Cruel design

Cruel design and unpleasant design aims to prevent certain behaviours, exclude certain type of people. Unlike the better known aspect of design its main focus is turned from ‘for’ to ‘against’. One of the first examples of that kind of design is a late 18th century prison plan created by Jeremy Bentham ‘Panopticon’. It enabled the warden to see every prisoner without being seen in the end making inmates watch over themselves in fear of being watched. Since then there have been many devices, products created to limit citizens’ freedom and prevent socially unwanted behaviours. The idea on its own does not strike us as extremely offensive since its main notion could be seen as law and order protective.

However, it must be noticed that there are cases much closer to extreme than watching over convicted felons. Around 1980 pigeon spikes were introduced around London (Grindon, Gavin, 2015) and after barely 5 years the same idea was used to keep away bigger animals – humans. Anti-homeless spikes keen now be seen all over major cities preventing rough-sleeping (really popular in front of luxury apartments, hotels, supermarkets and public buildings). This project was seen as unhuman by many members of the public and protested against. Although in some rare cases spikes may have disappeared the majority of them remains. Big metropolis are crowded with that type of designs from anti-laying-down-benches to anti-skateboarding bolts. Everything undesired by the ordinary citizen (homeless, hooligans, noise) is being swept under the carpet.


Not every project is as hostile as the ones discussed above. There are certain design ideas that are more unpleasant than cruel. In one shop in California the owner wanted to stop kids from playing directly outside the entrance, the solution he came up with was rather extraordinary – he played classical music from speakers outside the shop. Instantly young, cool people stopped hanging out there. The other way of getting rid of unwanted behaviours can be just the usage of lights. Blue lights in public toilets – makes human veins invisible, pink lights – aimed to highlight teenage blemishes. Unpleasant? Maybe. Cruel? Not in the slightest. Efficient? Extremely.

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