sleep", they choose (not in the "choose to be homeless sense") to sleep outside. The main reason is that homeless shelters have restrictions on violence, drug, and alcohol use, and people make a choice between comfort hand having their buzz harshed.

Now you can follow this up with a lot of "but.." arguments, but the fact remains that in most places (not all) if someone is sleeping outside rather than inside they actively made that choice.

So you would rather have the homeless sleeping in the rain with no roof to cover, as long as you can't see him?

There are other places to cover from rain than a bus stop, but busses seldom pick up passengers from non-bus stops.

And the comfort of public bus riders is somehow more valid than other segments of society?

On the other hand, I don't think that it's the park bench designers who should directly address the problems of homelessness.

It's like criticizing people for having locks on their doors. It would be great if people didn't need them. Unfortunately, certain "societal shortcomings" make them a necessary risk-mitigating measure.

I, for one, very much like the design of the Camden bench. It's so less obtrusive and aggressive than e.g. spikes on a storefront. It's much harder to accidentally get hurt by it. These things, which are actually hazardous, not merely preventing unwanted usage, are "unpleasant design" to my eyes.

That's not an apt analogy. Camden benches, sit/lie ordinances, etc. make the condition of being homeless worse.

If public hospitals suddenly decided to turn away emergency room patients who don't have coverage, I would absolutely criticize them. Emergency rooms are not expected to directly address the lack of health coverage, but it's within their power to mitigate one of the most painful and horrific consequences.

The same goes for city planners. As a taxpayer, I do not want to pay for benches designed to be hostile to the homeless. If you already have it so bad you need to sleep in the park, I should not be spending money to make things more miserable for you.

Doctors give an oath [1] to help all sick people.

Public park designers, and even municipal clerks who actually order benches and suchlike, do not do anything similar.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath

You're being downvoted, but you're right. According to the EMTL Act, both private and public emergency rooms can't turn away or delay care to patients that need it.

The EMTALA was a policy decision we made through our representatives (it doesn't have anything to do with the Hippocratic Oath).

For the same reasons the EMTALA passed, we should be killing sit/lie bills - and hostile designs like this - whenever we see them. Park benches are about the absolute lowest form of safety net you can imagine for a night's sleep, just as ER treatment without asking questions is for health. It's so far below the bare minimum that it would be repugnant to deny it.

I didn't say they were one and the same - just showing that it's illegal to turn someone away.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned - in addition to the design features already discussed, the Camden bench makes each person sit facing away from each other, deterring conversation. It's like the ultimate bench for people who don't care about others.

...or a bench providing some privacy when you need to sit next to a stranger.

A bigger problem I see is that such a bench is hard to position on a curb, next to a wall, etc, where both sides cannot be made accessible.

Seems to me that the centre section of the camden bench is big enough for two - also, in one of the photos a lady is sat on the small side of the end section, so sharing a side is certainly possible - also, two people sat on opposite sides but at an angle could almost face each other, like a love seat?


The argument is whether or not you view the homeless sleeping in the streets the same as someone breaking in to your house.

The former is unpleasant to see, but not actively hurting you, the latter case scream clear malicious intent.

They're using an analogy to make a point regarding intent behind design, and are not trying to trivialize the homeless problem. There's no need to split hairs.

It is not the same. However, the homeless person sleeping on the bench is hurting others. The purpose of having a bench is to have a place for people who are waiting for the bus, or taking a short break while moving through the city, to have a place to stop. If a person (homeless or otherwise) is using the bench to sleep, that is going against the intent of the bench in the first place. While many of these measures are primarily aimed at making things difficult for homeless people, extended bench stays are still undesirable in general.

But isn't this just 'separation of concerns'? I'm not trying to say 'not my problem', but when the shopping centre is built, they're not primarily concerned about finding houses for the homeless - they want to make sure there are seats available for those who want to sit there temporarily.

Lots of public areas, like parks, will be funded by the private sector as a condition of approval for a big apartment building or something - I don't see anything wrong with them spending a minimal amount of effort to prevent 'antisocial behaviour' as well.

It's wrong because it means to give up, to close your ears and eyes against the real problem.

Anti-social behavior like "homeless sleeping in cavernous shop entries" does not come from nothing. People aren't normally like this. It comes from their environment being anti-social to them by refusing to aid fellow citizens in need.

Being social means to actively try and be a society. By actions such as putting up these spikes, these companies are only being anti-social themselves.

It seems like you're suggesting that as an alternative, we use collective punishment. City dwellers should be putting up with an unpleasant urban environment until someone fixes the homeless problem. Therefore any stopgap measures should be resisted.

It's not clear whether this works. On the one hand it does keep the homeless visible. On the other hand it also punishes people who can't practically participate in local politics (tourists for example). And in general, politically powerful people aren't waiting at bus stops all that much, so this strategy doesn't seem all that well-targetted.

It may also be counterproductive in that it makes people less rather than more willing to support measures that help the homeless and instead promote measures that punish them in return. That is, punishment may encourage more punishment in response.

But I'm just speculating here. It seems like this is unlikely to be settled without actual evidence.

You complain against punishment, but you seem to be accepting of people already being punished for having been failed by their society in the first place.

I'm just pointing out some problems to consider. That doesn't say anything about what solutions I'll support.

> On the other hand it also punishes people who can't practically participate in local politics (tourists for example)

Seeing homeless people is punishment?

If homeless people are living in the park, other people aren't using it. (Edited)

Seeing homeless people can be worse than punishment?

You keep calling for people to see the homeless as human, but you're not doing it yourself. You seem to have some infantalized, romantic image of them where they are not capable of doing any wrong and anything that happens to them is the result of external forces out of their control.

But they are human. They may be wonderful people down on their luck. They are also capable of being horrible people, committing crimes without any particular excuse, and making bad decisions that are every bit as much their responsibility as it is mine when I make bad decisions. That is irreducibly part of what it means to be human, and if you take that from a group, you have dehumanized them. And in the aggregate, a group of them will inevitably contain some of the latter.

You can't address the problem by neglecting that fact. Many have tried, and as always happens when the solution doesn't match the real problem in the real world, those solutions failed. If berating people about homelessness was the solution, the problem would be solved already. That solution has been tried a lot.

You're failing to see the point:

It is anti-social to force everyone to fully take on the responsibility of all their actions, singularly and personally, forever and with no limits.

You hurt only yourself by creating traps that not everyone can escape from, and then having to live with people who have to fight for a living by any means they can.

As for solutions having been tried: Germany does a damn good job of dealing with unemployed and worse off as actual humans and has no homeless epidemic.

As for your first point: Supposition and assumption. My sister is the very first example of a person who has done a LOT in her life wrong and is "paying" for her mistakes by having to live on government aid. I pay fairly high taxes, pretty much half of all i earn, but i do it happily knowing that so does everyone else, resulting in my sister and my nephew living in dignity, with my nephew having access to high quality primary and secondary education and a chance to be something better; without any single person having to sacrifice most of their life to enable this.

