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Happy Buttons 2.0 and Brighton Maker Faire 2011

Over the last few months, with help from the guys at Build Brighton, we have been busy developing a new and updated, digital version of our Happy Buckets. We unveiled an event specific version of them at the Brighton Maker Faire this weekend.

Our current happy buckets are great. They are quick and easy to use, and raise your conscious awareness of how you are feeling very effectively. We can then compare the figures we get from this to profit and other things, but we do not have a very granular overview of the data and drawing conclusions is made quite hard. So, we have a need to improve our current system and allow us to somehow record more data than we are currently getting. We thought the best way to do this would be to create some sort of Arduino powered system that would collect the data and automatically store it in a database for easy analysis later.

We got in touch with Toby and Mike at Build Brighton to see if they could help us realise our dreams. During our first meeting with them, they mentioned the upcoming Maker Faire and suggested that we might like to get involved by measuring how happy the event was. With that in mind, we switched our focus from an office based project to an event based version of the buckets that we could then adapt for the office later.

Building the happy buckets for an event is interesting for a number of reasons. We were used to recording small amounts of data in a very controlled environment over a very long period of time. For the Maker Faire we would need to record a high volume of data in a much more uncontrolled environment and over just one day. We decided that it would be cool to have various ‘stations’ placed around the Brighton Dome to gauge the level of happiness throughout. Perhaps if something exciting was going on in one area there would be a flurry of happiness?

We went through many ideas of how the terminals would operate and what we would do with the collected data. These ranged from scales and tennis balls, giant levers and an Isle of Wight sand-tchotke style visualisation. In the end we went with the easiest option due to time restraints, two buttons on a big A board that would be hooked up wirelessly to an Arduino powered base station. We would then display the data, sliced and diced in various ways on a projected screen made of an old bed frame and a sheet!

The actual event on Saturday was fantastic, it was packed form the time the doors opened at 10 until 5, when they closed. We had so many interested and enthusiastic people come and talk to us at our little pitch, which was really inspiring. We even had a bunch of people interested in installing a version in their nursery, school or the hospital ward they worked on. The worst thing was that our innovative rear projected bed frame screen didn’t work so well, the dome was too bright and the image was just too washed out to be able to see what we were actually showing. In the end we reverted back to just the trusty laptop.

Behind The Wizard’s curtain:

The washed out screen :(

Our new and improved setup!

We tried to visualise as much data as possible without having an overwhelming interface, we asked Ross to come up with a snappy look for both the A boards and the visualisation. Below you can see we displayed the complete totals (the big buckets), totals across each of the 5 areas displayed on a map of the dome, as well as data pulled in from Twitter (we searched for mentions of happy, sad, unhappy etc within the #bmmf hashtag) and the totals across time in five minute intervals. Click through on the image to view an annotated version on Flickr.

So what did we learn from the day? Well, I learnt that kids will push anything if it lights up and flashes. As you can see from the image above (snapped at about 4:45), most people were pretty happy, although way more people were sad than I was expecting. I think this was due to the fact that it was quite exciting to push a button, even though we had thought of this and tried to make the feedback as tame as possible so as not to encourage this kind of behavior.

Our next steps will be to set up the new buttons in the office, with five stations we will be able to install them in meetings rooms, the kitchen etc. We will be able to pull much more meaningful data from them and start trying to correlate it with other data sets such as financials or hours worked on a much more granular level.

It would be really exciting to see the Happy Buttons appear elsewhere, we will be making the code open source so that people can do this and we would love to work with anyone that would like to implement their own. Look out for an update on our Github repository in the next few days for the latest code. We will also publish the data we gathered at the Maker Faire on our Github account, if anyone wants to analyze it for themselves.

We think there are many places, besides offices, that could benefit from the raised awareness of happiness that our “Happy Buttons” bring, local neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, retirement homes, holiday villages, to name but a few. Is there a influx of unhappiness after hospital meal times? Or perhaps there is an increase in unhappiness before lunch in a school when kids are getting hungry and their attention is waning?

We would also love to have other events using Happy Buttons. It would be interesting to install them at a conference and record data before and after sessions, what do people think of the speakers? Or how about a PR event, what do people think of company XYZ’s new product? If you would like to use the Happy Buttons at your event, let us know!

We also had the idea of a pop-up happiness check, just turning up in the town centre one evening and dotting the stations around a few streets, for fun as well as to see how happiness in a town with a lively nightlife changes over the period of an evening. We have also talked about working with other companies around the UK or even around the world in order to undertake some kind of ‘happiness health check‘.

Whatever the reason, we think it is very important to be measuring happiness and being more aware of ours and other people’s well being. By being reminded to think about it on a daily basis you can start to notice patterns in your own behavior and if anything is wrong you can start to fix it, as an individual or as a collective, and we hope our Happy Buttons can go some way to empower and inspire others to do this! :)

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  1. I love the happy buttons, and asking people how they are feeling, but there is a serious question… When you talk about comparing the results to other metrics like profit, either you’re looking to support an existing assumption – such as happy workers = more profit – which would be bad science, or you’re open to all possible outcomes… In which case, what would you do if it turns out that people are most profitable when they are unhappy?

    Posted 5th September 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  2. Thanks Adam, really good question!

    Don’t worry, we’re not going to start making any outrageous claims, like a happier company = a more profitable company, and we’re quite open to the opposite being true.

    To me, this experiment is about recognising the importance of happiness, as well as profit, and raising awareness of both, rather than how they relate to one another. It’s as important to measure a the happiness of the people within a company, as it is to measure the company’s profit, if not more so!

    Posted 6th September 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Thanks Steve. I was thinking about this a little further (I’m easily distracted) and came to the idea that the inherent value in the ball system is that it involves human beings. Even if it’s just the person who has to ‘reset’ the system each day, you know that when you place your ball in a bucket, you’re ‘talking’ to a real person (who you probably know). And this can get lost in the button system.

    How about this for a compromise idea… You keep the buckets and balls, but you sit the buckets on weighing scales so you can still digitise/record/analyse the data without taking the human bit out of the data capture?

    Might be trickier to make though :)

    Posted 8th September 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  4. Thanks Adam, it’s a really good suggestion, I’d like to keep the ‘interface’ as real and as human as possible, so this is definitely something we’ll look into for a future iteration. :)

    Posted 14th September 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink