Social Innovation: John Zimmerman


John Zimmerman is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment between the School of Design and the HCI Institute. He teaches studios and seminars on interaction design as well as a course on mobile service innovation. He came to our Social innovation class to speak about social design and how it can be used to change people’s behaviors. Little did we know that Zimmerman would speak about how we should be moving away from personal awareness and into the realm of Edward Berney.

John Zimmerman’s guest lecture was surprisingly insightful because although as designer we want to see the good in people and allow them to change willfully under some type of personal awareness he mentions that the opposite is much more effective. Sometimes “we are overly fixated on solution choices vs. having no choice at all.” We as designers need to take advantage of both of these methods and open up our views. Although this was a sad truth that people sometimes have to be pushed instead of nudged in the right direction I agree. One example Zimmerman mentions is the Taxi Tip service that includes the extra step of clicking “no tip” in this way people are being shamed into tipping. Although this may not be the most ethical way it is very effective increasing the tipping by a large percentage.

Edward Bernay was considered the “father of public relations”. He changed the face of propaganda as we know it. In his Seminal work “Propaganda” he mentions:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.

Examples of Bernay’s work includes Bacon and Eggs presented as breakfast food, Cigarettes slimming waistlines, and more.