The point about Germany is absolutely true, and merits closer examination.

The three main cities in my life are Berlin, Budapest and San Francisco. Budapest and San Francisco have very serious homeless problems; Berlin does not.

It's easy to point at Budapest and say: it's much poorer than Berlin, in a much poorer country, with government not much interested in the poor, etc.

But San Francisco is waaay richer than Berlin, and of the three has (in my experience) the worst homeless problem.

(I realize you probably couldn't "solve" homelessness in SF without simultaneously "solving" it throughout the US, but that's kind of the point: this is not some force of nature we are doomed to live with in an advanced economy.)

I don't think speaking of 'treating people as actual humans' is productive. It's a rhetorical device to paint people who disagree with your policy proposals as evil. It will get people who already agree with you to give you a pat on the back but it won't convince anyone who doesn't already agree. I say that as someone who probably mostly agrees with your position on this issue

Maybe you think your policy proposals flow directly from 'treating people as actual humans', but they don't. There are lot of (obviously true, from your perspective) assumptions there that will not be shared by people who disagree with you.

Here's the problem though. They aren't being treated as such. They get the same treatment as pigeons.


And yes, i'm not gonna sweet-talk anyone into "seeing the light". But i'm not looking for headpats either. I'm just tired of this shit where people pretend this is an unsolvable problem.

Anyhow, you have a good head. Please use it better than i do.

Okay, they're getting the same treatment as pigeons. By that logic you could also say they're getting the same treatment as all other humans, since the spikes do not distinguish between homeless and non-homeless people in performing their task.

It's also worth differentiating public and private uses of these methods (for instance, city-funded public spaces vs. private areas where sleeping should obviously not be allowed, like in the photo you linked). I can't blame an establishment for treating the symptom rather than solving the larger problem.

>You're failing to see the point:

I think you're not seeing how you're not comparing apples-to-apples in your argument. Look how you criticize the "companies" for being anti-social in a previous comment:

>By actions such as putting up these spikes, these companies are only being anti-social themselves.

Ok... but later you commend Germany which is a country and not a company for managing homelessness better:

>Germany does a damn good job of dealing with unemployed...

In other words, it wasn't Mercedes-Benz or Siemens or a German restaurant that handled homelessness by avoiding spikes, it was a government that fixed it. The "company" that put up the spike cannot address homelessness the way a government can. If society/government has set up a situation where the homeless do not have paid apartments like Germany, it's quite rational for a "company" to work within the bounds of what society has given them and install spikes to "move" the homeless problem somewhere else. The company made a "local optimum" decision.

Companies != Governments, and therefore they use different tools to address homelessness. Governments can pay billions for housing. Companies, on the other hand, have the budget to pay for spikes. In other words, in the USA, it's not the companies being anti-social... it's the government being anti-social.

> it's not the companies being anti-social... it's the government being anti-social.

It's both.

> it's the government being anti-social

Well, i'm not disagreeing with that.

Maybe not 'every bit as much their responsibility'. People can be backed into a corner, and do things we cannot imagine sitting comfortably in our armchairs. See "Les Miserables" for an example.

Fair enough.

But I refuse to remove all responsibility, because that's dehumanizing itself.

By the point someone is homeless it is abundantly clear that they are faced with a burden of responsibility they are incapable of handling.

> It's wrong because it means to give up, to close your ears and eyes against the real problem.

These aren't mutually exclusive. A shop owner can simultaneously lobby for resolving the root problem of homelessness and lobby for homeless-deterrent benches in the public space in front of their store.

>when the shopping centre is built, they're not primarily concerned about finding houses for the homeless //

They're primarily concerned about making profits for the shareholders of the company leading the project, aren't they?

No one is building shopping centres with the primary aim to give great shopping experiences - ensure shoppers have places to sit, etc. - that may become a part of the project if it aligns with making profit but if it's better not to have benches because you want people to shop and get out the way then you'll ditch the benches.

I'm quite happy with demanding some social responsibility on big real estate developers - like fund a homeless shelter for 20 residents for the duration that the shopping centre is open.

> I'm quite happy with demanding some social responsibility on big real estate developers - like fund a homeless shelter for 20 residents for the duration that the shopping centre is open.

While perhaps a decent idea in the abstract, this can quickly become a problem when such things become regular and unpredictable demands. For instance, a community group in Chicago recently chased away a proposed museum by demanding an extra 5% gross receipts tax. In addition to any normal taxes that might apply.

It can lead to really absurd situations. Another example is housing in SF, where some community groups routinely protest against large developments that are 40% subsidized housing on the basis that they're not 100% subsidized housing. Therefore, the logic runs, they should be stopped and a parking lot preserved.

I suppose I'm saying it's easy to get carried away on what "some social responsibility" means. And that unreliability and unpredictability are major problems for businesses.

Correct. The article kept referring to "targeted individuals", but in fact it was behavior that was targeted by the design. Disallowing bad behavior is ethical and reasonable.

"In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."

-- Anatole France

Ah the self-hating French...

It's not any more common in France than it is elsewhere. If you've been to a major North American city, you'll see that the issue is sometimes way worse abroad, where the social net is literally nothing.

You make it sound like the metro in Paris is somewhat extremely homeless-unfriendly, it's not, I take it every single day and most of the seats are normal ones and lots of homeless people sleep and panhandle there in a form of general laissez-faire. I'm not saying France is treating its homeless people well, it's simply not true, but please don't make it look like to the outside world that we're inhumane or particularly harsh in our treatment of the less fortunate.

I've lived all over Europe and the anti-homeless "ambiance" is strongest in Paris of all places I've visited. I certainly don't compare my country to North America... that'd simply be unfair to north americans.

Simple cost-benefit. If your problem is that homeless people are sleeping in front of your ads and you can A) shelter some homeless people for several weeks or B) install spikes and keep every homeless person away (seemingly) forever.

Installing the spikes moves, but doesn't solve the problem; the homeless people are still homeless. Of course, the people who install the spikes don't (at least directly) bear the societal cost of homelessness.

We're making the mistake of assuming that "move" is not the win-condition in this scenario.

Corporations don't care about solving these problems. Simply moving the problem somewhere else counts as a win for them.

It's more a lamentation than a mistake.

That's not "win-win" - the corporation wins, but nobody else really does.

It is a "win" condition for them. A "win-win" setup could be nice, but it doesn't mean that such result is possible or feasible, and in the absence of solid, realistic "win-win" proposals this is the best option for them.

The comment I replied to used the term "win-win" when I replied, but it has since been edited.

I assure you, my comment was not edited.

>like the myriad societal shortcomings that lead to homelessness

I think the author has oversimplified many important things related to the problem of homelessness. I want to point of some other aspects of this problem.

Let me explain.

How the homelessness of all the homeless people can be blamed on the societal shortcomings? What about the homeless person's shortcomings?

