Design Lesson from a Post Apocalyptic Fairground and Beer Garden

Berlin’s an easy going city with colorful [1] and varied social scenes. Some those scenes are enough to make even a self-congratulatorily “forward thinking” Cantabrigian like me blush.

So when, my friends led me through the door of a club I knew nothing of and I was asked to cover the camera on my phone, I wondered if perhaps I hadn’t wandered into one of Berlin’s more ahem… unconventional clubs.

I hadn’t. But, I did walk right into an object lesson in design.

At the door to Birgit and Bier, a young woman asked me to hold my phone out so she could use tiny stickers to cover the cameras. Why? In her words, “so you can have all the privacy you want.”

Now, setting aside the factual nature of this (my own phone’s camera wasn’t threatening my privacy), this was pretty cool. The club’s values were on display instead of merely its rules. Front and center was the freedom to reveal what you want about yourself when you want instead of “NO PHOTOGRAPHY OR VIDEO. VIOLATORS WILL BE REMOVED”.

Not pictured, for obvious reasons: Birgit and Bier Not pictured, for obvious reasons: Birgit and Bier

The atmosphere inside was wonderful. It’s easier to dance like no ones watching when you know no one actually is. Imagine that. And, as a person who perhaps should be more self concious about my dancing, I really enjoyed it.

There are a lot of opportunities to apply this concept in engineering, design, and policy. Don’t just build put a particular feature in front of users, explain the values it promotes. Don’t just make a rule, tell people the values that led you to think it was the best thing to do.

Of course, this wont work for you if you aren’t actually acting in people’s best interest. If you can’t figure out what values led to a decision, maybe go back to the drawing board ;-)

When you give the people you interact with the chance to share your values, you change the context from “the man’s trying to keep me down” to “I’m part of this community”. Not only will people be more likely to go along, they’ll be happier to do it.

[1] Philosophically, it’s colorful, but everyone still wears black.