Posted by: James Porteous | December 8, 2009

What it is…

As part of the RSA entry – which I’m hastily trying to pull together (hence the late hour of this post!) – I’m required to deliver a five hundred word headshot of a statement on my proposal. Although you’ve not seen my final proposal, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at how I’m selling my concept to the competition.

“Stoplifting is a proposal designed to reduce shrinkage amongst small retailers, by enhancing the pre-existing abilities of retail staff to defend their store against theft.

Current loss-prevention methods are based around high-investment propositions – the use of security staff, CCTV systems, electronic stock tagging, and ultimately, the acceptance of theft as a quantifiable cost for retailers. For larger stores, the incorporation of these methods and margins to account for theft offer a satisfactory situation, whereby theft is neutralised, even if shoplifting is not always prevented – for smaller stores, margins may not be large enough to allow these options.

For all retailers, their key asset in fighting shoplifting is the physical presence of employees; a fact supported by staff and shoplifters alike. Experienced workers know the items at the highest risk of theft, can identify habitual thieves, and vitally, can recognise suspicious behaviour. While traditional electronic methods of loss prevention work, they are overly reliant on single-role security personnel, and draw attention to regular staff at too late a stage. Once a shoplifter flees with a tagged item, what use is an alarm to a shop worker serving behind the till?

Stoplifting is more than simply a product-based solution to this situation. At its heart, the proposal suggests that loss prevention should be focused much earlier in the shoplifting process, enabling regular staff to be made aware of potentially suspicious activity in the store before thieves have the chance begin their escape, ultimately discouraging shoplifting. This can be accomplished by drawing attention to high-risk items – those known by staff to be in greatest danger of theft – through the use of sound. Simply by alerting employees to attention being directed at these items, the concept increases their awareness through an audible alert that offers them a chance to evaluate the immediate risk of theft.

As an example, the display proposal would be manufacturer-supplied as a point-of-sale unit to the shop (items commonly distributed to retailers). With the item inside identified as high-risk, its release is achieved by a mechanism that creates a uniquely identifiable sound – out of place in the retail environment, with a long duration, and no negative connotations for innocent shoppers (unlike current false-alarms from tagged goods). Determined shoplifters are deterred by potential noise, and casual shoplifters by the presence of visible security, while customers are presented with a satisfying method of dispensing the product. The design makes it suitable for numerous goods, simply by altering the construction dimensions – the modular nature of the unit makes it ideal for displaying large ranges of one product, whether make-up or marker pens, and keeps suitable stock levels in the display at all times.

Essentially, Stoplifting suggests both a new direction for future loss prevention, as well as a clear example of how it can be achieved. While the growth of shoplifting can be stemmed by large-scale security investment, small retailers must be given the opportunity to achieve this goal, even when facing budgetary constraints.”

So there you go. Currently finalising the presentation of the idea in time for the deadline!

Posted by: James Porteous | December 7, 2009

Having a mechanical

Been trying to figure out the mechanism for this display today, and it’s proving harder than I thought! Basically, my ideas about the simplicity of the mechanism in a pump action shotgun were perhaps a little optimistic, as it’s a fairly complex beast once you get inside. However, I’ve had a go at producing something based on it as a means of dispensing the product.

From top to bottom, the mechanism works as follows:

  1. Product is stored in a tube below the point where the customer accesses the product – behind the product, there is a spring, which pushes the items down the tube as the one in front is removed.
  2. When the customer pushes the pump action (not illustrated on the diagram) towards the back of the spring, a small hatch within the unit is forced downwards, allowing a product to be pushed up into the retrieval area of the display. The spring pushes the next product into position.
  3. The customer pulls the pump action back, and the product is raised up, sliding to the end of the display, and allowing easy removal. If not needed, the product can be pushed into the tube underneath, where the mechanism accepts it back into the magazine.

However – this is far, FAR too complex. It’s a complete faff to have something this fiddly to simply dispense a product, and it doesn’t have much in the way of capacity. So, in a similar vein, I looked at how a semi-automatic handgun pulls bullets from a magazine into the firing chamber, such as in this animation (Apologies for the dire music).

From this, I drew up the following mechanism as an approximation of how it could be used in a dispensing capacity.

  1. Magazine is stocked with product, while the block in the exit tube prevents them from being released.
  2. Customer pushes the tab on the front of the display back, allowing a product to drop into the exit tube – the size of the tube prevents more than one being released.
  3. The tab is then pulled forward (or possibly pushed automatically by a spring), bringing the product to the front of the display to be removed. The customer can then place the item back into the magazine if they do not want it.

