Anand Damani, 35, has worked in the fields of advertising, sales and marketing for companies like Lowe Lintas and L’Oreal while his cousin Mayur Tekchandaney, also 35, has been a consultant for Music Television (MTV) and runs a film production company, ChingumChiclet, that makes mostly television commercials.
The cousins started the branding and behavioural design company Briefcase last year. Their work involves designs that can influence perception and social behaviour. While both men have been bothered by the noise on Mumbai’s streets, things turned worse for Tekchandaney recently as his two children (four years and eight months) were being troubled by the constant chaos outside their house. Tekchandaney’s residence off Carter Road in Bandra is in a neighbourhood that has several popular restaurants, most of them open post-midnight, especially during weekends.
Damani says awareness-based advertising campaigns like Honking is bad, etc., have limited or no effect, so they create interventions—like Bleep—that will influence social behaviour. We just nudge people into doing something desirable, says Damani.
These interventions could be design- or communication-based. Bleep, for instance, is a technical invention. “Why do people honk?” asks Tekchandaney. “Not because of traffic or poor infrastructure or a lack of etiquette. It’s a habit; the person driving is not even aware of doing it. So you need something to alert him and an intervention to stop him from doing it.”
Damani says Bleep is similar to the seat-belt indicators in some cars, which beep till the belt is hooked on. “The gaps within the sounds (of beeping) make you alert; it makes you think that if I honk again, this thing will annoy me,” says Damani.
An automobile engineer helped them develop Bleep on the basis of a design Damani and Tekchandaney had in mind. The gadget is a little red button that’s placed close to the steering panel. In their experiments, Damani and Tekchandaney tried out two combinations—for the contraption to start beeping after every honk or after every three honks. It keeps beeping till the button is pushed to turn it off. The red button also has a frown face to “show disapproval”.
They tested it on around 30 people of varied ages over a period of six months. By inserting a microchip, they were able to measure how much the individual honked before and after using Bleep. In every case, instances of honking came down by more than 60%. They have now applied for a patent on the technology.
Damani and Tekchandaney realize that Bleep cannot be sold in the retail market because people, even if they honk excessively, will never accept it as a problem and therefore, will not buy it voluntarily.
They believe there is a three-tier future for the device. Firstly, “if we can influence policy, in which case every car would have to have Bleep,” says Tekchandaney. Secondly, a car company could make it a part of every model, and thirdly, a car company or a driving school or a taxi service could use it. “We don’t see it going off the shelves,” he says.
Some of the immediate options available to them are to approach the Automotive Research Association of India (Arai, a research institute supported by the Union ministry of heavy industries), the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, and individual motor companies.
Bleep is not the only product Briefcase has or is working on. But they intend to keep the focus on this product for at least another three months. They are also open to the idea of approaching other markets which may have similar problems, like China and some countries in South America. “The reason we have called this Bleep is because honking is abuse; it would have been verbal if you did not have horns. There is scope for this device,” says Tekchandaney.
Damani handles business and strategy, while Tekchandaney is the more creative one.