Over on the Design & Behaviour list/group, Jamie Young of the RSA has started a discussion about the UK's 'smart meter' plans, on which the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is running a consultation. Jamie's blog post here is a great introduction to why designers should care about this: essentially, it's a chance for to get involved in influencing a government / electricity industry initiative which will result in smart meters in 25 million homes. The smart meter display is potentially going to be a ubiquitous product, an everyday user experience, and it's one of the first times that the UK government has explicitly got involved in using the design of a product / service to influence user behaviour (even if the 'design' element is barely mentioned in the 40-page consultation document or the numerous addenda). And given the scope of the UK scheme, it's likely that other countries will be watching with interest to see how it goes, and what they can learn.
Now it's true that there are some great, design-led companies and products appearing such as Onzo, Wattson and GEO, and projects such as AMEE - all of whose teams are, I'm sure, preparing detailed responses to the consultation. But if, as independent designers - interaction designers, information designers, product designers, service designers - we can have some input to the consultation, we should make use of this opportunity. They don't come along too often.
Some of the contributions so far to the Design & Behaviour group discussion from James Box, Gregor Wolbring and Simon Thompson have mentioned the need for a public API - James references Adam Greenfield here - which can allow users to do interesting things with their data, as well as supporting the needs of older and/or disabled users who may benefit from the information being displayed in different forms.
There are three main consultation questions which have an explicit 'design' component (though there are others in the document about which I think a few blog readers - as well as myself - may have some opinions):
Q12 Do you agree with the Government's position that a standalone display should be provided with a smart meter?
Q13 Do you have any comments on what sort of data should be provided to consumers as a minimum to help them best act to save energy (e.g. information on energy use, money, CO2 etc)?
Q14 Do you have comments regarding the accessibility of meters/display units for particular consumers (e.g. vulnerable consumers such as the disabled, partially sighted/blind)?
If you're interested, please do join Design & Behaviour and contribute your ideas and responses. If you have experience of using smart meters or energy displays elsewhere in the world, or have a great idea for how a new system could work, do get involved.