It’s pretty clear that this is a much, much simpler solution, as the gravity-fed magazine idea allows simple storage of a number of each product. Obviously the way in which items are re-inserted into the display needs to be dealt with, otherwise they could simply be removed that way too, circumventing the entire point of the display! I’m also not convinced of the layout, but I think I’m getting close… might be a long night, or an early rise… or both.

Posted by: James Porteous | December 6, 2009

Quick update…

I’ve been reading about sound in design today, and thought I’d put up a couple of things that I found quite interesting.

First up is a quote from an article called Why is that Beeping? A Sound Design Primer, by designer and musician Max Lord. He discusses a number of aspects of the development in sound design, and how it relates to product design. Notably, he identifies three key areas:

New sounds a designer introduces must compete with existing environmental sounds.

We experience sound in time, and consequently we have difficulty listening to two things at once. While visual designers talk about relative visual weight, the analogous issue in audio is masking. One sound can completely hide another when heard simultaneously, a condition that leaves us overly sensitive to intrusive, unwelcome, and especially insistent sounds. We are more offended when a loud car tears down the street than when an ugly one does.

Designers must find sounds that do not become tired-sounding when we hear them often.

A sound’s musicality (or lack thereof) is the main consideration in the sound’s likelihood of fatiguing the listener. Musical sounds are easier to absorb over a long period of time, and provide a natural background for the other sounds in our life. You can listen to a simple chord progression or a well-loved piece of music for a long time before it becomes tiring. But if you were to walk into the office and begin counting to one hundred in a loud monotone, you might only make it to thirty before someone strangled you.

Current research is focused on understanding people’s assumptions about what their environment ought to sound like.

This kind of research provides product designers with empirical data on what sounds and volume levels are considered acceptable. Much of the discussion regarding the development of sound in consumer products is focused on how to avoid annoying the products’ users. Both of these issues are extremely important in predicting how new products will be received by customers when the devices start making noise. Sound is simply unavoidable, and ensuring that it is inoffensive to customers is often the primary consideration.”

Good to see that I’m at least considering the correct ideas, by looking at the juxtaposition of sounds in the retail environment to ensure they are identifiable amongst the sound of the shop, as well as making sure that whatever I come up with doesn’t piss off the customers!

The second article is entitled Product Sound Quality – from Perception to Design, and is by Richard H. Lyon. Lyon has conducted work on the way in which sound is described and perceived, as well as its integration into design. A lot of the article is pretty heavy going, but one comment stands out:

“But what about a product that is new? When the instant camera was introduced, it made a sound that was completely different from that of a 35 mm SLR camera. If the product is different, then experience shows that the new sound can become acceptable, particularly if there is a difference in function, as there is with an instant camera.”

So essentially, because my concept is a new interaction, the sound doesn’t need to comply with any preconceptions about what noise it ‘should’ make. Hopefully, this means that customers are less likely to feel disturbed by the noise created to deter the thief.

Posted by: James Porteous | December 4, 2009

Action Satisfaction

As I was saying before, I’m wanting to make the action of this release as satisfying for the user as possible. From discussion with coursemates, the sound of the action is directly linked to the quality of the action itself – interestingly, the most enjoyable actions seem to be heavily mechanical.

So I did some scribbling, thinking about how those gestures I posted could be incorporated into a mechanism that would release a product and make noise. Most of what I’ve been considering uses a  ratchet sound (like you get on a good socket set, or the freewheel of your bike), but the only natural motion associated with that noise is rotation. Although lack of association is not an issue in itself, I’d like the sound to reflect the gesture of the customer.

From this, I thought about items that hold a number of objects, and dispense them individually – bizarrely, it’s clear that there’s a totally unrelated product that does exactly this. It also has both an extremely satisfying action, and a noise of the mechanical quality that was identified earlier.

A pump action shotgun stores several shells beneath the barrel, and cycling the mechanism pulls them up into the breach. Cycling the mechanism again pushes the cartridges out of the gun through the ejector port. I’ll be looking to develop the final concept from something like this action, as the movement of the product in the display can be approximated to that of a shell… obviously without the shooting, and removing the idea of it being a weapon.

For those who don’t know how the inner workings of a pump-action works, check out this How Stuff Works link – HERE. Although it seems complex, I’m only interested in the way the action draws the shell out of the magazine, and into the chamber; the rest is superfluous, as I’m not looking to fire the product at the customer.


Posted by: James Porteous | December 4, 2009


Based on my last post, you may well be wondering where I’m heading now, given the RSA deadline is a week from now. Well, wherever it is, it’s going to be fast…

As I said previously, I’m not so much changing the concept as I am the way in which it’s integrated into the retail environment – I wasn’t happy with the limited scope of the previous idea, so I’m looking at something else I’ve been mentioning in the blog, and that’s looking at product dispensing.

I wasn’t a big fan of this when I broached it before, but from talking with my tutor, I realise that was because I focused on the storage element too much. The real design – and ultimately, the part of a dispenser that my brief is concerned with – is in the way the product is released from the storage area, and how that can alert staff using sound.

Additionally, I took the opportunity to go back to an area I wasn’t considering clearly enough in the first stage – how sound affects the stakeholders involved in the shopping process. All sound is not pleasing, and that’s a key issue when you’re requiring everyone, be they friend or foe, to experience the same sound on relasing a product. Most people have had the experience of setting off a shop alarm by accident, and it’s not pleasant – this type of issue must be avoided in the final design. I’ll post up my latest mind-map on this subject later today.

Following this, I’ve begun to look at the gestures involved in releasing a product from the dispenser. Whatever the sound, the interaction with the unit should not negative impact on their shopping experience; ideally, it should be a positive one. Later, I’ll be looking at how these gestures can work in conjunction with the sound ideas to create concepts.

Posted by: James Porteous | December 4, 2009

Moving off

So, my last post was all about singing the praises of velcro and my analysis of it as a suitable material for design in this project. From that, I refined an earlier concept that looked at its use to alert staff members to the removal of high-risk items in the store – click the link and you’ll get a look at one of my concept sheets.

From the previous mock-up shown earlier, a number of modifications were made to improve the display:

  • The amount of velcro was reduced to lower unit cost, as well as improving the flexibility of the unit.
  • The straps were separated to allow them to better conform to the product inside.
  • A buckle was added to improve the tightness of the straps.
  • The straps themselves were changed to a nylon construction, allowing them to fit various shapes of product.

The pictures below give a simple idea of how it works in practice.

Item is wrapped in display straps, preventing removal without opening as directed

Customer can then remove the item simply by pulling down on the tab, as indicated.Velcro tabs beneath the straps are pulled apart, and the retailer is alerted to the removal of the item.

With the velcro tabs released, the product straps are loosened enough that the product can be slipped out of the loops, and taken to the till.

However! There still remains the fact that the unit, whilst tip-top for operating with larger items like spray cans, is ultimately flawed for smaller goods – it struggles with quantity. This also comes into play when considering the space needed for the display, and how much it can store in that area… try arranging a plethora of spray cans side by side, when they have to be removed horizontally, for example.

Ultimately, whilst this idea has been my main concept of late, I’ll be dropping it. Realistically, the concept of my project is not just the item at the end – it’s the use of sound to raise staff awareness that I’m interested in, and the final result will simply be the vehicle for its integration in the retail environment. Not sure I should have used the word ‘simply’ there…

Posted by: James Porteous | November 28, 2009

Hooked on loops

You might have got the impression that I’m a fan of velcro in this project. I like what it offers as a material, and I like the playful nature of the ripping noise it makes, as well as the fact that varying the speed of removal simply makes more noise – a quick rip is louder, while trying to do it gently just makes the noise more prolonged.

However, I’m not blind to its flaws – it eats fluff, which degrades the quality of the velcro over time, and in relation to the previous concepts, could prove to be a problem. Also, at the price offered by a local craft store, it doesn’t seem particularly viable in cost terms.

As a result, I decided to take a careful look at whether or not the material is suitable to design with. First off, I looked at the price. Unable to extract information on the trade price of velcro from the shop, a look online reveals that it can be obtained considerably cheaper, especially when you factor in bulk buying:

1m of hook strip & 1m of loop strip, 50mm wide, self-adhesive

Retail price – £7.00 per metre
Bulk price – £1.10 per metre

Clearly, cost is not as much of an issue as initially expected. The retail markup is very high, and any mainstream production of the item would not utilise materials bought at retail price.

Secondly, I looked into the life-expectancy of hook & loop fastening (the generic name for Velcro). While it was difficult to find a reliable source, an article in Popular Science from July 1978 states that “Nylon fasteners have a cycle life of 10,000 openings and closings”. If an item’s enclosure is used 10 times a day, then the individual velcro piece will still last for just under three years, which isn’t unreasonable, given the low cost of replacement material.

The final issue is the fluff problem, and that can’t really be explained away – the hook side is very bad for attracting thread, hair, and anything else that happens to be blowing around. So, the only way to avoid that is to prevent the material – specifically the hook side – being exposed to dirty environments… can this be done?

Posted by: James Porteous | November 28, 2009

Spinning plates

As I mentioned, I’m still dabbling in a few different ideas for expressing my final concept. The concept itself is to use sound to alert staff members to the fact that someone has picked up one of the store’s high-risk items, but obviously there’s more than one way to do this.