Blaming everything on society and ignoring the personal shortcomings may gain political advantage but it sets very bad precedences and spoils the entire societal fabric. (The Marxists/socialists always use this as a tactic to sway public mood and that is more harmful for the free and humane society.)

e.g. I may be homeless because I sold my house and spent all the money on drugs or in the casinos or on watching movies or on prostitutes or on the internet or on something else to derive various types of carnal/non-carnal pleasures. In this way, not only I became homeless but I made my entire family of 4 children and a wife homeless.

This is just one example. The other major reason is immigration of huge number of people who are unskilled and/or are unwilling to work and migrate to cities which are more popular and hence are more costly and thus find themselves homeless.

How exactly can such homelessness be blamed on the society? In the first example, the person, who enjoyed the freedom of choice, must face the consequences of his/her actions.

In the other case: it is EU leaders' foolish (almost suicidal) decision to allow unchecked immigration to flood the European cities and make the life of the people already living there a hell. One of the very important reasons for Brexit is related to immigration, especially the immigration of people unwilling to integrate: i.e. people from Islamic countries.

I don't deny that there are some people (especially children) who are homeless not because of their own but because of someone else's actions. Let's agree, for the sake of argument, that a more humane society must take responsibility of such homeless people.

But even then, even if the homelessness of such people is partly due to some societal shortcomings, why the rest of people should suffer to provide space (e.g. public benches) for the homeless ones to sleep on?

I may be homeless because I sold my house and spent all the money on...

Anecdotal, I know... When I was in uni, I worked as a street trader and met quite a few interesting characters. Some of them were homeless or had been homeless or were otherwise not "normal" members of society and a common theme was that the people in the worst situations (homelessness and poverty, as opposed to just leading an alternative lifestyle) were this way due to unfortunate circumstances.

I've been close to poor (soft-poor though; I did have family that I could have fallen back on if things got bad enough) a few times in my life, where I literally didn't have money for essentials and I never spent money I didn't have. I wouldn't say I'm good at budgeting, but I'm not bad at it either. I'm lucky that I work in software and therefore could bounce back pretty quickly, but not everybody is able to. I've got family whose professions were pretty badly affected by the recession, for example, and while they're pulling through, it took years (and a ton of debt) to get to a point where things are starting to look better again.

My point is that, while I'm sure there are plenty of people who are in bad situations because of their own flaws, mistakes or lack of foresight, this isn't a global truth and I think its pretty uncompassionate to treat everyone as if it were the case, especially since I've seen how easily it can happen, in some circumstances.

I believe that many people can and will bounce back, if given the support and opportunity to do so. Especially if they have this support before things get extremely bad. (eg many homeless people take drugs to help them cope. This makes it harder to get out of the situation. If the support were there _before_ this happens, it would be easier)

Again, this is all anecdotal, but I think that society should play a part in managing it by not letting it get out of control to the point where "solving" it becomes as big a burden as it often is.

You make an interesting case about the difference between a societal problem and an individual failing. However, consider the options available to society. I think you would agree, we would enjoy society much better without as many homeless people. Now consider the options for solving such a problem. There are as many options as have been tried, and perhaps some that haven't. But I would posit that of the two ends of the spectrum, the side of society working to help people out of homelessness and prevent people from becoming homeless has a greater chance of success than ignoring the problem and locking up the ones who commit crimes in jail. (I mean, isn't that basically providing them a home, but potentially at a greater overall cost than other methods?)

While there will always be people who wind up there of their own poor choices, I hope that you would agree that it is not all of them. And even in the poor choice case, there may be societal systems that helped to enable them to get there.

It is not about blame in my opinion, but solutions. Solutions which at the moment, sadly, seem to be in short supply.

Are you really using the outcomes of a decision by elected officials as a counter-example to the theory of homelessness as societal shortcomings?

I guess you caught me here logically. Thanks for it.

But I guess with the adoption of the policy of taking such decisions by public referendums is a good way to counter this shortcoming.

> How the homelessness of all the homeless people can be blamed on the societal shortcomings?

It is because society (i.e. the legal bodies, but also the culture and the people on average) in the Western world aim for higher standard to all their citizen.

It is a similar issue as with Human Rights in general. Small violation in a Western country has almost people in the street, but harsh human violation in other countries is hardly worth a mention in the news. That's not double standard or obsessive political correctness or western guilt, it is because Western society has declared Human Rights to be its founding principles, and people living in those countries expect the government to enforce it.

In short you live in a society where shelter is a fundamental right, so failing to provide shelter, regardless of the circumstance is a societal failing by definition. If you disagree, that is fine, you need to either find a society inline with you own social vision, or, more realistically, vote for the representative that share your vision of society and endure until it shifts. ( and it shifts, US society is way less forgiving than European society in general for example )

> The Camden Bench is virtually impossible to sleep on. It is anti-dealer and anti-litter because it features no slots or crevices in which to stash drugs or into which trash could slip. It is anti-theft because the recesses near the ground allow people to store bags behind their legs and away from would be criminals. It is anti-skateboard because the edges on the bench fluctuate in height to make grinding difficult. It is anti-graffiti because it has a special coating to repel paint.

It's a bench for sitting on, I don't understand how anyone gave this a second thought.

And are they treating the anti-skate/anti-graffiti as negatives? Why would the city not want to protect their property and make keep the tear to a minimum.

Consider it this way. The Camden Bench has a clear dictum - thou shalt only sit. It's pretty clear that this object has been placed by a rigid authority with strong opinions on the right and wrong way to use their bench.

A "standard" bench is more neutral - here is a bench. Do with it what you like. The user is invited to exercise their own preferences in how to use it. It acknowledges that the user may have their own valid ideas about how to use it. Consequently, the user feels more respected.

It's like using a locked-down phone vs one where the user is free to install their own firmware. The former may be adequate for many and more straightforward to use, but it may not serve all users and many would bristle just at the suggestion that they are being limited in what they can do.

"It's pretty clear that this object has been placed by a rigid authority with strong opinions on the right and wrong way to use their bench."

Should benches even be fixed in place? That is an expression of authority also. What if we were to built it out of modular components, and place it, without it being bolted in place? There would be problems from doing this. Are some of the same problems true of the multi-use bench you describe?

There are problems with your analogy to phones. Phones are private property. The benches in this thread are public property. We could quibble about what those terms mean, but it's clear that they are affected by different priorities and dynamics.

It's a rough analogy, I admit. But the meaning of "public" vs "private", that's one of the central issues here. What rights does a random person have over an object in the public space? They don't own it, but somehow they should have some say. Maybe that's a bad question; this is not just about legal rights. Does the object suggest a sense of partnership, of shared ownership, of community? If I feel engaged in my city, I'll respect it, I'll take care of it, I'll help it develop. If not, I won't bother. Maybe it'll get littered, broken, tagged. Design plays a role here in forming that impression.

