Sustainability

Introducing Powerchord (Blackbird edition) by Dan


Powerchord 1, housed in a Poundland lunchbox. In the video, you see a laptop (~40W) being plugged in, with, from 10 seconds, the Powerchord kicking in with relatively gentle blackbird song. (The initial very quiet birdsong at 4-8 seconds is actual blackbirds singing in the hedge outside!) Then at 30 seconds, a 400W electric heater is switched on, and the birdsong increases in emphasis accordingly. At 49 seconds, a second 400W element is switched on and the birdsong increases further in volume. There is some background noise of rain on the shed roof. In the previous post, I introduced the exploration Flora Bowden and I have been doing of sonifying energy data, as part of the SusLab project. The 'Sound of the Office' represented twelve hours' electricity use by three items of office infrastructure – the kettle, a laser printer, and a gang socket for a row of desks – turned into a 30-second MIDI file.

Going further with this idea, I've been playing with taking it into (near) real-time, producing sound directly in response to the electricity use of multiple appliances. Powerchord seemed too good a name to pass up. Again using CurrentCost IAMs, transmitting data to a CurrentCost EnviR, this system then uses an Arduino to parse the CurrentCost's XML stream*, and trigger particular audio tracks via a Robertsonics WAV Trigger. I tried a GinSing to start with, which was a lot of fun, but the WAV Trigger offered a more immediate way of producing suitable sounds.

The Powerchord prototype   CurrentCost IAM

Testing GinSing   Alongside CurrentCost EnviR

There are lots of questions - what sort of sounds should the system produce? How should they relate to the instantaneous power consumption? Should they be linear or some other relationship? Should it be an 'alarm', alerting people to unusual or particularly high energy use, or a continuous soundtrack?** I decided in this case, that I wanted to build on a number of insights and anecdotes that had arisen during discussion of representing energy use in different ways:

  • one of the householders with whom we're working had mentioned in an interview that she could tell, from the sound of the washing machine, what stage it was at in its cycle, even from other rooms of the house.
  • a remark from Greg Jackson of Intel's ICRI Cities that the church bells he could hear from his office, chiming every 15 minutes, helped him establish a much better sense of what time it was, even when he didn't consciously recall listening out for them
  • Blackbird

  • the amount of birdsong I can hear (mostly sparrows and blackbirds) both lying in bed early in the morning, and from the hedge behind the garden shed where I work when I'm working from home. Reinforced by a visit to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes a couple of weeks ago
  • the uncanniness of the occasional silence as the New Bus for London or other hybrid buses pull into traffic, compared with the familiarity of increasing revs for acceleration
  • the multi-sensory plug sockets produced by Ted Hunt during our 'Seeing Things' student workshop last year
  • the idea of linking time and daily routines and patterns to energy use, e.g. Loove Broms & Karin Ehrnberger's Energy AWARE Clock at the Interactive Institute.
  • the notion of soundscapes, e.g. Dr Jamie Mackrill's work at WMG with understanding and manipulating hospital soundscapes.
  • a recording I made out of the window of my hotel room, on a trip to Doha, of the continuous sound of construction work, interspersed with occasional pigeons
  • the popularity of things like Mashup: Jazz Rain Fire
  • Gordon Pask's Ear and attempts to recreate it
  • the ‘clacking’ sound of split flap displays (e.g. mechanical railway departure boards) as an indicator that the display has updated, as Adrian McEwen and Hakim Cassimally point out in their Designing the Internet of Things.

All of this led to using birdsong as the sounds triggered - in the video here, blackbirds - at different intensities of song (volume, and number of birds) depending on the power measured by the CurrentCost, at 7 levels ranging from 5W to 1800W+. The files were adapted, in Audacity, from those available at the incredible Xeno-Canto - these include Creative Commons-licensed recordings by Jerome Fischer, Jordi Calvert, Roberto Lerco, Michele Peron, David M and Krzysztof Deoniziak. I also made sets of files using house sparrows, and herring gulls, which proved particularly irritating when testing in the office.

Arduino, WAV Trigger and cannibalised CurrentCost EnviR   Arduino, WAV Trigger and cannibalised CurrentCost EnviR

The initial intention was to use multiple IAMs, with different birdsong for each appliance, played polyphonically if appliances are being used at the same time. This is the aim for the next version (and I'll publish the code), but was stymied in this case by 1) my misunderstanding of the CurrentCost XML spec, and 2) a failed IAM, which conspired together to limit this particular version to one IAM (with multiple appliances plugged into it), at least to have it ready to be shown at a couple of events last week. The prototype you see/hear here, in all its Poundland lunchbox-encased glory, was demonstrated by Flora Bowden and me at the V&A Digital Futures event at BL-NK, near Old Street, and at the UK Art Science Prize 'Energy of the Future' event at the Derby Silk Mill. It was more a demo to show that it could work at all than anything particularly impressive.

What's the overall aim with all this? It's an exploration of what's possible, or might be useful, in helping people develop a different kind of understanding of energy use, and the patterns of energy use in daily life - not just based on on numerical feedback. If it's design for behaviour change, it's aiming to do so through increasing our understanding of, and familiarity with, the systems around us, making energy use something we can develop an instinctual feeling for, much like the sound of our car's engine - once we're familiar with it - effectively tells us when to change gear.

The next version will, hopefully, work with multiple appliances at once, playing polyphonic birdsong, and be somewhat better presented - I'll post the code and schematics too - and, later in the year, might even be tested with some householders.

*Using a modified version of Colin R Williams' code, in turn based on Francisco Anselmo's. **The distinction between model-based sonification and other approaches such as parameter-mapping sonification is useful here - many thanks to Chris Jack for this.

Thank you to Ross Atkin and Jason Mesut for suggestions! Blackbird photo by John Stratford, used under a CC licence.

Work in progress: Ambient audible energy data by Dan

The three instruments you hear here represent the electricity use of three items of office infrastructure - the kettle, a laser printer, and a gang socket for a row of desks - in the Helen Hamlyn Centre office over 12 hours from midnight on a Sunday to lunchtime on a Monday, in December, monitored using CurrentCost IAMs. The figures were scaled to provide ranges that sounded better, and converted into a MIDI file using John Walker's csvmidi and then Aria Maestosa.

The 'ticks' indicate each hour's passing. The 'honk' (Tenor Sax) is the kettle (up to 1.5kW when in use). The 'whine' (Synth Brass 1) is the Kyocera laser printer. The other synth (Polysynth) is the gang socket, which mainly had a couple of laptops (15W-50W) plugged into it when people were in the office, and a charger (1W) plugged into it otherwise . Lower pitch indicates greater electricity use, hence the high-pitched whine is the background power of the printer (about 10W on standby, rising to 300W-500W when in use).

As the audio starts, you can hear, over the background whine of the printer, the kettle come on as the security guard makes himself a middle-of-the-night cup of tea. Then, early in the morning, the kettle is used three times by the cleaners - twice in quick succession (reboiling?) and then once again. Suddenly, from 9.30, as office staff arrive, the kettle goes on again, laptops are plugged in, the printer starts printing and the energetic hubbub of office life becomes apparent.

Sound of the Office

Data sonification has been in the news a bit recently, from Domenico Vicinanza's 'Sound of Space Discovery' to Opower's 'Chicago in the Wintertime'. It's something that's long intrigued me, but if I'm honest, has underwhelmed me in terms of either its actual utility or indeed its impact aesthetically. A (visual) graph is useful because I can use it to find something out. A table of numbers, likewise, even if patterns are less immediately evident. But a beautiful orchestral piece that just happens to draw on aggregated data which are a long way from anything I can comprehend, in scale or meaning, doesn't tell me anything, somehow. Sarah Angliss was pretty much spot-on in this 2011 Mad Art Lab post.

Energy use is the focus of one of the main projects I'm working on, and one of the strongest findings that came out of interviews and co-creation work with householders that Flora Bowden and I did last summer and autumn was the notion that the invisibility of energy was a major component of householders' lack of understanding, which contributed - by their own admission - to energy waste.

More than one person specifically suggested that being able to 'listen' to whether appliances were switched on or not, and, more interestingly, what state they were in (e.g. listening to a washing machine will give you a good idea as to where it is in its cycle), was potentially more useful for understanding how to reduce energy use than a flashy visual display or dashboard. Sound is potentially even more 'glanceable' than glanceables. Even hearing what you'd left on as you went out of the door would be useful. There are echoes of Mark Weiser's Calm Technology including Natalie Jeremijenko's Live Wire (Dangling String) but also the 'useful side-effects' of things like the 'clacking' sound of mechanical railway departure boards as an indicator that the display has updated, as Adrian McEwen and Hakim Cassimally point out in their excellent Designing the Internet of Things.

We also explored aspects of this idea further in our Seeing Things project with RCA students back in November, with contributors including Dave Cranmer and Dagny Rewera having an audio/visual sensory translation element to their work. Of the participants, Ted Hunt took an explicitly multi-sensory approach with his project, including audio, while Francesco Tacchini, with Julinka Ebhardt and Will Yates-Johnson, subsequently went on to create the incredible Space Replay where audio is both monitored and played back in public space.

I'm not saying the 'Sound of the office' audio above is particularly good. It was more of a let's-play-around-with-some-data experiment, and I've since found that proper sonification platforms exist. But the approach is something I very much want to explore and build on - possibly whole-house energy use audio disaggregated by appliance, or by activity - and it raises so many interesting questions around what is most useful or most effective at actually either influencing energy use, or helping people understand the complex systems around them. Should it be aesthetically pleasing, or horrible enough it triggers you to turn things off? Is that just the kind of over-simplification that makes most energy monitor displays ineffective? Should the audio be real-time or provide a summary? Should it be paired with visuals? (e.g. like Alexander Chen's beautiful MTA.ME or Listen to Bitcoin / Listen to Wikipedia) How much should it try to be 'music' versus, basically an 'auditory affordance' or alarm system? Should there be something about the quality of the sound that indicates something, e.g. load on the National Grid? (Thanks to Aideen McConville and Jack Kelly for this suggestion.)

The field is interesting partly because, post-PhD, I've come to realise that what I'm interested in is not so much the question of "how do we influence behaviour?" as an end in itself, but something more like "how do people understand complex systems of which their behaviour is a part, and how do we help them understand those systems better?". There's a substantial blog post coming on that, which hopefully draws together lots of interests and ideas, from the IoT to heuristics to seamfulness to affordances to mental models, and (I hope) will set out a kind of research programme which I might be able to get some funding for. But in the meantime, this is certainly part of the direction we're going in with the 'energy feedback' part of the RCA's work on the SusLab project. It's going to be ambient, and it's going to involve more than just numbers and graphs.

Direct link for MP3 file Sound of the Office

Making it easy by Dan

I have a blog post up at Guardian Sustainable Business, looking essentially at what's been referred to here previously as 'enabling' behaviour change, specifically in the context of sustainability. It's only a short article, and barely scratches the surface of the subject, but I hope it adds a useful contribution to the Guardian's sustainable living strand, much of which seems to focus on 'selling sustainability to consumers' rather than actually trying to understand the nuances of why people use energy and create waste in the ways that they do in everyday life. Hence, you'd be right to surmise that I'm not entirely comfortable with the "...green behaviour..." bit of the title: it introduces particular connotations that are not really what the article is about.

The article was commissioned by Autodesk, whose Sustainability Workshop team offer some excellent resources for designers and students -- e.g. these videos on life-cycle perspectives and other concepts relevant to product designers. Last year the team ran a Design with Intent workshop.

Report: Most people just trying to get by by Dan

Cubicles (image by Michael Lokner, used under CC licence) Most people, for most of their day, are trying to get by. Every day is essentially a series of problems, some minor, some major, some requiring more thought than others. Some we care a lot about; some we wish we didn't have to. Some are welcome; some we even bring on ourselves because we enjoy solving them; others are deeply unwelcome. Some we care about initially, but then find we no longer do; some we don't care about to start with, but they become important to us over time. Many are repeating problems we recognise, and we can use stock responses to solve them -- we learn from our experiences, and others', where we can. A few seem new, but after a bit of thought, we realise we recognise them, and can use those stock responses again (perhaps modified slightly). Some are new, and require us to work out what to do -- we might ask others, seek information, try to copy others' actions, or other approaches. Some are new and we can't work out how to solve them. Some are old problems that we still can't solve, or don't want to. With some, we find a solution that works, even if it's not very good, and stick with it. It might even be the first one that 'works' by some criteria: it works, so it's good enough. Sometimes we build things ('tools') that enable us, or others, to solve similar problems again. Some are other people's problems, but they become ours too. Others are ours, but someone else tries to solve them for us.

Often, solving one problem just creates more. It's almost like our lives are a mesh of interwoven problem threads, some ours, some others', some collective problems, some individual, some long threads, some short, some made of different materials, but all there. We can't get from one bit of the cloth to another without travelling along or across the threads.

Sometimes we have a number of different ways we can solve a problem. Often, the way of solving it we choose is the way that's easiest, or that doesn't (seem to) cause as many other problems (for us).

And lots of problems never get solved. Some disappear by themselves, but others are just kicked into the future for ourselves (or someone else) to deal with.

Annotated coffee machine at the Good School, Hamburg

It's very easy to pick holes in the above, but it's a model which summarises, to some extent at least, what I took away from many of the interviews I did as part of the Empower project during 2010-12. It's taken me a while to reflect on the findings, some necessary distance for a coherent abstraction to form, but it's coalesced and it's actually relatively simple (and obvious). It is also intensely relevant to design for behaviour change, and indeed interaction design in general.

The context of our particular research was asking people about aspects of everyday energy use and sustainability at home and at work, interaction with energy-using systems such as heating, air conditioning, lighting, IT equipment, etc, and people's understanding of those systems. And the point came across, again and again, that however much people cared, in theory, about their behaviour -- and most people in our samples would have scored very highly in any kind of survey about attitudes towards the environment -- the challenges people face in everyday life are about getting things done, getting through the day. If 'saving energy' or 'doing things more sustainably' (whatever that means) becomes another problem loaded onto people's days, they'll solve easier problems instead.

Is this 'laziness' (or, perhaps more diplomatically, Zipf's least effort)? It depends how you frame it. If we're thinking about someone else's behaviour, we have a tendency to frame it somewhat differently to when we explain our own. I think it's fairer to take the non-judgemental approach Steve Krug did in Don't Make Me Think: people are busy, and if you can make it easier for them to solve their problems in a way which reflects the constraints and priorities of the context they're in (and the other problems they're trying to solve), that's a behaviour change approach which might meet with more success than trying to persuade people of the importance of behaving differently as a goal in itself, removed from the context of interaction.

That's not to say, of course, that people can't learn through using things, and shape and re-shape their understanding of the world: making things easier does not preclude this, and indeed potentially provides more 'teachable moments' than something divorced from context. Equally, in some situations, pre-existing attitudes dominate how someone solves the problems faced, but there are many where it is elements of the context which dominate how people get by [PDF]. It's certainly not either denying the importance of people having strong motivations and vision to solve problems in non-mundane, non-easiest-route ways. That's what changes the world, and I'm grateful for it. I'm just interested in the extent to which mundane decision-making is recognised and understood, since many of the things people interact with every day are designed systems.

Display at Clapham Junction station

A few years ago on the blog, I contrasted an 'enabling' approach to motivating and constraining as ways to influence behaviour through design, drawing on a particular Buckminster Fuller quote. At the time, I didn't necessarily consider all the implications of the different approaches in practice, but now the power of the enabling approach strikes me very clearly -- from choice of default settings to prominence, this is about helping people solve their problems in ways which are easy and yet which also achieve a 'good' outcome for at least one party. In a paper from CHI 2010 [PDF], Carl DiSalvo, Phoebe Sengers and Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir contrasted seeing people as the problem (in sustainability) with trying to solve people's problems. This strikes me as a fundamentally useful distinction to be made for 'behaviour change' work in general.

There are a few directions this discussion can go. I hope to explore some of these in due course, and work out, practically, how the approach can be of use to designers investigating people's behaviour, and in many cases hoping to influence it.

Cubicles image by Michael Lokner, used under Creative Commons licence.

CarbonCulture blog launch by Dan

CarbonCulture blog It's been quiet here, for reasons which will be explained later, but in the meantime I should mention that CarbonCulture (with whom I've been working for the past two years as part of the TSB-supported EMPOWER collaboration) has a new blog.

In anticipation of the forthcoming public launch of the CarbonCulture product, we're introducing some background on behaviour change approaches, energy use and environmental impact. The first few posts (as of today) introduce:

Your comments are very welcome. Over the next few months we'll build up the story of what we've done -- the approaches we've taken and what we've learned. There's some further background in this article from Public Sector Sustainability by Luke Nicholson, and a paper I presented at BECC 2011.

My jobs as research fellow (for WMG) and research assistant (for Brunel) on the project have now come to an end, but I'm continuing to provide some input to the project, as well as writing up some papers based on what we've learned (so far, a journal paper and a conference paper).

I'm proud to have been associated with what is one of the most empathy-driven user-centred behaviour change projects out there: a fascinating, blend of contextual user research, rapid iterations of new features and approaches, adapting to the needs and interests of a whole range of stakeholders, and getting to apply lots of the ideas that fed into Design with Intent in practical settings and seeing how effective they really are.

CarbonCulture energy display for Tate Modern CarbonCulture energy display for 10 Downing Street

Background to the project

CarbonCulture is a research-driven software platform designed to increase staff engagement in more sustainable behaviour at work, in areas such as HVAC and thermal comfort, building occupancy, transport modes and food choices. CO2 emissions from non-­domestic buildings, mainly workplaces, make up 18% of the UK's carbon footprint, and a combination of technology advances and behaviour change has the potential to make significant impact.

Funded by the Technology Strategy Board's Low Impact Buildings platform, Brunel Design at Brunel University and WMG at the University of Warwick have been working with More Associates to develop and trial CarbonCulture.

With the Department of Energy & Climate Change's offices in Whitehall as a pilot site, we have been applying methods from user-­centred design practice to understand diverse users' priorities, mental models of energy and decision-­making heuristics, and incorporating these insights into the development of the platform. The project comprised an ethnographic research phase, participatory design, and iterative trials; we've been both providing academic research input to the development of CarbonCulture, and using the platform itself as a research tool.

CarbonCulture also provides publicly accessible energy displays (both near-real-time and summary) for a number of major public buildings in London, including Tate Modern, 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

CarbonCulture

User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings: TSB competition by Dan

The deadline's fast approaching (mid-day 17th Dec) for the UK Technology Strategy Board's 'User-centred design for energy efficiency in buildings' competition [PDF] - there's an introduction from Fionnuala Costello here. This is an exciting initiative which aims to bring together (in a 5-day 'sandpit') people from different disciplines and different sectors to address the problems of influencing user behaviour to improve the energy efficiency of offices and other non-domestic buildings, and generate commercially viable collaborative solutions to develop, some of which will then be part-funded by the TSB. Fionnuala's blog, People in Buildings has some great posts and discussions exploring aspects of how human factors and technology together might be used to help people use energy more effectively. If you or your organisation are interested in these kinds of issues - and using design to address them - it'd be well worth getting an application in over the next few days.

Thoughts on the 'fun theory' by Dan

The 'Piano Staircase' from Volkswagen's thefuntheory.com

The Fun Theory (Rolighetsteorin), a competition / campaign / initiative from Volkswagen Sweden - created by DDB Stockholm - has been getting a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks from both design-related people and other commentators with an interest in influencing behaviour: it presents a series of clever 'design interventions' aimed at influencing behaviour through making things "fun to do" - taking the stairs instead of the escalator, recycling glass via a bottle bank and using a litter bin. The stairs are turned into a giant piano keyboard, with audio accompaniment; the bottle bank is turned into an arcade game, with sound effects and scores prominently displayed; and the litter bin has a "deep pit" effect created through sound effects played as items are dropped into it. It's exciting to see that exploring design for behaviour change is being so enthusiastically pursued and explored, especially by ad agencies, since - if we're honest - advertisers have long been the most successful at influencing human behaviour effectively (in the contexts intended). There's an awful lot designers can learn from this, but I digress...

As a provocation and inspiration to enter the competition, these are great projects. The competition itself is interesting because it encourages entrants to "find [their] own evidence for the theory that fun is best way to change behaviour for the better", suggesting that entries with some kind of demonstrated / tested element are preferred over purely conceptual submissions (however clever they might be) which have often been a hallmark of creative design competitions in the past. While the examples created and tested for the campaign are by no means "controlled experiments" (e.g. the stats in the videos about the extra amount of rubbish or glass deposited give little context about the background levels of waste deposition in that area, whether people have gone out of their way to use the 'special' bins, and so on), they do demonstrate very well the (perhaps obvious) effect that making something fun, or engaging, is a way to get people interested in using it.