From the previous post on the cutlery dispensers in the Ref, I’ve had a think about how similar dispensing technology could be used to attract staff attention. Storing high-risk items in a dispenser setup has a number of benefits:

  • Simple to stock
  • Allows stock to be stored neatly on the shop floor
  • Simple for customer to access
  • Does not impede customer’s experience
  • Their use attracts the attention of the staff member

So, I began to think about the problem, again using spray cans as an exemplar product – it’s clear that this type of solution would be easy to tailor to a range of products of varying styles.

The sheet above basically shows a few quick sketches to try and thrash out how the paint can be displayed in various dispenser configurations. Three important points are highlighted here; it cannot be too complex, and ideally, it should be modular, to allow it to fit simply into the shop display – it should also offer some point where the release of a product creates an audible signal.

Using a rotating gate at the end of the dispenser, it’s possible to allow only one product to be released at a time, but in a manner that results in a prolonged sound from the release mechanism – a simple ratchet in the handle of the release creates noise as it turns. However, the manner in which stock is inserted creates an obvious flaw, as the gravity-fed method used here means the customer – and ultimately, thieves – can remove products from the top of the dispenser.

Adapting the stand to a design that fits with the idea of modularity, it’s possible to see how a range of one product type could be displayed in a small space. However, stocking is again an issue, as front-loading displays will make customers who remove items to browse less likely to put the item back properly (if they are unsure how to re-insert it through the gate in the display, for example).

I have reservations about this idea. Whilst I accept that it is highly adaptable through a few design changes, stocking is still an issue, and to me, it seems a little bulky… Obviously at this time in the project, I need to decide quickly what my solution is, but I don’t want to dismiss a concept too quickly. If something comes out of this in the next day or so, then so be it, but I’m not going to force a compromised idea forward.

Posted by: James Porteous | November 24, 2009

Testing, testing…

I am still looking at the dispensing idea, but in the meantime, I got hold of some Velcro and decided to have a shot at mocking up one of my ideas to see how it performed. The model below is made of paper and Velcro strip, giving a rough idea of the concept.

The velcro is double-sided, so when the can is rolled up in the ‘blanket’, the surfaces bond together and hold the can tightly. Multiple units can be stored vertically above and below, with the idea being that only one item of each variety (colour, for example), is accessible to the customer.

The can protrudes from the end of the blanket, making it simple for the customer to quickly identify what colour of paint is which. However, the blanket obscures other data about coverage, ingredients or similar, so there is a need to allow access to this information, preferably without the need to remove the can.

So, given the product is wrapped in a re-usable adhesive surface, I decided to try the idea of removable tags. This means the display unit doesn’t have to be used specifically for one brand, one product, or one specific range of colours, but can be adapted to whatever is in it. In the example above, the label shows colour and info for the customer about obtaining more of the product, but the tab could encompass any information at all.

On asking one of my coursemates to have a try, it became apparent that the method of removal isn’t at all obvious – the product looks fixed aside from the clamps at the top.

Using a simple labelled pull tab, the customer is alerted to the method for releasing the product, which pulls the Velcro open, and allows the simple removal of the item from the display. The display then leaves a visible tab, showing the retailer what product needs to be replaced, and also indicates to the customer the missing item, should they wish to purchase one.

There are a few issues with this concept:

  1. You can slide the can out sideways – Fairly obviously, the can is able to be removed by sliding it out sideways from the display. This circumvents the noise-producing aspect of the display, making it useless.
  2. Re-stocking is difficult In order to make sure the display functions correctly, it is necessary to tightly fasten the velcro around the item; it is fiddly to do this.

However, I’m already thinking about these, and am confident they can be overcome. With the deadline looming, I’m keen to pick a definitive solution, so keep reading for more updates, as and when they happen.

Posted by: James Porteous | November 24, 2009

Dispensing advice

They’ve recently got a new item in the Ref that caught my eye, which replaces an old system of stock display with a new one. The traditional tray with four compartments – the staple of school canteens the world over – has been replaced with a slick modern design…

Something I’d considered previously, is a similar idea that limits access to products. Although the benefit of hygeine is not really a consideration in relation to shoplifting prevention, other aspects of this dispenser include the fact that people can’t lift handfuls of the product at once, reducing costs for the food outlet, and that re-stocking is simpler thanks to the way in which you can drop refils in to the unit.

The cutlery is arranged into ‘clips’ of dozens of spoons, which are dropped into the dispenser as one unit. Every time someone pushes the handle below, one of the item drops out into the tray at the base. It’s a nice, neat solution to a problem…

Anyway, my idea was basically a similar system that stores several of the markers or paint cans – the items that I’ve been using as exemplar products – but limits access to more than one at a time. I’m developing the idea a little to incorporate a means of audible alert (as is the direction of my project at the moment), so I’ll post back later when I’ve done this, but in the meantime, the ideas that I came up with originally are below – click to see bigger…

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