I'm interested in this idea: can we imagine a world where people are so engaged that individuals just take care of problems like graffiti without there needing to be a council for it. What would it take to produce that spirit between people?

For there to be a bench, and for its use to not be defined, and for people to use it as it is marked.

> If not, I won't bother

Often there are communities who feel differently. The people who are invested in the community will maintain it. Outsiders will respect it less. Some will take it for granted, others will actively undermine it for the lulz. These groups live alongside one another, and share resources, but they are socialised differently.

Sometimes, though, things stick. In Australia, people leave their things on the beach when they go swimming. Messing with people's stuff seems to be a universal taboo. There'll be weird individuals who break it, but no subculture.

It's a bench for sitting on, I don't understand how anyone gave this a second thought.

It's almost a copy-paste of the brochure: https://web.archive.org/web/20140903121925/http://www.factor...

The bench was specifically designed to have those "features", it's not an incidental property.

My question is why people are upset about it, why are you quoting features?

It is a bench - for sitting on. Not for sleeping, skating, dealing drugs, littering on or spraying graffiti. So why is it bad that it deters those things?

> It is a bench - for sitting on.

That's presumably the original intent behind it.

But humans are an innovative bunch, so they start using things for all sorts of purposes that they were not originally designed for.

Some of these uses are deemed, whether everyone agrees with that or not, to be bad. Sometimes clearly so, sometimes less.

Should it be bad that a homeless has a relatively comfortable space to sleep ? Maybe if that happens too much, other people can't use the benches any more.

If a bench is unoccupied it makes for a good skaterail. It's already outside and presumably dirty, so where's the harm ? But maybe some people will be deterred to sit if it's always being skated on.

Maybe the graffiti makes the bench look lot's better ? But then that's subjective.

Drug dealing is bad. But I can remember at least one occasion where I was able to lean a heavy thing I was carrying on the bench and prevent it from falling over, by temporarily strapping it to a crease in the bench I was sitting on. Presumably like one of those that are used to hide small drug stashes.

I don't think it's as clear cut, as you make it out to be. And I agree, that it makes sense to forbid, let's say skating and graffiti on benches that people want to sit on.

I just think that even a simple thing as a bench in a public place can be more than just a bench just by virtue of the amount of creative minds that pass by it each day. And dealing with this creativity by just forbidding it, or designing certain use cases out of it makes for dull society.

If the definition of "dull society" is specifically restricted to the absence of:

* Homeless sleeping on public benches

* Surprise drug stashes in public benches

* Skate grease slathered on public benches

* Organized crime organizations tagging public benches as their territory

Then yes, I agree, what a dull society the Camden bench creates.

I guess because in skewing the design to prevent those things, it makes it less good at actually being a bench. It's less comfortable, you can't lean back on it and it's extremely ugly.

Whether that's a worthwhile trade-off or not is another question, but it is a trade-off.

I'm not sure that most people would be particularly offended by the fact that it reduces drug dealing, theft, littering etc.

The problem, at least for me, is the sleeping bit. I would much rather that people didn't have to sleep out in the streets and if that issue were properly tackled then I doubt many people would be complaining about the benches/spikes etc. But then, we probably wouldn't need anti-sleep benches if the homelessness problem didn't exist.

But as long as that does exist, making public environments hostile to desperate people just looking for somewhere, anywhere, to sleep for the night seems like entirely the wrong answer. It's not solving the problem - it's just moving it to somewhere presumably less pleasant than that bench could have been.

Because a public bench should also be for sleeping and skating.

...since when?

Since always. Public property should be usable by the public in any way they see fit, as long as they don't damage it.

You do realise that skateboarding on benches means people are slamming metal against the thing with a, probably, 40-80 kilo human being on top of it? It is really damaging.

I used to skate myself and I am not against it, but it is definitely damaging.

You could argue that public property should be usable by the public in any legal way as they see fit; however, city ordnances often do prohibit sleeping in public places, so using a bench for sleeping is not a permitted use no matter how it's designed.

You're confusing the legal with the moral.

There's also a big confusion in the discussion with "ordinance" vs "zoning"

There are parks near my house you can sleep/camp in, and others you can't. There are parks you can skate in, complete with some cool government built and maintained structures, and there are parks you can't skate in.

Zoning differs in every municipality in the world but locally there's zoning codes for neighborhood park, resort/campground park, and formal gardens type park.

Arguing some homeless dude has to be supported to sleep and live in a neighborhood park is exactly like demanding I should be able to build a leather tannery or chromium plating operation in my backyard, because I want to and who cares who it bothers.

> Arguing some homeless dude has to be supported to sleep and live in a neighborhood park

"Some homeless dude" would in my case be my own sister if my country were as anti-social as some other countries.

If "we make structures to keep homeless out of sight of the 'normal populace'" applies to your country, then your country is already in the moral wrong for not supporting your homeless by providing them with dignified housing.

There is no excuse you can make for compounding on that that won't make it even more morally wrong.

I don't like the anti-social ordinances any more than the anti-social benches they caused.

The words are negative ("anti-", "hostile", etc.), and that seems gives the article a slight bias against these things, but overall it seems to be mostly trying to call attention to these things. For example, the concluding remarks:

> Whether handed down by the establishment or created in response to official interventions, there is always an aspect of coercion to design. Usability design, for instance, is used to get people to buy things and use their smartphones in certain ways, often without the user even being aware of it. Fundamentally, works of unpleasant design, hostile architecture and street furniture in general are no different.

> The reason we need a critical theory of unpleasant design is so we can recognize the coercion that is taking place in our public spaces. We need to know when we are replacing human interaction, nuance and empathy with hard, physical and non-negotiable solutions.

> Whether you think a certain form of design is exclusionary but serves a greater good, or believe it is just hostile and offensive, it is important to be aware of the decisions that are being made for you. Designs that are unpleasant to some are put into place to make things more pleasant for others, and that latter category might just include you.

They mostly seem to be against the public being coerced unknowingly. For example, many people might think the purpose of segmenting a bench with arm rests is for the seater's convenience/comfort, or that 'leaning benches' are just a way to save on materials cost. Regardless of whether public opinion agrees or disagrees with the main reasons for these trends (e.g. anti-sleeping), we can't know what that opinion is until these reasons are commonly known.

> overall it seems to be mostly trying to call attention to these things.

Thanks for pointing this out. For me, items like the Camden bench immediately stood out as having that coercive element, so I assumed the article had an axe to grind against them by focusing on their negative effects.

It seems that these kinds of coercive design elements are not equally transparent to everyone. In that light, the article would definitely enlightening to the unaware.

The issue I took away from the article is that the bench's unique design actually inhibits its primary function: sitting. The slanted seats make for poor resting areas and require a sizable open space for installation. Not to mention it causes people to sit in opposite directions from each other, making typical conversations near impossible. The other features like anti-(skate|graffiti) are interesting, but designing for a particular aim always requires tradeoffs. In this case, I'm not sure it's really worth it.