Bottle bank arcadeWorld's deepest bin

Triggers

Going a bit deeper, though, into what "the theory of fun" might really mean, it's clear there are a few different effects going on here. To use concepts from B J Fogg's Behaviour Model, assuming the ability to use the stairs, bottle bank or bin is already there, the remaining factors are motivation and triggers. Motivation is, on some level, presumably also present in each case, in the sense that someone carrying bottles to be recycled already wants to get rid of them, someone standing at the bottom of the stairs or escalator wants to get to the top, and someone with a piece of litter in her hand wants to discard it somehow (even if that's just on the ground).

(But note that if, for example, people start picking up litter from elsewhere in order to use the bin because they're excited by it, or if - as in the video - kids run up and down the stairs to enjoy the effect, this is something slightly different: the motivation has changed from "I'm motivated to get rid of the litter in my hand" to "I'm motivated to keep playing with this thing." While no doubt useful results, these are slightly different target behaviours to the ones expressed at the start of the videos. "Can we get more people to take the stairs over the escalator by making it fun to do?" is not quite the same as "Can we get people so interested in running up and down the stairs that they want to do it repeatedly?")

So the triggers are what the interventions are really about redesigning: adding some feature or cue which causes people who already have the ability and the motivation to choose this particular way of getting out of the railway station to the street above, or disposing of litter, or recycling glass. All three examples deliberately, prominently, attract the interest of passers-by ("World's deepest bin" graphics, otherwise incongruous black steps, illuminated 7-segment displays above the bottle bank) quite apart from the effect of seeing lots of other people gathered around, or using something in an unusual way.

And once they've triggered someone to get involved, to use them, there are different elements that come into play in each example. For example, the bottle bank - by using a game metaphor - effectively challenges the user into continuing (perhaps even entering a flow state, though this is surely more likely with the stairs) and gives feedback on how well you're doing as well as a kind of reward. The reward element is present in all three examples, in fact.

Perhaps the most relevant pattern in all these examples, and the "fun theory" concept itself, is that of emotional or affective engagement. The user experience of each is designed to evoke an emotional response, to motivate engagement through enjoyment or delight - and this is an area of design where a lot of great (and commercially applicable) research work has been done, by people such as Pieter Desmet (whose doctoral dissertation is a model for this kind of design research), Pat Jordan, Marco van Hout, Trevor van Gorp, Don Norman and MIT's Affective Computing group. Taking a slightly different slant, David Gargiulo's work on creating drama through interaction design (found via Harry Brignull's Twitter) is also pertinent here, as is Daniel Pink's collection of 'emotionally intelligent signage' (thanks to Larry Cheng for bringing this to my attention).

What sort of behaviour change, though?

I suppose the biggest and most obvious criticism of projects such as the Rolighetsteorin examples is that they are merely one-time gimmicks, that a novelty effect is the most (maybe only) significant thing at work here. It's not possible to say whether this is true or not without carrying out a longitudinal study of the members of the public involved over a period of time, or of the actual installations themselves. Does having fun using the stairs once (when they're a giant piano) translate into taking the (boring) normal stairs in preference to an escalator on other occasions? (i.e. does it lead to attitude or preference change?) Or does the effect go away when the fun stairs do?

It may be, of course, that interventions with explicitly pro-social rhetoric embedded in them (such as the bottle bank) have an effect which bleeds over into other areas of people's lives: do they think more about the environment, or being less wasteful, in other contexts? Have attitudes been changed beyond simply the specific context of recycling glass bottles using this particular bottle bank?

Project by Stephen Intille & House_n, MITProject by Stephen Intille & House_n, MIT

How others have done it

This campaign isn't the first to have tried to address these problems through design, of course. Without researching too thoroughly, a few pieces of work spring to mind, and I'm sure there are many more. Stephen Intille, Ron MacNeil, Jason Nawyn and Jacob Hyman in MIT's House_n group have done work using a sign with the 'just-in-time' message "Your heart needs exercise - here's your chance" (shown above) positioned over the stairs in a subway, flashing in people's line-of-sight as they approach the decision point (between taking stairs or escalator) linked to a system which can record the effects in terms of people actually making one choice or the other, and hence compare the effect the intervention actually has. As cited in this paper [PDF], previous research by K D Brownell, A J Stunkard, and J M Albaum, using the same message, in a similar situation, but statically displayed for three weeks before being removed, demonstrated that some effect remains on people's choice of the stairs for the next couple of months. (That is, the effect didn't go away immediately when the sign did - though we can't say whether that's necessarily applicable to the piano stairs too.)

Persuasive Trash Cans by de Kort et alLast year I mentioned Finland's "Kiitos, Tack, Thank you" bins, and in the comments (which are well worth reading), Kaleberg mentioned Parisian litter bins with SVP (s'il vous plaît) on them; most notable here is the work of Yvonne de Kort, Teddy McCalley and Cees Midden at Eindhoven on 'persuasive trash cans' [PDF], looking at the effects of different kinds of norms on littering behaviour, expressed through the design or messages used on litter bins (shown to the left here).

Work on the design of recycling bins is, I think, worthy of a post of its own, since it starts to touch more on perceived affordances (the shape of different kinds of slots, and so on) so I'll get round to that at some point.

Many thanks to everyone who sent me the Fun Theory links, including Kimberley Crofts, Brian Cugelman and Dan Jenkins (apologies if I've missed anyone out).

Some interesting projects (Part 2) by Dan

Following on from Part 1, here are a couple more very interesting student projects linking design and behaviour. This time, both involve providing feedback on the impact or costs of everyday behaviours in order to get people to think. Tim Holley's Tio project, developed in response to a brief by Onzo, and described as 'A Light Switch to Help Children Save Energy' - deservedly won the HSBC Sustainability Prize at the Made in Brunel show:

Tio by Tim Holley "Children play a key role in reducing energy consumption due to the fact that they will be among the key decision-makers in the next 30 years. A simple way to engage and educate them is to concentrate on lighting, which accounts for up to 15% of electricity use in the home. The target market for Tio is 7-11 year-olds. This coincides with a period in primary education during which children begin to learn about the environment, energy and the effects that humans are having on the world. Tio [...]allow[s] children to demonstrate their knowledge of energy conservation to their family and encourage their role as ‘energy champions’ of the home. Tio has the potential to reduce lighting-use by up to 25%, resulting in an energy saving of up to 11% over a five year period...

Tio by Tim Holley The wall-mounted light switch[...] controls the lighting in the child’s room. Tio is soft and tactile, thus encourages user interaction. The character of ‘Tio’ displayed on the light switch encourages children to turn their lights off: Tio is happy when the lights have only been on for a short period of time. The longer they are left on, the angrier he becomes. This acts as an emotional reminder to turn the lights off...

The recommended ‘lights-on time’ is influenced by the child’s age, their daily activities and the time of day. [...] Information (‘lights-on’ time) is sent wirelessly from the wall switch to a computer. The computer programme allows the child to track their lighting-use performance over an extended period of time. The child takes care of a ‘virtual tree’ by moderating their lighting-use performance. This engages children to make a personal contribution to reducing energy consumption." Tio by Tim Holley

There are some clever ideas in there, including pester-power ("Make sure your parents turn off their lights too") and, from a Design with Intent toolkit point of view, some of the patterns you might be able to identify include affective engagement, self-monitoring, material properties and metaphors. There's some neat product detailing too, such as the way Tio's expressions are formed by different patterns of LEDs being illuminated under the translucent case.

Tim was a very useful and insightful tester of an earlier version of the Design with Intent toolkit back in autumn 2008 (as part of the pilot study reported in this co-authored paper [direct PDF link]) so it's great to see his project get such recognition. He's now working for Onzo in product R&D strategy and has some exciting and ambitious plans for the future: as a very talented young designer bringing together creative user-centred design and technology expertise with an eye for business strategy, I'm sure Tim will go far.

Lehman's Inheritance by Alexander KirchmannAcross London at Goldsmiths, Alexander Kirchmann's 'Lehman's Inheritance' project aims "to create and design products, that can help an individual to manage the [economic] crisis" such as this pint glass with cost markings (right). As Alexander puts it, "my products are the inheritance of the crash... By exposing people to their spending and also to their earnings my design is saving the owner money."

This is an incredibly simple project (at least the example that's illustrated - I'd be interested to know what other products Alexander modified / created). But the impact of exposing costs in this way - self-monitoring without any special equipment - could be very effective. In some of the recent workshops I've run with designers and students, similarly low-tech feedback concepts have been suggested for problems such as reducing water wastage (sinks with scales marked on them) and reducing overfilling of electric kettles.

More projects coming up in Part 3.

Images from the websites linked.

'Smart meters': some thoughts from a design point of view by Dan

Here's my (rather verbose) response to the three most design-related questions in DECC's smart meter consultation that I mentioned earlier today. Please do get involved in the discussion that Jamie Young's started on the Design & Behaviour group and on his blog at the RSA. Q12 Do you agree with the Government's position that a standalone display should be provided with a smart meter?

Meter in the cupboard

Free-standing displays (presumably wirelessly connected to the meter itself, as proposed in [7, p.16]) could be an effective way of bringing the meter 'out of the cupboard', making an information flow visible which was previously hidden. As Donella Meadows put it when comparing electricity meter placements [1, pp. 14-15] this provides a new feedback loop, "delivering information to a place where it wasn’t going before" and thus allowing consumers to modify their behaviour in response.

“An accessible display device connected to the meter” [2, p.8] or “series of modules connected to a meter” [3, p. 28] would be preferable to something where an extra step has to be taken for a consumer to access the data, such as only having a TV or internet interface for the information, but as noted [3, p.31] "flexibility for information to be provided through other formats (for example through the internet, TV) in addition to the provision of a display" via an open API, publicly documented, would be the ideal situation. Interesting 'energy dashboard' TV interfaces have been trialled in projects such as live|work's Low Carb Lane [6], and offer the potential for interactivity and extra information display supported by the digital television platform, but it would be a mistake to rely on this solely (even if simply because it will necessarily interfere with the primary reason that people have a television).

The question suggests that a single display unit would be provided with each meter, presumably with the householder free to position it wherever he or she likes (perhaps a unit with interchangeable provision for a support stand, a magnet to allow positioning on a refrigerator, a sucker for use on a window and hook to allow hanging up on the wall would be ideal - the location of the display could be important, as noted [4, p. 49]) but the ability to connect multiple display units would certainly afford more possibilities for consumer engagement with the information displayed as well as reducing the likelihood of a display unit being mislaid. For example, in shared accommodation where there are multiple residents all of whom are expected to contribute to a communal electricity bill, each person being aware of others' energy use (as in, for example, the Watt Watchers project [5]) could have an important social proof effect among peers.

