Dan's been studying and writing about an area of design he called 'Design with Intent' - which in a nutshell is how design can be used to intentionally influence user behaviour in a really specific way. The kind of thing his blog initially became infamous for, was documenting street furniture that was deliberately designed to be uncomfortable for homeless people to sleep on, or kids to sit on, or pink lights that show up teenagers' acne.
More recently, he's been looking at how these kinds of design techniques can be used for good, rather than evil - for instance, by encouraging people to use a product in a way that's more eco-friendly.
Here's Dan explaining himself in his own words:
(by the way, Dan's also posted a workaround to the three pin lightbulb problem on his blog).
The workshop I participated in used Dan's draft design toolkit, which you can download from his website (PDF poster). This identifies 6 different 'lenses': persuasive, visual, cognitive, security, architectural and errorproofing, each of which feature a number of different design patterns. The exercise we undertook in the workshop was to use these lenses and patterns as a stimulus for coming up with ideas to meet a number of different design briefs (including how to encourage people to close their curtains at night in order to improve insulation, for which we came up with an idea to curve the curtain-rail downwards in the middle, making curtains slightly easier to close than to open, and an idea to add a zip fastening to curtains, so that the act of closing the curtains becomes the act of zipping up your curtains, borrowing a metaphor of warm jumpers, to associate curtains more strongly with warmth and insulation properties).
After the session, I had a few beers with Dan and also with Fergus Bisset, who recently said some nice things about my Lego logos post. Among other things, we discussed whether 'educating consumers' was feasible or realistic, and I ranted about why we shouldn't be lectured over and over again about turning off lightbulbs and phone chargers, when there are far bigger causes of global warming that no-one pays attention to...
It was great to meet them both, and if you haven't already done so, go subscribe to their blogs...