Why do people sleep on benches instead of shelters? When you look at a typical homeless person nest, it is arranged to protect them from theft and violence. It's either in a well populated place, usually with middle class people who will report violence, or where they can hear people coming, has good visibility, a corner for their back, etc.

When you look at a typical homeless shelter, it has bunks or cots, no security, people with no reason to report violence, and it's full of desperate homeless people with addictions and erratic mental illness. They don't want to be around each other because they know it's dangerous. Why would you go to a shelter unless you were looking for trouble? It's full of predators.

Charitable organizations don't give homeless people privacy for fear of the human things they will do, like drink, use drugs, have sex, etc. The street or a park provides relative privacy and freedom, within walking distance of services.

Given most homeless people are men, the solutions are more likely to involve providing basic physical privacy and security than comfort or sympathy.

>Why do people sleep on benches instead of shelters?

When I was homeless in NYC, I followed the advice of a local and called 311 to see if I could get a bed. In order to use the shelter's facilities I had to check myself into drug rehab. I also wasn't allowed to work a job if I was sleeping at the shelter. I was neither drug addicted nor willing to give up the full-time temp work I had taken up to survive. This was the only option offered me by the person over the phone. I asked if there were other options, she said no.

I figured there might be private (religious?) charities but I figured I needed it less than most being a white young male. Instead, I slept on the street (about a week?) until a reddit user let me crash at their place until I got on my feet.

That's why I slept on an uncomfortable park bench in Brooklyn rather than in a shelter. NYPD left me alone anyway. I would talk to them when I woke, around 5 or 6 am.

I miss how well-rested I was then. I still remember how it felt.

"I figured there might be private (religious?) charities but I figured I needed it less than most being a white young male."

I honestly don't get this mindset. You're already homeless. Those private/religious charities exist for exactly the purpose of helping you out.

I wasn't in any physical danger. Some people on the street have exes and other sorts to fear. I also knew I could seek shelter from private strangers with relatively little fear because I was male.

Part of the reason shelters are the way they are is because they are desperately limited in terms of beds they can offer. The hassle is a way to keep demand down.

I wasn't going to contribute to the problem.

Out of curiosity, I'm wondering why you say: "Charitable organizations don't give homeless people privacy for fear of the human things they will do, like drink, use drugs, have sex, etc."?

I know very little about how most of these organizations are run, but my thoughts would have been "most organizations aren't very well funded and have a limited amount of square footage to work in. If the goal is to get as many people into a warm bed as possible with your resources, than the best way to do this is probably packing as many bunks into an open area as you can, rather than trying to split to floor space into private / semi-private rooms". The end result obviously has some unintended side effects, and I'm certainly not saying this is the best way to run a shelter, but I also don't necessarily buy that a charity set up to shelter homeless people is also looking to dehumanize them, but rather simply working with what they have. But maybe my interpretation is too charitable (no pun intended).

Shelters do have rules and many homeless don't want to go there (or have been banned) because they don't want to follow the rules.

Rules like "don't do drugs" which is 100% medically irresponsible and unrealistic? I'm not sure of a good solution here, but this statement really begs the question of whether the rules are pragmatic, helpful, or fair.

That's why we should just give them houses:


But if we just give the homeless houses, everyone will stop working and become "homeless" to get a free house!

Edit: Apparently a /hyperbole tag was needed. I live in Utah, and am very proud of our homeless housing. In this comment I was trying to simultaneously bring up the common opposing argument to this housing solution while also showing how ridiculous it sounds. Since we started providing houses for the homeless there have been approximately zero people who have stopped working to get a free house.

> there have been approximately zero people who have stopped working to get a free house.

That's only because I haven't gotten around to moving to Utah yet!

And because you didn't think of claiming to have "lost" your papers so you can get a free house.

The response in some other areas is "Well, if we gave them housing, we'd have to allow those other people who aren't homeless to have new housing too, and we can't do that..."

You're justly proud of Utah's policy. And all the NIMBYism it skips past.

There are more homeless people than beds in shelters, for one.

Suspect parent was asking a rhetorical question, but what data are you looking at? Not sure it's true universally.

Shelter (UK homeless charity) broadly agrees with parents claim that privacy & other residents are a significant problem.


>Not sure it's true universally.

I'm pretty sure it is, due to basic economics. Running shelters is not free. No one builds extra capacity that they don't expect to use. Assuming a reasonably efficient "market", new beds would get added only when there is sufficient demand to fill them. That means that there must be people without beds in order for new ones to get funded.

Also, I've never heard of anywhere with a significant population of homeless people that didn't have problems with shelter capacity. London alone has ~3500 people sleeping on the street each night. Are there really 3500 unused shelter beds in London?


Undoubtedly some areas do a better job than others, though.

> I'm pretty sure it is, due to basic economics...

Not being funny, but basic economics also rules out a bunch of other stuff that exists. For example, in Medicine Hat, Canada, they just provide you with an actual home of your own if you're in a shelter for 10 days.

Basic economics make that really expensive, but not just a waste of money, which is what excess capacity in shelters is. And yes, it's possible that there are places with tons of excess capacity because the people there have chosen to intentionally overfund out of an abundance of caution and compassion, but I've never heard of such a place.

> Basic economics make that really expensive, but not just a waste of money, which is what excess capacity in shelters is.

If you boil it down to a bed counting problem you're right, but it's not as simple as that. Take London as an example. There are shelters, hostels, and even B&Bs in use to keep homeless folks off the street. Each serves different markets, with seasonal changes. Empty beds are already part of the operating model for hostels and B&Bs, so the capacity exists. In my opinion the more challenging questions are around how to connect the supply and demand (in the presence of funding, obviously).

I'm not saying basic economics isn't a useful tool, just that it's usually a poor proof of anything in the real world. The clue is in the word "basic".

Not only homeless people would like to sleep in benches. Sometimes you just want to rest a bit, and a bench in a park is a good location.

"I don't want to be around those people." We don't, either.

I've seen this comment numerous times (that homeless people don't feel safe in shelters), and it's in part why shelters don't entirely solve the problem. The shelters need to be made safer, and/or other options need to be explored.

Most of the homeless I've seen sleep on heating grates not on benches. Am I in the wrong city?

This isn't necessarily bad, and there are plenty of innocuous unpleasant designs: doors with locks, fences, car alarms, even those faucets in airport bathrooms you have to keep pushing to keep them from turning off. Sometimes you need to make something less friendly in order to prevent certain unwanted uses.

The important thing to remember is that you aren't fooling anyone. It's quite clear what your unpleasant design is designed to prevent, and the design itself serves as a constant reminder of the problem it was designed to solve. Locks remind you of burglary, airport bathroom faucets remind you that people often leave the water running, and spiky windowsills remind you of homelessness almost as much as actual homeless people do. This may not be the kind of feeling you want to build into your city!