Open APIs and data standards would permit ranges of aftermarket energy displays to be produced, ranging from simple readouts (or even pager-style alerters) to devices and kits which could allow consumers to perform more complex analysis of their data (along the lines of the user-led innovative uses of the Current Cost, for example [8]) - another route to having multiple displays per household.

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)?

Low targets? This really is the central question of the whole project, since the fundamental assumption throughout is that provision of this information will “empower consumers” and thereby “change our energy habits” [3, p.13]. It is assumed that feedback, including real-time feedback, on electricity usage will lead to behaviour change: “Smart metering will provide consumers with tools with which to manage their energy consumption, enabling them to take greater personal responsibility for the environmental impacts of their own behaviour” [4, p.46]; “Access to the consumption data in real time provided by smart meters will provide consumers with the information they need to take informed action to save energy and carbon” [3, p.31].

Nevertheless, with “the predicted energy saving to consumers... as low as 2.8%” [4, p.18], the actual effects of the information on consumer behaviour are clearly not considered likely to be especially significant (this figure is more conservative than the 5-15% range identified by Sarah Darby [9]). It would, of course, be interesting to know whether certain types of data or feedback, if provided in the context of a well-designed interface could improve on this rather low figure: given the scale of the proposed roll-out of these meters (every household in the country) and the cost commitment involved, it would seem incredibly short-sighted not to take this opportunity to design and test better feedback displays which can, perhaps, improve significantly on the 2.8% figure.

(Part of the problem with a suggested figure as low as 2.8% is that it makes it much more difficult to defend the claim that the meters will offer consumers “important benefits” [3, p.27]. The benefits to electricity suppliers are clearer, but ‘selling’ the idea of smart meters to the public is, I would suggest, going to be difficult when the supposed benefits are so meagre.)

If we consider the use context of the smart meter from a consumer’s point of view, it should allow us to identify better which aspects are most important. What is a consumer going to do with the information received? How does the feedback loop actually occur in practice? How would this differ with different kinds of information?

Levels of display Even aside from the actual 'units' debate (money / energy / CO2), there are many possible types and combinations of information that the display could show consumers, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll divide them into three levels:

(1) Simple feedback on current (& cumulative) energy use / cost (self-monitoring) (2) Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs (social proof + self-monitoring) (3) Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions (simulation & feedforward + kairos + self-monitoring)

These are by no means mutually exclusive and I’d assume that any system providing (3) would also include (1), for example.

Nevertheless, it is likely that (1) would be the cheapest, lowest-common-denominator system to roll out to millions of homes, without (2) or (3) included – so if thought isn’t given to these other levels, it may be that (1) is all consumers get.

I've done mock-ups of the sort of thing each level might display (of course these are just ideas, and I'm aware that a) I'm not especially skilled in interface design, despite being very interested in it; and b) there's no real research behind these) in order to have something to visualise / refer to when discussing them.

Simple feedback on current (& cumulative) energy use, cost
(1) Simple feedback on current (& cumulative) energy use and cost

I’ve tried to express some of the concerns I have over a very simple, cheap implementation of (1) in a scenario, which I’m not claiming to be representative of what will actually happen – but the narrative is intended to address some of the ways this kind of display might be useful (or not) in practice:

Jenny has just had a ‘smart meter’ installed by someone working on behalf of her electricity supplier. It comes with a little display unit that looks a bit like a digital alarm clock. There’s a button to change the display mode to ‘cumulative’ or ‘historic’ but at present it’s set on ‘realtime’: that’s the default setting.

Jenny attaches it to her kitchen fridge with the magnet on the back. It’s 4pm and it’s showing a fairly steady value of 0.5 kW, 6 pence per hour. She opens the fridge to check how much milk is left, and when she closes the door again Jenny notices the figure’s gone up to 0.7 kW but drops again soon after the door’s closed, first to 0.6 kW but then back down to 0.5 kW again after a few minutes. Then her two teenage children, Kim and Laurie arrive home from school – they switch on the TV in the living room and the meter reading shoots up to 0.8 kW, then 1.1 kW suddenly. What’s happened? Jenny’s not sure why it’s changed so much. She walks into the living room and Kim tells her that Laurie’s gone upstairs to play on his computer. So it must be the computer, monitor, etc.

Two hours later, while the family’s sitting down eating dinner (with the TV on in the background), Jenny glances across at the display and sees that it’s still reading 1.1 kW, 13 pence per hour.

“Is your PC still switched on, Laurie?” she asks. “Yeah, Mum,” he replies “You should switch it off when you’re not using it; it’s costing us money.” “But it needs to be on, it’s downloading stuff.”

Jenny’s not quite sure how to respond. She can’t argue with Laurie: he knows a lot more than her about computers. The phone rings and Kim puts the TV on standby to reduce the noise while talking. Jenny notices the display reading has gone down slightly to 1.0 kW, 12 pence per hour. She walks over and switches the TV off fully, and sees the reading go down to 0.8 kW.

Later, as it gets dark and lights are switched on all over the house, along with the TV being switched on again, and Kim using a hairdryer after washing her hair, with her stereo on in the background and Laurie back at his computer, Jenny notices (as she loads the tumble dryer) that the display has shot up to 6.5 kW, 78 pence per hour. When the tumble dryer’s switched on, that goes up even further to 8.5 kW, £1.02 per hour. The sight of the £ sign shocks her slightly – can they really be using that much electricity? It seems like the kids are costing her even more than she thought!

But what can she really do about it? She switches off the TV and sees the display go down to 8.2 kW, 98 pence per hour, but the difference seems so slight that she switches it on again – it seems worth 4 pence per hour. She decides to have a cup of tea and boils the kettle that she filled earlier in the day. The display shoots up to 10.5 kW, £1.26 pence per hour. Jenny glances at the display with a pained expression, and settles down to watch TV with her tea. She needs a rest: paying attention to the display has stressed her out quite a lot, and she doesn’t seem to have been able to do anything obvious to save money.

Six months later, although Jenny’s replaced some light bulbs with compact fluorescents that were being given away at the supermarket, and Laurie’s new laptop has replaced the desktop PC, a new plasma TV has more than cancelled out the reductions. The display is still there on the fridge door, but when the batteries powering the display run out, and it goes blank, no-one notices.

The main point I'm trying to get across there is that with a very simple display, the possible feedback loop is very weak. It relies on the consumer experimenting with switching items on and off and seeing the effect it has on the readings, which - while it will initially have a certain degree of investigatory, exploratory interest - may well quickly pall when everyday life gets in the way. Now, without the kind of evidence that’s likely to come out of research programmes such as the CHARM project [10], it’s not possible to say whether levels (2) or (3) would fare any better, but giving a display the ability to provide more detailed levels of information - particularly if it can be updated remotely - massively increases the potential for effective use of the display to help consumers decide what to do, or even to think about what they're doing in the first place, over the longer term.

Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs

(2) Social / normative feedback on others’ energy use and costs

A level (2) display would (in a much less cluttered form than what I've drawn above!) combine information about 'what we're doing' (self-monitoring) with a reference, a norm - what other people are doing (social proof), either people in the same neighbourhood (to facilitate community discussion), or a more representative comparison such as 'other families like us', e.g. people with the same number of children of roughly the same age, living in similar size houses. There are studies going back to the 1970s (e.g. [11, 12]) showing dramatic (2 × or 3 ×) differences in the amount of energy used by similar families living in identical homes, suggesting that the behavioural component of energy use can be significant. A display allowing this kind of comparison could help make consumers aware of their own standing in this context.

However, as Wesley Schultz et al [13] showed in California, this kind of feedback can lead to a 'boomerang effect', where people who are told they're doing better than average then start to care less about their energy use, leading to it increasing back up to the norm. It's important, then, that any display using this kind of feedback treats a norm as a goal to achieve only on the way down. Schultz et al went on to show that by using a smiley face to demonstrate social approval of what people had done - affective engagement - the boomerang effect can be mitigated.

Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions

(3) Feedforward, giving information about the future impacts of behavioural decisions

A level (3) display would give consumers feedforward [14] - effectively, simulation of what the impact of their behaviour would be (switching on this device now rather than at a time when there's a lower tariff - Economy 7 or a successor), and tips about how to use things more efficiently at the right moment (kairos), and in the right kind of environment, for them to be useful. Whereas 'Tips of the Day' in software frequently annoy users [15] because they get in the way of a user's immediate task, with something relatively passive such as a smart meter display, this could be a more useful application for them. The networked capability of the smart meter means that the display could be updated frequently with new sets of tips, perhaps based on seasonal or weather conditions ("It's going to be especially cold tonight - make sure you close all the curtains before you go to bed, and save 20p on heating") or even special tariff changes for particular periods of high demand ("Everyone's going to be putting the kettle on during the next ad break in [major event on TV]. If you're making tea, do it now instead of in 10 minutes; time, and get a 50p discount on your next bill").

Disaggregated data: identifying devices This level (3) display doesn't require any ability to know what devices a consumer has, or to be able to disaggregate electricity use by device. It can make general suggestions that, if not relevant, a consumer can ignore.

But what about actually disaggregating the data for particular devices? Surely this must be an aim for a really 'smart' meter display. Since [4, p.52] notes - in the context of discussing privacy - that “information from smart meters could... make it possible...to determine...to a degree, the types of technology that were being used in a property,” this information should clearly be offered to consumers themselves, if the electricity suppliers are going to do the analysis (I've done a bit of a possible mockup, using a more analogue dashboard style).

Disaggregated data dashboard

Whether the data are processed in the meter itself, or upstream at the supplier and then sent back down to individual displays, and whether the devices are identified from some kind of signature in their energy use patterns, or individual tags or extra plugs of some kind, are interesting technology questions, but from a consumer's point of view (so long as privacy is respected), the mechanism perhaps doesn't matter so much. Having the ability to see what device is using what amount of electricity, from a single display, would be very useful indeed. It removes the guesswork element.

Now, Sentec's Coracle technology [16] is presumably ready for mainstream use, with an agreement signed with Onzo [17], and ISE's signal-processing algorithms can identify devices down to the level of makes and models [18], so it's quite likely that this kind of technology will be available for smart meters for consumers fairly soon. But the question is whether it will be something that all customers get - i.e. as a recommendation of the outcome of the DECC consultation - or an expensive 'upgrade'. The fact that the consultation doesn't mention disaggregation very much worries me slightly.

