Design Experiments: Tokens of Kindness in Des Moines // #chimesthesis – life+running

Design Experiments: Tokens of Kindness in Des Moines // #chimesthesis

Although my first experiment with Tokens of Kindness was pretty successful, I definitely needed to gather more information for my research. Design’s not science, but I didn’t feel comfortable running an experiment once and calling it good. So, I decided to set up my booth in different locations.

I decided to set up the Tokens of Kindness booth in the downtown Des Moines Skywalk during the noon hour. I chose this location because it was different from my first (easy) college location. The Des Moines Skywalk is different from the College of Design for several reasons:

  1. People who use the skywalk are not students
  2. People are not used to vendors being set up in the skywalks
  3. And people who use the skywalk system are passing from place to place, rather than milling about between classes.

I set up in the part of the skywalk that seemed to have the most activity, including a guitar player.

Tokens of Kindness in the Des Moines Skywalk from Calee Himes Cecconi on Vimeo.

Although I had a fun afternoon of hanging out with the skywalk guitarist (who turns out to be a regular fixture), I didn’t get much interaction with my booth. Why? Here are my theories:

  1. People who use the skywalk have a time-based  agenda — lunch, errands, etc. This made interacting with the Tokens of Kindness booth less appealing because their pre-planned activities had more motivators than interacting with the booth did.
  2. Typically people rush around during their lunch break — many people ignored the booth completely by either speedwalking past or by looking at their phones.
  3. Nearly all the people observed during this experiment were talking about money: money owed, spent, earned, or noted at work at the banks and insurance companies nearby. This seems to support the research on gift economies  clearly states that there are two types of economies: gift economies and capitalism; and that these economies live in disharmony, meaning that people usually act in one realm instead of the other.

Also, I ran into two other obstacles in the Des Moines Skywalk version of the Tokens of Kindness booth:

  1. The loud guitar player made it hard for people to hold a conversation with me.
  2. Although I enjoyed the company, people did not seem to like the music the guitar player chose, so they were rushing to get through that section of the skywalk.
  3. The speed at which people were passing by the booth coupled with the confusing currency symbol seemingly made the booth look like a for-profit venture, which might have made people less interested in interacting.

Obstacles aside, four people interacted with the Des Moines Skywalk version of Tokens of Kindness. The first two people were on their way back from lunch and were drawn into the booth by the handmade bags. It was clear that the two people who stopped were shopping on their lunch break, and that was likely why they were drawn in by the handmade items. Both women were excited to participate and filled out several tokens.

One of the women told the researcher that her life philosophy is to

… do good because it will only result in good being done to you.

In addition to the two women, two more people — a middle-aged man and woman — stopped by to investigate the booth. Both were interested in the premise of Tokens of Kindness, but the man was hesitant to fill out any tokens because of the time it took to do so and because he could not think of kind acts. He filled out three tokens in exchange for a bag, but then asked if he could pay money for a second bag. I allowed him to pay the monetary value for a second bag (I had pretty much given up at this point). I decided to keep the spirit of the gift going by paying that money to a homeless person I met later that day.

After this seemingly failed experiment, I decided to adjust my approach to Tokens of Kindness.

  1. I needed to find a location with a willing audience — one that has time to spare. It takes a minute for people to fill out tokens, so it is not appealing to people who are in a hurry.
  2. I definitely needed to update my currency mark.
  3. I had to find a quieter place. A bit of explanation is required for people to take part in the booth. The guitar made it too loud to explain the premise of the project without shouting.

Where to next? I decided to take Tokens of Kindness to a place full of people with time (and money) to spare: the mall.



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