These kinds of designs and your point remind me of MIT's decision to install heavy-gauge "security" screens on all upper-story windows of my dormitory, in response to an incident where an underclassman ended his life by deliberately exiting one.

They were godawful ugly, but worse, a constant reminder that we nominal adults (and supposedly quite bright, promising ones at that) simply weren't to be trusted not to do ourselves great harm at any moment. Certainly you could argue they served a useful purpose, but I always thought they were deeply dehumanizing.

'Modern' buildings solve this problem with windows that are either too small to climb through (such as the narrow crank windows) or with windows that do not open at all.

The difference between design which prevents suicide and design which prevents sleeping is that suicide can be prevented with unpleasant design. Homelessness is not solved with unpleasant design. Of course the underlying problem behind suicidal tendencies is not solved, however suicide could be called an unnatural desire. Sleeping is a near universal human necessity, and denying someone the ability to sleep is intrinsically dehumanizing.

I think the point about how dehumanizing unpleasant design is. I spent the night in a train station waiting for a connecting train at 6 AM the next morning. I can sleep through almost anything, and I had one of the worst nights of sleep I've ever had in my life. It was specifically designed to present almost no place to sleep. Not only did every bench have the arm rests which prevented lying down, any area of the floor that might be comfortable to lie in had a large concrete planter placed to make the area slightly too small to sleep in. Furthermore, every 15 minutes a loud recorded message indicating it was illegal to spend the night in the station unless you were waiting for a train or bus the next morning.

I once slept underneath a canoe during a thunderstorm after 45 mph straight line winds made it too dangerous to set up my tent. That was a much better night of sleep than I had in the train station.

I disagree with your assertion that suicide can be designed away whereas sleep cannot because it is a necessity.

Anybody who wants to commit suicide will do it if they are motivated enough. Putting bars outside a window, or preventing a window from opening are only preventing a specific type of suicide.

Similarly, preventing somebody from sleeping on a bench won't prevent them from sleeping. It will only prevent them from sleeping on the bench. They can sleep in front of or next to the bench, having the same "blocking" effect which prevents others from enjoying the use of the bench.

Some people theorize that suicides can be prevented by inconvenience, and perhaps some very marginal percentage can, but I agree with you. In general, those who jump from fourth floor windows are attempting something different than those who take half a bottle of sleeping pills. It is of course disconcerting to see the residue of suicide, so that might justify some efforts made to discourage suicides in particular locations, but only so long as those efforts don't render those locations less aesthetically suited to their purpose.

> This isn't necessarily bad, and there are plenty of innocuous unpleasant designs: doors with locks, fences, car alarms, even those faucets in airport bathrooms you have to keep pushing to keep them from turning off. Sometimes you need to make something less friendly in order to prevent certain unwanted uses.

I think the key difference here is that these things prevent burglary, trespassing, grand theft, and thousands of gallons of wasted water. The Camden bench just makes it so you don't have to see a homeless person. There's something distinctly dehumanizing about that, moreso than door locks.

The difference between locks/fences/car alarms and those benches is literally the difference between criminals and homeless people. All those designs are purposeful attempts at deterring a particular social group. The question to ask is when it's right to act this way.

Do you think is right to prevent homeless people from sleeping in your car or your home?

It is. But we're talking about preventing homeless from using public space to live.

I think we agree in that case that the difference with locks on doors is not literally the difference between criminals and homeless people.

> The important thing to remember is that you aren't fooling anyone. It's quite clear what your unpleasant design is designed to prevent, and the design itself serves as a constant reminder of the problem it was designed to solve.

Is that really true though? Things like spikes are clearly hostile add-ons; there is no reason for their existence other than preventing some behaviour, so nobody is fooled.

However, something like an arm rest on a bench may appear completely innocuous to the majority of people. The same goes for pink or blue lighting, and some of the "features" of the Camden Bench (e.g. no nooks to stash drugs) would probably go unnoticed if they weren't explicitly stated.

I suppose it's like having the mindset of a security researcher (e.g. https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/02/smart_water.h... ); unless you're engaged in them yourself, it takes a certain kind of mind to figure out what behaviours would be possible if it weren't for these contrivances.

The "armrests" shown in the article appear too low or too sloped to be useful.

Something I didn't see mentioned in the article are aluminum benches. They act as a giant heatsink and makes your butt ice cold if you sit too long.

They have them at the Copenhagen airport.

I'm not sure that's "unpleasant design" so much as outright bad design. Aluminum is cheap and easy to extrude into rectangular tubes suitable for use as bench slats. Unfortunately aluminum is a pretty terrible material for this use. It's freezing cold in the winter, as you noted. It can also be hot enough to burn in the summer sun. And it's hard. And it's ugly (when used this way). I don't think any of this is intended to deter people from sleeping on it. It's just a cheap way to install a bench.

I see two main claims in the article:

* "Unpleasant design" is different because it aims to exert social control in public spaces

* "Unpleasant design" is different because it is intended to create a hostile atmosphere - it increases unpleasantness rather than pleasantness

I don't really agree with either claim.

All design of public spaces is intended to exert some form of social control. Creating a manicured park with flower beds, comfortable benches and beautiful splashing fountains is intended to exert social control by encouraging people to congregate and spend time in the park. In fact, any good designer attempts to exert control by encouraging certain behaviour patterns over other behaviour patterns.

"Unpleasant design" is not intended to increase unpleasantness. Some groups perceive people sleeping on benches or congregating ("loitering") as unpleasant, just as other groups find preventing people from sleeping on benches or congregating to be unpleasant.

I'm not defending the particular examples of design referenced in the article. I'm not saying it's a great idea to make benches you can't lie down on. But I don't agree it makes sense as a distinct category of design. It's just design that tends to favour groups higher in the socio-economic hierarchy at the expense of groups lower in the socio-economic hierarchy. This may be a very bad thing, but I don't think it's a different type of design.

"I don't think it's a different type of design."

For some reason whenever I see articles like this on design, I think of conway's law. See, broadly, design is a process of questioning and understanding. This process is limited by and maybe starts to metaphorically resemble the structure of the organisation which produces it.

This is for some reason much more apparent where there is a social/political aspect to the design, rather than being purely commercial. Maybe a better design for a toilet to prevent injecting.. is a safe injecting room. ie. The problem as identified by the client is not 'people shooting up unsafely', the problem is 'our voters don't like these people hanging around'. The blue light somehow exposes the cold blooded rationalism of a council wishing to satisfy its benefactors at the expense of its inhabitants.In fact, it is just as important that it also illustrates this point, as it is as much about symbolism as utility.

So I guess while I agree with you, I still think it is worth drawing attention to the unpleasant designs for unpleasant clients..

But that is the whole point - the "society" intentionally wants to exclude certain activities and people, and thus makes systems, laws and also physical items and environment to make that desire happen.

Blue light in e.g. macdonalds bathrooms is not actually intended to influence how people inject their drugs, it's intended to make so that the people who want to inject their drugs don't come there, to exclude them from their community. A safe injecting room would not solve that, I'd rather argue that the blue lights are a cheaper solution doing the same job as e.g. face control and bouncers throwing people out from some other types of estabilishments.

I guess what you are arguing is that the design is in many ways apathetic to pleasantness, and simply a utility to exert change in behaviour.

I agree, but I also feel like making that distinction aligns really well with the idea that they are dehumanizing.

The contraptions themselves are definitely designed to be unpleasant though. But the design choice to add them to the space is a more complicated discussion.

Right. The article has a point, but trying to extend it into a full category of design—and then calling it "unpleasant design"—feels more than a bit arbitrary. They just grouped together designs with goals they disliked and called them "unpleasant" under the guise of developing a "critical theory". When you define a category, with a name, you're heavily implying that the categorization you use is important and meaningful and natural, and it's not clear that it is here.

They're trying to sneak a particular moral point through as commentary on design—which, thinking about it, isn't all that different from the designs they criticize.

I'm not sure it's that important, but I would say there's a difference between preventing people from doing what they want and inviting people do to something. That said, I'm also not sure the article actually claims that difference.

> Whether handed down by the establishment or created in response to official interventions, there is always an aspect of coercion to design. Usability design, for instance, is used to get people to buy things and use their smartphones in certain ways, often without the user even being aware of it. Fundamentally, works of unpleasant design, hostile architecture and street furniture in general are no different.

I agree that the word "different" isn't the best word.

These are a physical equivalent of Dark Patterns (user interfaces designed to trick people).

Dark patterns attempt to trick the intended user. What is the trick being pulled on the intended user here?

This works also towards animals.

For example, on top of the information displays at outdoor stations, there are spikes, as seen on this picture:


These prevent birds from sitting on these displays, which keeps the displays clean and prevents passengers waiting below that display from unpleasant surprises.


Queues at Disneyland etc. follow these principles too, to stop you from getting stressed by a long wait.

The “leaning benches” remind me of the mercy seats found in late medieval churches. Old or infirm monks and other clergy could use them for support during long prayers for which standing was obligatory.


I hate those high pitched buzzers for teenagers. I'm in my 20s and can still hear them.

To me, "buzzers for teenagers" is an extremelly unsettling slash dehumanizing idea. I thought it's a proof of concept, I can't imagine how anybody will actually install one of these.

It's totally like installing a bump in your door frame so any people with disability will have difficulty passing. We're not wanting any limp lamers to destroy our healthy mood inside, do we?

One day people who embraced this kind of thing will be old and helpless, and "teenagers" will held all posts. Just sayin'.

> I can't imagine how anybody will actually install one of these. //

You run a shop, a convenience store. Until recently you were making a living for you and your family but a group of teenagers have taken to hanging out outside your store. They do petty criminal damage, graffiti, break the bins, that kinda thing. What's more troubling is that they verbally abuse your clientelle and provide a hostile environment. Your clients stop coming because they're intimidated, rightly or wrongly, by this crowd of teenagers: they don't want to be asked to buy alcohol, and jeered at if they refuse, just to get a pint of milk and some bread or get their morning papers.

You call the police, who send someone a few hours after the teenagers have left, or on occasions clear them away; but they just come back.

Installing a "Mosquito" high-pitch noise generator means that the teenagers will be put off congregating here, they'll meet perhaps at the park over the road, or go to the skate park, or meet at each other's houses, or ... the harm they'll suffer is extremely limited. The benefit is now that the community can again use the store in a relaxed way, you can now make a living again. The teenagers end up playing football or skating or something, not intimidating people trying to use a convenience store at least.

Some people perhaps complain about the noise, but once inside it doesn't affect them, it's a minor inconvenience as they enter the store.

Can you really not see the benefit nor imagine someone using such a device?

> Installing a "Mosquito" high-pitch noise generator means that the teenagers will be put off congregating here

So here you're installing a mosquito device outside of your venue? A device that produces constant noize pollution in a common street? I can surely see how somebody should complain to police, and they surely should confiscate that device and write you a fine. It's strange if that would not happen.


> ...a group of teenagers have taken to hanging out outside your store...

There's some kind of weird narrative here, because I've never heard things like this happening where I live. Not once.

> The teenagers end up playing football or skating or something, not intimidating people

Why won't they do that in a first place? If they also enjoy destroying bins and drawing gravity they can surely do that in ten minutes or so, doing all the damage and avoiding too much nuisance from your device? I can't imagine teenagers hanging in one place all the time, won't that be extremelly boring?

It happens where I live, a poorer city in the UK. Sometimes it's a very similar thing outside people's houses.

Have you ever been asked to buy alcohol by underage kids as you approach a shop? If not then you probably don't live in an area where things like this happen (or alcohol laws in you country are more liberal).

No, but I was once asked to buy some fireworks for them. As a matter of fact I did :)

I still don't understand why they would do that constantly and in one spot. That's weird and non-teenagery.

I think you don't realize how loud these things are. The whole street becomes painful to walk on.

Why don't you complain to authorities?

It's apparently legal to use.

Then somebody should totally install such a device near the shop owner's home. Encompass perhaps.

There's a group of kids that do exactlythat in front of a bodega on 31st Ave in Astoria

It seems that you've got yourself a case of "social debt", not unlike the "technical debt" in software projects.

Spoiler: No, it's not solved by sweep-overs.

Personally I would stop going to a store that installed them, as I find them highly unpleasant and the concept anti-social.

> One day people who embraced this kind of thing will be old and helpless, and "teenagers" will held all posts. Just sayin'.

By then they will be molded by the system to act the same way, or they will be in a position where the unpleasant design will seem desirable to them, so don't get your hopes too high.

Maybe; but they will also have no reservations against cutting access for older generation because they were taught it's okay to do.

So such people better prepare to an extremely unpleasant late life.

> unsettling slash dehumanizing

As a tangent, it is fascinating to me that you would write out the "slash" instead of using the single character symbol.

Watching the evolution of the thing-a/thing-b construct from a shorthand used almost exclusively in online text, to something used in spoken conversation to explicitly convey a mix of several ideas has been really interesting.

I wonder if there are examples of this pre-internet, or a similar construct that has now fallen out of style?

I was in New York recently and the Franklin Av Shuttle subway station seemed to have these devices throughout the station (entry hall, stairs and platform were all covered). Also in my 20s and I could hear them clearly - the frequency was changing between several very annoying ones, all in the extremely high pitched spectrum (17.5-20kHz, from what I read online). By the time the train arrived I was really glad to get out of there, it made my head hurt quite a bit. It was an awful experience. Apparently the MTA decided that royally annoying young customers was less important than preventing loitering kids.

I'm 36 and I can still hear them. Thankfully, they aren't very common in my area.

I really hate all of the effort taken to prevent people from sleeping (or generally relaxing) on the street in San Francisco. I have on many occasions picked up a sandwich and then walked a mile without finding a good place to sit and eat it. All because we're worried some homeless person might be too comfortable.

The problem is not that homeless people want to sleep on benches, the problem is that we've failed so badly at taking care of each other that people have nowhere else to sleep.

I didn't realise spikes, etc. were used for this; I would imagine this just "shifts the problem" a few centimetres, requiring spikes to stop people urinating on the spikes.

I think the "splash-back" approach to stop urination is a much more interesting topic, compared to unimaginative spikes.

A friend had a shoe store downtown and one of the most unpleasants things about it was that every night someone would piss in the front gate/door. How do you deter that?

He closed the business (not only for that reason, of course) and has a store in the mall now.

Install a camera if allowed. If the mere threat of being caught on film was not enough then find out when this would typically happen in the night and hire a couple of security guards for a night or two.

Not sure if it would work but not impossible.

Maybe first one could install a bright light, controlled by a motion detector? There are lots of nooks in a city that can be pissed upon in the relative privacy of darkness. If that doesn't do the trick, then a camera could be used, if a sign were posted notifying the public of that use.

Install a urinal nearby?

Why should we accommodate public urination? Just because someone does something, does it automatically mean it's dehumanizing to deter it?

This is what the city can do. What can you do as a shop owner?

Electrifying the metal doors comes to mind, but its illegal, evil, and probably disproportionate to the damage done by the drunkard.

Move the door so that it's flush to the outside wall, rather than providing a niche.

I always wondered if this is hostile architecture or just plain stupid


See how the lady walks on the right? Bicycles stay on the two rails on the left and often pedestrians too. All the space in the middle is nobody's land. It's rounded pebbles in a concrete pavement.

You see this a lot of airports. One particularly egregious example is EasyJet's 'boarding lounge' (which you are funneled into long before a plane even arrives), which has a few leaning benches but is otherwise standing room only. This isn't for any public good - it is meant to push you into paying for 'speedy boarding', which gets you access to a roped off area with proper seats.

It seems like this is the real world equivalent of the design that has to go into social software.

It's a universal rule of the public Internet that spam and abuse make everything suck. Therefore it's not enough that your design encourages good usage. It also has to discourage bad usage.

Generally I avoid the homeless. I don't give them money and I frown on their activities. However, they are humans, and they deserve to be treated with respect. It warmed my hearts when the anarchists in London used cement to cover up the spikes at a Tesco. I'm not advocating destruction of property, or the breakage of any laws, but I do think we all need to change our views on the homeless. They're people. Treat them with respect, even if you disagree with their way of life.

I'm convinced that someone(s) in Santa Monica, CA's urban planning divsion has been practicing unpleasant design ruthlessly.

The first pass replaced normal bus bench seating with low blue toadstools. Once they figured out that they're terrible for people with any kind of knee problem or more serious disability, they added a pair of poles to the sides. Useless, uncomfortable seats, but by God, no homeless people (or regular people) can enjo y their use.

More recently, at a rail station they added a wavy pattern to the sidewalks[1]. I heard second-hand that the texture causes disorientation and nausea, and then I experienced it myself. Now I'm convinced that it's to keep bicyclists off the sidewalk, because it makes anyone sick to look at it, but bicyclists are slightly faster and usually have to look where they're going more carefully than pedestrians.

[1] http://ronslog.typepad.com/ronslog/2016/06/santa-monica-phot... , particularly the sixth photo. Not mine, but the best shots I've seen of it.

Good lord that sidewalk is horrible when looked at from eye height. Does it give the same impression of lumpy/wavy when you're crossing it rather than walking along it?

It's mostly oriented so that you can only walk along it -- that is, it's bounded by the road and a barrier, so that you can only really experience it one way.

It is pretty miserable.

Then there's the Columbia, SC final solution to the homeless problem.[1][2] Their concentration camp plan didn't work out, though.

[1] http://www.columbiasc.net/depts/city-council/docs/old_downlo... [2] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/28/south-carolina-ca...

There is an old classic book about the topic about NYC from a famous researcher. Everyone should read that book. (I don't recall the details, but I have it in my bookshelf at home)

Are you thinking of "the life and death of great american cities" ? I'm reading it now.. very interesting book and still relevant.

Jane Jacobs, for those unfamiliar with the author. A true gem.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces:


"The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" by William H. Whyte

I would love to see fewer street lights. Especially in village / suburban settings. But the word is that they reduce crime. Are there any studies to this effect?

Sorry, I meant to upvote you but got the wrong arrow. Anyway, I once read a nice article about light pollution that made this point: light to reduce crime is a common misconception. Criminals don't like dark places any more than we do, and a lack of light makes their job harder, not easier. It would seem that the primary literature continues to bear this out.

Yes this is why there is no nighttime lighting on my farm. I know the place well, so I have no trouble walking about and doing whatever I need. Recently a mare and foal were delivered by semi van at the front gate (our hill is too steep for this vehicle) at 1:30 AM. It was no trouble for me to lead these animals the half mile to their pasture, down the hill, across several other pastures and a creek, in the pitch-black darkness of a moonless cloudy night. Someone unfamiliar with the property would have broken several ankles.

Reminds me of a scandal with Tesco in London when they installed "anti-homeless" spikes in front of their stores. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/12/tesco-spikes...

It's basically applied actor-network theory from sociology and the delegation of control to objects https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory

The irony that the second edition of the book is digital only, so can't be used for stoking fires, covering windows, making paper airplanes... etc.

Unpleasant design ?

aka, design.


This comment breaks the HN guidelines badly. We ban accounts that do this, so please don't post anything like it again.

Instead, please (re)-read the site guidelines and follow them. That means posting civilly and substantively, or not at all.



We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12043967 and marked it off-topic.

the blue toilet isnt bad design - its used to stop people injecting drugs in public toilets

Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić, co-editors of the book Unpleasant Design, are quick to point out that unpleasant designs are not failed designs, but rather successful ones in the sense that they deter certain activities by design.

I don't think anything in this article is designed "poorly" and I don't think the author meant to convey that the design was bad - the designs of these objects just have a goal of being unpleasant. If your goal is to design something unpleasant, and you succeed, I would say that is a good design.

I think you maybe just skimmed over the article. They didn't state that something was designed "poorly".

We have them in the bathrooms of our math department too (on classrooms' floors). Guess math students have heroin problems.

Or people that are not students are entering the math department to inject drugs on the toilet.

Edit: For who ever downvoted this - it isn't uncommon. In the Technical University of Vienna 15 years ago blue lights were installed on toilets exactly because of this. There were a lot of drug addicts in a nearby park that used the Universities toilets for injecting. (because they are free to use)

i would suggest reading the article

It doesn't stop anyone, just pushes them elsewhere. The real solution is safe injection sites.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact