Experientia® and sustainability
Experientia has a growing profile in the field of behavioural change for sustainability and environmental resilience. In recent years, we have developed frameworks for sustainable behavioural change in a number of projects. Part of that growing profile includes prototypes and designs for advanced smart metering concepts, like the two presented here: Ecofamilies, in Nice, France, and Stories, a mobile user interface concept for monitoring domestic energy use, in Italy.
Experientia’s other sustainability focused projects include developing an environmental road map for Kortrijk Xpo in Belgium to become the most environmentally sustainable trade fair complex in Europe; Low2No, focusing on behavioural change, service design and an advanced smart metering device, to help people achieve more sustainable lifestyles; and user research and smart meter design for a holistic approach for sustainable building for DE-GA S.p.A’s housing prototype project “CasaZera”.
Experientia® partnered with the Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) of Nice, France, and a series of other agencies, on Ecofamilies, a French sustainability project aimed at the development of a web platform for a pilot house to monitor domestic energy consumption. The project was financed by the French PACA Region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), under the FEDER framework research program.
Ecofamilies brought together selected public and private agencies belonging to the energy consumption domain, under the guidance of Experientia and the coordination of CSTB.
Envisioning and understanding
Experientia conducted detailed user research to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the issues involved in monitoring domestic energy consumption. The research had two layers of analysis: the private sphere and the public sphere. The private sphere explored people’s personal attitudes and behaviours in relation to the household. The public sphere focused on the patterns and behaviours that define participants and their families in relationship with the values, reference points and rules of their own community. Insights and opportunity areas coming from this analysis enabled researchers to gain deeper knowledge of what drives behavioural change and to understand the most critical barriers.
The research highlighted that participants felt sceptical about adding a new dedicated device to the devices they already used at home. They also wanted the service to have a high level of flexibility. For example, they wanted all family members to be able to access the platform in a wide range of situations, which means that it needs to be accessible from different devices, with various screen sizes.
Another feature that participants felt was crucial was customization, allowing people to feel a more intimate bond with the tool. These design directions all foster higher use by a wide range of people across multiple contexts.
Finally, Experientia designed the platform with a holistic lifestyle approach – in order to go beyond a tool that would appeal only to “green-geek” participants. We did this by incorporating information about home issues and transport options, transforming the tool into a hub of customized information for the domestic and urban environments. We also took an open approach to integrating community-oriented services like purchase pools, car-sharing and other apartment building or neighbourhood-level services, which help to increase the value and the interest of the platform.
Following the co-creation workshops, we conducted iterative cycles of design and feedback, gradually evolving the solution from its early forms into an increasingly sophisticated and appropriate prototype.
Prototyping and Testing
Based on the design concept, Experientia developed a first interactive prototype, which already showcased some of the main interactive features. We used this prototype with families during a workshop, to gauge opinions, and collect comments and further suggestions. Then we conducted usability tests, asking people to accomplish simple tasks using the interactive prototype.
From the tests, we identified issues covering technical bugs, usability issues and suggestions from the participants. The most relevant findings were addressed in a further iteration of the prototype.
The platform has been implemented in a pilot house in Sophia Antipolis within the CSTB research centre. The outcomes from this pilot project will feed into future developments.
For more on the Ecofamilies project, see:
Prototype link: www.experientia.com/upload/ecofamilies/page_dashboard.php
The Stories project focused on engaging citizens in energy consumption, through user research, design and the prototype of a smart meter device. It was funded by the Piedmont Region (POR FESR 2007/2013), and the European Fund for Regional Development and the Republic of Italy.
Envisioning and understanding
Together with Telecom Italia, the Turin Polytechnic University, and the ISMB and CSP research centres, Experientia conducted a feasibility study on energy monitoring mobile services and the state of the art in smart meters. In collaboration with the project partners, Experientia conducted user research in Turin, Italy, to collect insights on people’s energy consumption behaviours.
Design and prototyping
Based on the user research results and analysis, we developed a prototype for a mobile application to engage people in monitoring and comparing their energy consumption.
The prototype allows people to interact with a home page dashboard, with a simple and quick overview of the main information, using info-visualisations. As this is a mobile phone application, fast access to information is very relevant. In other pages, people can see a detailed list view of their consumption for each room of the house, and for each device or appliance in terms of kWh, CO2 or Euro. The application can monitor electricity, water or gas usage, and people can quickly switch between the three modes. Each mode is identified by a specific colour code, and together they offer a seamless user experience.
We conducted usability tests on the prototype with 20 participants. The results from the test analysis will inform the next iterations of the interface.
The project demonstrates the feasibility of advanced smart metering services in the Italian context, both from a technological point of view and from the perspective of the real users’ interests.