If disaggregated data by device were to be available for the mass-distributed displays, clearly this would significantly affect the interface design used: combining this with, say a level (2) type social proof display could - even if via a website rather than on the display itself - let a consumer compare how efficient particular models of electrical goods are in use, by using the information from other customers of the supplier.

In summary, for Q13 - and I'm aware I haven't addressed the "energy use, money, CO2 etc" aspect directly - there are people much better qualified to do that - I feel that the more ability any display has to provide information of different kinds to consumers, the more opportunities there will be to do interesting and useful things with that information (and the data format and API must be open enough to allow this). In the absence of more definitive information about what kind of feedback has the most behaviour-influencing effect on what kind of consumer, in what context, and so on, it's important that the display be as adaptable as possible.

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)?

The inclusive design aspects of the meters and displays could be addressed through an exclusion audit, applying something such as the University of Cambridge's Exclusion Calculator [19] to any proposed designs. Many solutions which would benefit particular consumers with special needs would also potentially be useful for the population as a whole - e.g. a buzzer or alarm signalling that a device has been left on overnight which isn't normally, or (with disaggregation capability) notifying the consumer that, say, the fridge has been left open, would be pretty useful for everyone, not just the visually impaired or people with poor memory.

It seems clear that having open data formats and interfaces for any device will allow a wider range of things to be done with the data, many of which could be very useful for vulnerable users. Still, fundamental physical design questions about the device - how long the batteries last for, how easy they are to replace for someone with poor eyesight or arthritis, how heavy the unit is, whether it will break if dropped from hand height - will all have an impact on its overall accessibility (and usefulness).

Thinking of 'particular consumers' more generally, as the question asks, suggests a few other issues which need to be addressed:

- A website-only version of the display data (as suggested at points in the consultation document) would exclude a lot of consumers who are without internet access, without computer understanding, with only dial-up (metered) internet, or simply not motivated or interested enough to check - i.e., it would be significantly exclusionary.

- Time-of-Use (ToU) pricing will rely heavily on consumers actually understanding it, and what the implications are, and changing their behaviour in accordance. Simply charging consumers more automatically, without them having good enough feedback to understand what's going on, only benefits electricity suppliers. If demand- or ToU-related pricing is introduced – “the potential for customer confusion... as a result of the greater range of energy tariffs and energy related information” [4, p. 49] is going to be significant. The design of the interface, and how the pricing structure works, is going to be extremely important here, and even so may still exclude a great many consumers who do not or cannot understand the structure.

- The ability to disable supply remotely [4, p. 12, p.20] will no doubt provoke significant reaction from consumers, quite apart from the terrible impact it will have on the most vulnerable consumers (the elderly, the very poor, and people for whom a reliable electricity supply is essential for medical reasons), regardless of whether they are at fault (i.e. non-payment) or not. There WILL inevitably be errors: there is no reason to suppose that they will not occur. Imagine the newspaper headlines when an elderly person dies from hypothermia. Disconnection may only occur in “certain well-defined circumstances” [3, p. 28] but these will need to be made very explicit.

- “Smart metering potentially offers scope for remote intervention... [which] could involve direct supplier or distribution company interface with equipment, such as refrigerators, within a property, overriding the control of the householder” [4, p. 52] - this simply offers further fuel for consumer distrust of the meter programme (rightly so, to be honest). As Darby [9] notes, "the prospect of ceding control over consumption does not appeal to all customers". Again, this remote intervention, however well-regulated it might be supposed to be if actually implemented, will not be free from error. “Creating consumer confidence and awareness will be a key element of successfully delivering smart meters” [4, p.50] does not sit well with the realities of installing this kind of channel for remote disconnection or manipulation in consumers' homes, and attempting to bury these issues by presenting the whole thing as entirely beneficial for consumers will be seen through by intelligent people very quickly indeed.

- Many consumers will simply not trust such new meters with any extra remote disconnection ability – it completely removes the human, the compassion, the potential to reason with a real person. Especially if the predicted energy saving to consumers is as low as 2.8% [4, p.18], many consumers will (perhaps rightly) conclude that the smart meter is being installed primarily for the benefit of the electricity company, and simply refuse to allow the contractors into their homes. Whether this will lead to a niche for a supplier which does not mandate installation of a meter - and whether this would be legal - are interesting questions.

Dan Lockton, Researcher, Design for Sustainable Behaviour Cleaner Electronics Research Group, Brunel Design, Brunel University, London, June 2009

[1] Meadows, D. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. Sustainability Institute, 1999.

[2] DECC. Impact Assessment of smart / advanced meters roll out to small and medium businesses, May 2009.

[3] DECC. A Consultation on Smart Metering for Electricity and Gas, May 2009.

[4] DECC. Impact Assessment of a GB-wide smart meter roll out for the domestic sector, May 2009.

[5] Fischer, J. and Kestner, J. 'Watt Watchers', 2008.

[6] DOTT / live|work studio. 'Low Carb Lane', 2007.

[7] BERR. Impact Assessment of Smart Metering Roll Out for Domestic Consumers and for Small Businesses, April 2008.

[8] O'Leary, N. and Reynolds, R. 'Current Cost: Observations and Thoughts from Interested Hackers'. Presentation at OpenTech 2008, London. July 2008.

[9] Darby S. The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption. A review for DEFRA of the literature on metering, billing and direct displays. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. April 2006.

[10] Kingston University, CHARM Project. 2009

[11] Socolow, R.H. Saving Energy in the Home: Princeton's Experiments at Twin Rivers. Ballinger Publishing, Cambridge MA, 1978

[12] Winett, R.A., Neale, M.S., Williams, K.R., Yokley, J. and Kauder, H., 1979 'The effects of individual and group feedback on residential electricity consumption: three replications'. Journal of Environmental Systems, 8, p. 217-233.

[13] Schultz, P.W., Nolan, J.M., Cialdini, R.B., Goldstein, N.J. and Griskevicius, V., 2007. 'The Constructive, Destructive and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms'. Psychological Science, 18 (5), p. 429-434.

[14] Djajadiningrat, T., Overbeeke, K. and Wensveen, S., 2002. 'But how, Donald, tell us how?: on the creation of meaning in interaction design through feedforward and inherent feedback'. Proceedings of the 4th conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques. ACM Press, New York, p. 285-291.

[15] Business of Software discussion community (part of 'Joel on Software'), '"Tip of the Day" on startup, value to the customer', August 2006

[16] Sentec. 'Coracle: a new level of information on energy consumption', undated.

[17] Sentec. 'Sentec and Onzo agree UK deal for home energy displays', 28th April 2008

[18] ISE Intelligent Sustainable Energy, 'Technology', undated

[19] Engineering Design Centre, University of Cambridge. Inclusive Design Toolkit: Exclusion Calculator, 2007-8

What is demand, really? by Dan

A publicly visible electricity meter in Claremont, CA In a lot of the debate and discussion about energy, future electricity generation and metering, improved efficiency and influencing consumer behaviour - at least from an engineering perspective - the term "demand" is used, in conjunction with "supply", to represent the energy required to be supplied to consumers, much as in conventional "supply and demand" economics.

Now, I'm sure others have investigated this and characterised it economically much better than I can, but it seems to me that demand for energy (and sometimes water) is significantly different to, say, demand for most consumer products in that, for the most part, consumers only "demand" it indirectly. It is the products and systems around us which draw the current: they are important actors and have the agency, in a sense (at least unless we really understand the impacts of how they operate).

While with, say, a car's fuel consumption, we experience the car's demand for fuel, and pay for it, directly in proportion to our demand for travel, with most household electricity use, we not only generally wait a month or more before having to confront the "demand" (via the bill), but separating the background demand (such as a refrigerator's continuous energy use simply to operate) from conscious demand (such as our decision to use a fan heater all day) is very difficult for us to do as consumers: from a very simple consumer perspective (ignoring things like reactive power flow), electricity is interchangeable, and the feedback we get on our behaviour is only very weakly linked to the specifics of that behaviour.

An on-off switch with a proce label

Basically, then, a lot of "demand" is not conscious demand at all. Most consumers don't make an in-the-moment decision to use more electricity if it gets cheaper (though it may happen over time, e.g. if someone decides to get electric heating because oil heating has become more expensive) or vice versa. The demand is a function of the products and systems around us, our habits, lifestyle and behaviours but it is very difficult for us to see this, and make decisions which have an impact on this. If there are major changes, such as a massively changed price, then real conscious demand changes may happen (so a kind of stepped curve rather than anything smooth) but this is surely not what happens in everyday life. At least at present.

Maybe, then, part of what design could offer here is to help translate this unconscious, product-led, delayed payment demand into a visible, tangible, immediate demand which makes us consider it like any other everyday buying / consumption choice. Real-time self-monitoring feedback from clever metering technology (e.g. Onzo or Wattson) could go a long way here, but what about feedforward? Can we go as far as on-off switches with price labels on them? (Digital, updated, real-time, of course.) Would it make us more price-sensitive to energy costs? Would that influence our behaviour?

The Convention on Modern Liberty by Dan

Barricades, London Britain's supposedly on the verge of a summer of rage, and while like Mary Riddell I am of course reminded of Ballard, it's not quite the same. I don't think this represents the 'middle class' ennui of Chelsea Marina.

Instead I think we may have reached a tipping point where more people than not, are, frankly, fed up (and scared) about what's happening, whether it's the economic situation, the greed of the feckless, the intransigent myopia of those who were supposed to 'oversee' what's going on, the use of fear to intimidate away basic freedoms, or a home secretary who treats the entire country like the naughty schoolchildren she left behind. In short: we're basically losing our liberty very rapidly indeed. This PDF, compiled by UCL Student Human Rights Programme, provides a withering summary. As many have repeated, 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual. But, as Cardinal Wolsey warned, "be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again".

The Convention on Modern Liberty, taking place across the UK this Saturday 28th February, aims to demonstrate the dissatisfaction with what's happening, and hopefully raise awareness of just what's going on right under our noses. It features an interesting cross-section of speakers, and the speeches will be streamed on the site (tickets for the London session sold out very quickly).

I'm a normal person, trying my best to advance the progress of humanity, yet I feel that the government has contempt for me as a member of the public in general, on an everyday basis. Everywhere we go, we are watched, monitored, surveilled, threatened, considered guilty. We shouldn't have to live like this.

P.S. I apologise for the lack of posts over the last week: my laptop's graphics card finally gave in - it had been kind-of usable at a low resolution by connecting the output to another monitor for a while, but that too has now failed. Thanks to everyone who's e-mailed and sent things: I will get round to them as soon as I can.

Angular measure by Dan

OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Jug A few years ago I went to a talk at the RCA by Alex Lee, president of OXO International. Apart from a statistic about how many bagel-slicing finger-chopping accidents happen each year in New York city, what stuck in my mind were the angled measuring jugs he showed us, part of the well-known Good Grips range of inclusively designed kitchen utensils.

The clever angled measuring scale - easily visible from above, as the jug is filled - seems such an obvious idea. As the patents (US 6,263,732; US 6,543,284) put it:

The indicia on an upwardly directed surface of the at least one ramp allows a user to look downwardly into the measuring cup to visually detect the volume level of the contents in the measuring cup, thereby eliminating the need to look horizontally at the cup at eye level.

OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Jug

Now, this is an extremely simple way to improve the process of using a measuring cup / jug. It's good if you find it hard to bend down to look at the side of the vessel. It's helpful if you're standing over it, pouring stuff into it. It reduces parallax error - so potentially improving accuracy - and it also, simply, makes it easier to be accurate.

In this sense, then, improved / easier-to-read scales can influence user behaviour. I guess that's obvious: if it's easy to use something in a particular way, it's more likely that it will be used that way. It's a persuasive interface, in an extremely simple form.

Kenwood JK450/455 kettleSo, the question is, if I build an electric kettle with an angled scale like this, will it make it more likely that people use it more efficiently, i.e. fill it with the amount of water they need? If you're standing with the kettle under the tap, putting water in, is this kind of angled scale going to make it easier to put the right amount in?

Kenwood sells a kettle which has angled scale markings, the JK450/455 (right), though they're implemented differently to (and more cheaply than) the OXO method, simply being printed on the side of the kettle body. It's still a clever idea. This review suggests an energy saving of around 10% compared with Kenwood's claimed "up to 35%" but of course this saving very much depends on how inefficient the user was previously.

I think something along the lines of either the OXO or Kenwood designs (but not infringing the patents!) is worth an extended trial later this year - watch this space.

OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Jug Thanks to Michael for the Buckfast.

Heating debate by Dan

Thermostat with friendCentral heating systems have interfaces, and many of us interact with them every day, even if only by experiencing their effects. But there's a lot of room for improvement. They're systems where (unlike, say, a car) we don't generally get instantaneous feedback on the changes we make to settings or the interactions we have with the interface. It's a slow feedback loop. We don't necessarily have correct mental models of how they work, yet the systems cost us (a lot of) money. How effectively do we use them? Around 60% of UK domestic energy use goes on space heating, and 24% on water heating. (See this Building Research Establishment report [PDF] for more detailed breakdowns.) That 84% cost me and my girlfriend £430 last year. It's worth thinking about from a financial point of view, regardless of the environmental aspects.

Frankie Roberto and colleagues at Rattle Research have carried out a brilliant exercise in exploratory design thinking about central heating*:

Heating systems are something we all interact with, especially in the depths of winter where we depend on them, and yet there seems to have been very little evolution in the design of their interfaces. What's more, with an ever increasing focus on energy efficiency, both from an environmental and economic standpoint, there's a need for heating systems and their interfaces to be smarter, more efficient and transparent.

Design Monday #1 - Central Heating (short version) from Rattle on Vimeo.

Read the full post.

The Rattle team think through existing systems and consider a number of possible revisions to improve the way that information is presented to users, and the level of control that it might be useful for users to have. This is a great piece of work, impressive and very thorough, and it's interesting to see how their thinking evolved: I get the impression that (as service designers) they're a lot more focused on users' needs than the designers of many heating systems are. It's also an exciting thing for a design company to be able to take time to address problems outside their immediate sphere, since they're bringing a whole new level of domain expertise to it.

The 'I'm working' indicator is a really good idea - it reminds me of some higher-end car tyre air pumps at petrol stations where you can just set the pressure you want to achieve, and the pump cuts out (and alerts you) when it reaches it. But the idea of doing away with the 'desired temperature' setting and just having warmer/colder is also interesting - "forc[ing] people to always make decisions based upon how they're feeling right now".

Equally the 'shift to service' approach of having an API and making clever use of it has a big potential to help in energy saving (and cost saving for the user), especially if the usage data were (anonymised or otherwise) available for analysis. Just being able to tell users "it's costing you £X more to heat your home than it does for a similar family in a similar house down the road - if you insulated better you could save £X every month" would be an interesting mechanism for persuasion. As with so many things, it relies on having that API or other interface available in the first place...

Folk theory of thermostats

The 'folk theory of thermostats' which Frankie mentions, popularised in Don Norman's The Psychology / Design of Everday Things, has long intrigued me:

There are two commonly held folk theories about thermostats: the timer theory and the valve theory. The timer theory proposes that the thermostat simply controls the relative proportion of time that the device stays on. Set the thermostat midway, and the device is on about half the time; set it all the way up and the device is on all the time. Hence, to heat or cool something most quickly, set the thermostat so that the device is on all the time. The valve theory proposes that the thermostat controls how much heat (or cold) comes out of the device. Turn the thermostat all the way up, and you get the maximum heating or cooling. The correct story is that the thermostat is just an on-off switch. Setting the thermostat at one extreme cannot affect how long it takes to reach the desired temperature.

People's mental models of heating systems are often stereotyped or played with (as we've discussed before here), but as Willett Kempton found out in a classic study, there are some nuanced versions of the theories, which, in practice, are perhaps not as silly as Norman suggests. People satisfice.

Say you come in from outdoors, and are cold. Because of the delay in your exposed skin warming up to room temperature, it surely does warm you more quickly if you stand near something that's hotter than you actually want to be, e.g. a log fire / stove. So the heuristic of 'turning up the heat to more than you need, in order to feel warmer more quickly' is pretty understandable, especially when the temperature controlling the thermostat is the temperature of the thermocouple/probe/whatever and not actually the body temperature of the users themselves. (That would be a good innovation in itself, of course!) Am I wrong?

Given that a lot of people do try to control heating systems as if they worked on the valve model, would it be sensible to develop one which did? Do they already exist?

*Rattle's second 'Design Monday' session, on 'Lunch', is also well worth a look.

Stuff that matters: Unpicking the pyramid by Dan

Most things are unnecessary. Most products, most consumption, most politics, most writing, most research, most jobs, most beliefs even, just aren't useful, for some scope of 'useful'. I'm sure I'm not the first person to point this out, but most of our civilisation seems to rely on the idea that "someone else will sort it out", whether that's providing us with food or energy or money or justice or a sense of pride or a world for our grandchildren to live in. We pay the politicians who are best at lying to us because we don't want to have to think about problems. We bail out banks in one enormous spasm of cognitive dissonance. We pay 'those scientists' to solve things for us and them hate them when they tell us we need to change what we're doing. We pay for new things because we can't fix the old ones and then our children pay for the waste.

Economically, ecologically, ethically, we have mortgaged the planet. We've mortgaged our future in order to get what we have now, but the debt doesn't die with us. On this model, the future is one vast pyramid scheme stretching out of sight. We've outsourced functions we don't even realise we don't need to people and organisations of whom we have no understanding. Worse, we've outsourced the functions we do need too, and we can't tell the difference.

Maybe that's just being human. But so is learning and tool-making. We must be able to do better than we are. John R. Ehrenfeld's Sustainability by Design, which I'm reading at present, explores the idea that reducing unsustainability will not create sustainability, which ought to be pretty fundamental to how we think about these issues: going more slowly towards the cliff edge does not mean changing direction.

I'm especially inspired by Tim O'Reilly's "Work on stuff that matters" advice. If we go back to the 'most things are unnecessary' idea, the plan must be to work on things that are really useful, that will really advance things. There is little excuse for not trying to do something useful. It sounds ruthless, and it does have the risk of immediately putting us on the defensive ("I am doing something that matters...").

The idea I can't get out of my head is that if we took more responsibility for things (i.e. progressively stopped outsourcing everything to others as in paragraphs 2 and 3 above, and actively learned how to do them ourselves), this would make a massive difference in the long run. We'd be independent from those future generations we're currently recruiting into our pyramid scheme before they even know about it. We'd all of us be empowered to understand and participate and create and make and generate a world where we have perspicacity, where we can perceive the affordances that different options will give us in future and make useful decisions based on an appreciation of the longer term impacts.

An large part of it is being able to understand consequences and implications of our actions and how we are affected, and in turn affect, the situations we're in - people around us, the environment, the wider world. Where does this water I'm wasting come from? Where does it go? How much does Google know about me? Why? How does a bank make its money? How can I influence a new law? What do all those civil servants do? How was my food produced? Why is public transport so expensive? Would I be able to survive if X or Y happened? Why not? What things that I do everyday are wasteful of my time and money? How much is the purchase of item Z going to cost me over the next year? What will happen when it breaks? Can I fix it? Why not? And so on.

You might think we need more transparency of the power structures and infrastructures around us - and we do - but I prefer to think of the solution as being tooling us up in parallel: we need to have the ability to understand what we can see inside, and focus on what's actually useful/necessary and what isn't. Our attention is valuable and we mustn't waste it.

How can all that be taught?

I remember writing down as a teenager, in some lesson or other, "What we need is a school subject called How and why things are, and how they operate." Now, that's broad enough that probably all existing academic subjects would lay claim to part of it. So maybe I'm really calling for a higher overall standard of education.

But the devices and systems we encounter in everyday life, the structures around us, can also help, by being designed to show us (and each other) what they're doing, whether that's 'good' or 'bad' (or perhaps 'useful' or not), and what we can do to improve their performance. And by influencing the way we use them, whether nudging, persuading or preventing us getting it wrong in the first place, we can learn as we use. Everyday life can be a constructionist learning process.

This all feeds into the idea of 'Design for Independence':

Reducing society’s resource dependence Reducing vulnerable users’ dependence on other people Reducing users’ dependence on ‘experts’ to understand and modify the technology they own.

One day I'll develop this further as an idea - it's along the lines of Victor Papanek and Buckminster Fuller - but there's a lot of other work to do first. I hope it's stuff that matters.

Dan Lockton

London Design Festival: Greengaged by Dan

Greengaged skip Design CouncilThe London Design Festival always throws up some interesting events, especially involving clever people trying new things in design and sharing their experiences and expertise.

This year, the Design Council are running Greengaged, a "sustainability hub... developed and organised by [re]design, thomas.matthews and Kingston University with Arup and Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest". It's a series of talks and workshops about ecodesign and sustainable issues in design.

On Tuesday I went, along with Alex Plant, for the 'Behaviour Change' talks, part of the 'Gauging the Green' day, where Unchained's Lea Simpson, More Associates' Luke Nicholson, IDEO London's Andrea Koerselman and Fiona Bennie from Forum for the Future all talked about their work on using design to change behaviour.

[Apologies: YouTube have since removed the clip due to an infringement claim from Candid Camera, Inc. So here's an alternative link - it may not last either, though, but if you search for "candid camera" elevator I'm sure you'll be able to find it]

Lea Simpson started with this great Candid Camera clip from 196x demonstrating how easily social proof can be used to influence behaviour. Lea argued three important points relevant to behaviour change (many thanks to Christian McLening for taking better notes than I did):

1. Behaviour change requires behaviour (i.e. the behaviour of others: social effects are critical, as we respond to others' behaviour which in turn affects our own; targeting the 'right' people allows behaviour to spread)

2. Behaviour and motivation are two different things: To change behaviour, you need to understand and work with people's motivations - which may be very different for different people.

3. Desire is not enough: lots of people desire to behave differently, but it needs to be very easy for them to do it before it actually happens.

Luke Nicholson: Photo by Kate Andrews Luke Nicholson's presentation: photo by the indefatigable Kate Andrews.

Luke Nicholson talked about More's work on enabling the public to understand energy use and carbon footprints via home monitoring systems - as he put it, there are "some invisible forces going round your home, and this is a lens onto them". More's 'energy lens' - which can be positioned on a window, hence linking energy consumption and climate/the weather in users' minds, and making it as easy to check "what the energy's like today" as "what the weather's like today" - has recently been spun out as Onzo - who look to be employing a couple of very talented Brunel Design graduates.

More Associates: Energy Literacy

Luke also talked about More's research with energy literacy - can we create a vernacular for better public understanding of energy, carbon, current, and so on? The above slide showed the idea of 'pips' and 'blocks' as some kind of accounting unit for energy and carbon, respectively, easily comparable to pounds (sterling) for cost; there was also an interesting series of diagrams using different shapes and sizes to explain simply, visually, the difference between high-current-drawing appliances and those which draw lower currents. Changing consumer demand for new products was also addressed with the idea of a 'Kept' sticker which could be affixed to products such as phones, to announce "I'm keeping this".

A lot of this really does seem to be about framing - and joining up the agendas of different groups (consumers, the electricity industry, manufacturers, governments) to provide a new resultant pointing in the desired direction. As Luke said, "We're playing into cultures that don't exist yet."

Andrea Koerselman, IDEO

Andrea Koerselman and Fiona Bennie introduced their 'i-team - local innovation on climate change' project, a service design collaboration between IDEO and Forum for the Future, working with councils and local authorities to inspire behaviour change on issues such as driving to work, reducing electricity usage, and so on. This involves a lot of user observation - an IDEO speciality, of course - and an Inspiration-Insight-Ideation-Implementation process, as in the slide above. Talking to Fiona afterwards, she mentioned that it's quite a novel experience for many councils to be involved in generating ideas without explicit returns-on-investment or outcomes defined, and so the 'Ideation' stage was going to be especially interesting.

Overall, this was a very interesting and worthwhile programme of talks - and this is just a snapshot of the many taking place this week and next in London. Tomorrow, I'm off to some of System Reload's workshops, and on Monday, back at the Design Council, Tracy Bhamra and Emma Dewberry, among others, will be talking about sustainable design education. I'll let you know how it all goes.

‘Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen’ Seminar, 17th October - programme updated by Dan

Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen, mentioned a few days ago, now has a full agenda available [PDF] (thanks Debra) - here are the abstracts:

Tang Tang, Loughborough University Creating Sustainable Behaviour: An exploration of environmental impacts of household cold appliance use Products, as the interface between consumers and consumption activities, can give immediate and direct responses to users’ operations: how they are perceived, learned, and used. Designing a product means designing a user experience with the product, which also determines the compound impacts of this experience. A better understanding of what users do and how they interact, with products as well as the hidden factors behind the daily decision-making process should be gained in order to develop a valid critique of environmentally significant consumption. This study aims to show that in-depth user research is an essential starting point for improving product design for behavioural change to reduce environment impacts. A single product type, household cold appliances, was chosen as a case to explore the capacity of designer-conducted user study to identify unsustainable aspects of product use.

Ed Elias, University of Bath Behaviour Driven Design Energy using products account for a growing proportion of domestic energy use and it is important to make these products as efficient as possible. However even the most efficient product will waste energy if it is used badly. User behaviour can be a significant proportion of a product's energy demand. This presentation will give an overview of the work being done to develop a Behaviour Driven Design Methodology for improving the energy efficiency of products during use, by studying user behaviours and designing the products to them.

Dan Lockton, Brunel University Design for Sustainable Behaviour: Easier Efficiency by Influencing Interaction The idea of using design strategically to influence users' behaviour -Design with Intent - recurs across many fields, in diverse contexts, and a set of patterns can be identified, linking target behaviours to particular design techniques, physical, psychological and technical. Applying these techniques to environmental problems where user behaviour is a significant factor offers the prospect of Design for Sustainable Behaviour - helping people use everyday products and systems more efficiently.

Dr Debra Lilley, Loughborough University Exploring the ethics of design for behavioural change Informative, persuasive or coercive products can be designed explicitly to change people’s attitudes and behaviours and encourage more sustainable actions. Informative or persuasive products seek to achieve a voluntary change in behaviour; a coercive technology, on the other hand, force behavioural change. Coercive approaches, though arguably more effective than an informative or persuasive ones, raise challenging ethical questions for designers; is it better to educate the consumer and risk failure or overrule users and “force” behavioural changes in order to achieve demonstrable results? Is it possible to “prescribe” actions with absolute certainty that the user will respond in the manner intended? Designers are trained to envision possibilities. But to what degree can designers foresee unintended effects which may result from the use of the products they design? How can designers anticipate and “design around” appropriation and adaptation on the part of the user?

13th Sustainable Design Network Seminar – “Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen!” engCETL, Keith Green Building, Loughborough University Friday 17th October 2008, 10.00am – 4.30pm

If you're interested in design and behaviour change, particularly as applied to ecodesign and sustainable behaviour, this will be a really important event and ought to be well worth attending; I'm very much looking forward to being a part of it.

'Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen' Seminar, 17th October by Dan

Design | Behaviour: Making it happen Debra Lilley, who runs the very useful Design-Behaviour website, sends details of an interesting forthcoming seminar at Loughborough University:

Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen!

The 13th Sustainable Design Network Seminar Design | Behaviour: Making it Happen! will be held on the 17th October 2008 at the Engineering Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (engCETL), Loughborough University. This special one-day event - featuring presentations, design activities and discussion - will explore methodologies for designing behavioural change and the ethical implications of designing products to encourage more sustainable use. Cost £60 (£20 concession) including lunch and refreshments. To find out more and book a place at this event please visit: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/susdesign/SDN/seminars/meetings.htm

I'll be doing a presentation in the morning - here's the abstract, and I'll try and put a version online too afterwards:

Design for Sustainable Behaviour: Easier Efficiency by Influencing Interaction

Dan Lockton, School of Engineering & Design, Brunel University

The idea of using design strategically to influence users' behaviour - Design with Intent - recurs across many fields, in diverse contexts, and a set of patterns can be identified, linking target behaviours to particular design techniques, physical, psychological and technical. Applying these techniques to environmental problems where user behaviour is a significant factor offers the prospect of Design for Sustainable Behaviour - helping people use everyday products and systems more efficiently.

The agenda isn't online yet, but I'm guessing there'll be some really insightful talks from people working on the intersection of design, sustainability and user behaviour - along with Debra, Loughborough's Tracy Bhamra, Vicky Lofthouse and Tang Tang have all done some great work in this field. If you're in the UK and interested in this sort of stuff, this seminar sounds very worthwhile.

engCETL, Loughborough

A 'Behaviour Change Barometer' by Dan

This is a kind of exploration of some ideas I worked on a while ago as part of my research, and have only just come back to, in order to tidy them up a bit. I'm putting it online as a way - perhaps - to get some comments/criticism, and also to enable me to refer to it, if necessary, in future blog posts. If I'm honest, classifications and taxonomies fatigue me quite a lot; coming up with ideas and making and testing them is a lot more fun. But sometimes they're useful. I hope this one is.

If we think about how products are used, it's clear that changes can result from the products themselves changing, users changing their behaviour, or a combination of both.

At the University of Bath, Ed Elias, Elies Dekoninck and Steve Culley [1] have captured these possibilities with a 2 × 2 matrix (Figure 1), in which ‘new products’ and ‘old products’ are compared with ‘new user behaviour’ and ‘old user behaviour’.

Diagram by Ed Elias

Along these lines, it’s possible to consider technology change (via design) and attitude change (via education) as two routes to achieve overall behaviour change. Especially in the sustainable design field, the emphasis is often on one strategy or the other, even though the routes are by no means mutually exclusive, as the ‘Design for New User Behaviour’ title implies in the matrix.

Loughborough's Debra Lilley, Vicky Lofthouse and Tracy Bhamra [2] describe three 'solutions to limit socially and environmentally undesirable behaviours': Educational intervention – which corresponds closely to attitude change; Technological intervention – corresponding to technology change; and Product-led intervention – closely aligned with Elias et al’s Design for New User Behaviour.

Further consideration of the possibilities in this area, and how to represent them, led me to the development of a ‘Behaviour Change Barometer’. This diagram attempts to illustrate somewhat more nuanced ‘cases’ of behaviour change, and which factors are present or absent in each case. It ought to be applicable to many kinds of behaviour change with products, not just environmentally-related ones; equally, read 'products/services/systems' for 'products' to allow wider applicability. The barometer metaphor is stretched slightly, but it seemed appropriate given that the diagram's mapping change.

A Behaviour Change Barometer. Diagram by Dan Lockton

Table to accompany Behaviour Change Barometer. Diagram by Dan LocktonThe same information is presented in tabular form here: in essence, there are six variables involved, with the possibility space divided into quadrants.

The focus of my research is on the intersection of technology change and attitude change (Quadrant 3): the design of products (and systems) which, through new product behaviour, change user behaviour. Quadrant 3 will be discussed last here – before that, it’s useful to run through the other quadrants briefly.

Quadrant 1 Status Quo Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 1: Status quo

In the first quadrant, no overall behaviour change results.

It makes sense to describe case 1b first – this is the absolute ‘no change’ case, where there is no change in the actual functions of the products (they might be new products, but they don’t do anything different to the old products), people use them in the same way they did before, and users have no understanding or mindfulness of the issues around behaviour change.

Case 1a describes situations where the products’ functions have been changed, but users make no use of this, and have no understanding or mindfulness of the issues involved (e.g. a washing machine offers a new ‘eco’ mode alongside the other settings, but a user doesn’t use it). Therefore no overall behaviour change results, despite product improvement.

In 1c, users have an understanding of the issues, and may be mindful of their behaviour and its impacts, but nevertheless don’t change what they do, and continue to use products in the same way as before – e.g. someone who knows that leaving a television on standby wastes electricity, but doesn’t act on this understanding. Again, no overall behaviour change results, despite improved user understanding.

This quadrant encompasses much current behaviour with energy-using consumer products – improved education and improved technology have raised awareness of environmental issues, and allowed products to be operated more efficiently, but if users don’t act accordingly, there will be no overall change in behaviour.

Quadrant 2 New user behaviour with existing products. Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 2: New user behaviour with existing products

Educating users about the implications of their behaviour is generally done with the intention that users will follow through and actually change the way they use products (if they don’t change, this is 1c as described above). If this is successful – e.g. a campaign to persuade people to keep their car tyres inflated correctly to save fuel – then new user behaviour occurs with existing products, and no design or engineering changes are needed to the products. Overall, there is a change in behaviour.

The scope of this quadrant corresponds closely with much current government policy of using social marketing, public education campaigns and so on – employing persuasion and rhetoric to drive attitude change as a foundation for behaviour change. There are many ways that this quadrant could be subdivided into behavioural cases, but from the point of view of the current study, this won’t be explored further here.

Quadrant 4 Existing user behaviour with new product behaviour. Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 4: Existing user behaviour with new product behaviour

Where new products themselves behave differently in use, yet allow users to maintain their existing behaviours, overall behaviour change results without users necessarily needing to understand the issues involved. No persuasion occurs. For example, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, from the user’s point of view, do not require any different user behaviour to tungsten filament bulbs, but in operation they always result in new product behaviour. A refrigerator door which automatically closes itself if left ajar does not, again, require the user to do anything different, but the product itself behaves differently to accommodate existing user behaviour.

This quadrant would include the major proportion of ‘eco-products’ available, most of which are designed to allow the user to change routines and behaviours as little as possible; there are many possible ways the category can be subdivided further according to various other factors.

Quadrant 3 New user behaviour with new product behaviour. Diagram by Dan LocktonQuadrant 3: New user behaviour with new product behaviour

In the cases described by this quadrant, both product behaviour and user behaviour change, resulting in an overall behaviour change. The behaviour change can be driven entirely by functional changes to the product, or by mindful user understanding, or by both, but the products are designed to lead to this. This is Design with Intent.

These are products that persuade, guide or force – influence – users to change the way they interact with them. A common factor is that there is a perceived affordance change with the product: it somehow indicates that a change in behaviour is needed (compared with quadrant 4 where there is no such indication). This quadrant is where my research is focused.

In case 3a, the perceived affordance change does not reflect actual functional change to the product, yet it influences users to change their behaviour. For example, a washing machine which gives users an ‘estimated cost’ for each mode still embodies all the same functions as one which doesn’t – the user can choose to ignore the recommendation, but is influenced to choose the most economical mode, and thus a change in product behaviour is likely to result from the change in user behaviour. This is where much of the Persuasive Technology research seems to fit.

3c is the case where a user need not think about the issues involved, but will still behave differently due to functional changes to the product – e.g. a washing machine which automatically determines the most efficient settings for a particular load, and silently carries them out, doesn’t require the user to understand what’s going on, but does end up changing the user’s behaviour (removing inefficient decisions) and thus the product behaviour changes too. These products have the potential to be complex, especially where automation is required, but need not be. Something as simple as removing an option from a menu changes the user's behaviour (prevents him or her choosing it) but doesn't require the user to think about it.

Finally, returning to the centre of the quadrant, 3b describes cases where user understanding, alongside functional changes to the product and perceived affordance change, lead to user and product behaviour change in practice: these are the real core of what this study is about and where, I hope, I'll be able to make advances in understanding useful to designers and anyone else working in the field of influencing user behaviour. These are interesting products, potentially involving lots of factors and effects but not necessarily complex in themselves.

[1] Elias, E W A, Dekoninck, E A, Culley, S J. The Potential for Domestic Energy Savings through Assessing User Behaviour and Changes in Design. EcoDesign2007, 5th International Symposium on Environmentally Conscious Design and Inverse Manufacturing, Tokyo, 2007 [2] Lilley, D, Lofthouse, V, Bhamra, T. Towards Instinctive Sustainable Product Use. 2nd International Conference: Sustainability Creating the Culture, Aberdeen, 2005. Available here [PDF].

How to fit a normal bulb in a BC3 fitting and save £10 per bulb by Dan

BC3 and 2-pin bayonet fitting comparedStandard 2-pin bayonet cap (left) and 3-pin bayonet cap BC3 (right) fittings compared

Summary for mystified international readers: In the UK new houses/flats must, by law, have a number of light fittings which will 'not accept incandescent filament bulbs' (a 'green' idea). This has led to the development of a proprietary, arbitrary format of compact fluorescent bulb, the BC3, which costs a lot more than standard compact fluorescents, is difficult to obtain, and about which the public generally doesn't know much (yet). If you're so minded, it's not hard to modify the fitting and save money.

A lot of visitors have found this blog recently via searching for information on the MEM BC3 3-pin bayonet compact fluorescent bulbs, where to get them, and why they're so expensive. The main posts here discussing them, with background to what it's all about, are A bright idea? and some more thoughts - and it's readers' comments which are the really interesting part of both posts.

There are so many stories of frustration there, of people trying to 'do their bit' for the environment, trying to fit better CFLs in their homes, and finding that instead of instead of the subsidised or even free standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs available all over the place in a variety of improved designs, styles and quality, they're locked in to having to pay 10 or 15 times as much for a BC3 bulb, and order online, simply because the manufacturer has a monopoly, and does not seem to supply the bulbs to normal DIY or hardware stores.

Frankly, the system is appalling, an example of exactly how not to design for sustainable behaviour. It's a great 'format lock-in' case study for my research, but a pretty pathetic attempt to 'design out' the 'risk' of the public retro-fitting incandescent bulbs in new homes. This is the heavy-handed side of the legislation-ecodesign nexus, and it's clearly not the way forward. Trust the UK to have pushed ahead with it without any thought of user experience. One of the most egregious aspects for me is the way that Eaton's MEMLITE BC3 promotional material presents users with, effectively, a false dichotomy between the 'energy saving BC3' and the energy-hungry GLS incandescent filament tungsten bulbs, as if these are the only two options available. There is no mention at all of standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs which have all the advantages of the BC3 with none of the disadvantages. The adoption of CFLs has been, I would argue, in large part because they are widely available as drop-in replacements for standard 2-pin bayonet (or Edison screw) bulbs. If they'd all required special fittings, very few people would have bought them.

Anyway, if you don't fancy swapping your BC3 fittings for standard 2-pin bayonet ones (which is cheap but would(?) presumably make your home non-compliant with part L of the building regulations - any knowledgeable readers able to clarify this?), it isn't actually too difficult to get a 2-pin bulb to fit acceptably. You will need a pair of pliers, ideally thinner/longer-nosed than the ones in my photos. I should warn you to TURN OFF THE ELECTRICITY FIRST. Unless you're absolutely sure that someone else won't walk in and flip the light switch, don't rely on just turning this off. Turn it all off at the main switch for the house.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie and fittingStandard 2-pin BC Philips Genie and fitting

Here (above) is a Philips Genie 11W 2-pin bayonet CFL. It fits properly into a 2-pin bayonet fitting. When you try to fit it into the BC3 fitting (below), one of the pins will go into one of the J-slots OK, but due to the offset of the other slots, the other pin won't go in. Ignore the third slot.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fittingStandard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fitting

But if you look carefully at how the non-fitting pin lines up with the slot (below), you can see that the bottom end of the slot, i.e. where the pin would sit if it could be got into the top of the J, is (just) to the left of the pin. (See the line I scratched on the fitting.) That is, if you could get it there, it would still sit in place without immediately falling out.

Standard 2-pin BC Philips Genie with BC3 fitting

So, with the pliers (making sure the electricity really is off), bend the edge of the non-fitting slot (the inside edge of the J) inwards and fold it back on itself, squeezing it as tight as you can (below two photos):

Bending BC3 fitting with pliers Bending BC3 fitting with pliers

Now try the 2-pin bayonet bulb again (below) - it should fit OK, with a bit of wobbling perhaps. One pin should fit under the bit you just bent; the other should butt up against the inside corner of the J on the other side. It's not perfect, but the friction there is enough to hold the bulb in place OK.

Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting

Switch on the electricity again, and there you have it: any standard 2-pin bayonet bulb, working, in a BC3 fitting (below). Given the amount of free CFLs handed out by various organisations, you could probably replace all the BC3 bulbs in your house for zero cost, once they come to the end of their lives.

Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting Fitting 2 pin BC bulb in BC3 fitting

Disclaimer: I can't accept any responsibility for injuries, non-compliance with building regs, incidental damage, etc. The above is just a proof of concept, etc. Have fun.

Donella Meadows' Leverage Points by Dan

Scott Wilson first pointed me in the direction of Donella Meadows' 'Leverage Points - Places to Intervene in a System' [PDF, 93 kB], and it's been very useful in thinking about the 'Design with Intent' idea at a system level rather than just the myopic preoccupation with armrests on park benches and interface design which it could have become.

One of the main points in my IJSE article Making users more efficient: Design for sustainable behaviour is that Design with Intent, viewed as 'design to change user behaviour', pretty much resolves into manipulation of actual and perceived affordances & constraints, persuasion through information and feedback, or a combination of both - a context-based approach "where affordances, constraints or persuasive elements are selectively enabled or displayed depending on users’ behaviour at the time." (This categorisation also parallels Debra Lilley's and Renee Wever et al's to a large extent - which is a good sign, I think.)

Really, all of this is about designing into systems (products, services, environments, choice architectures): - real affordances which allow, make it easier or more difficult, or prevent certain actions or decisions occurring; or perceived affordances which suggest/give users feedforward on the consequences of decisions or actions - information mechanisms which give feedback on previous or current decisions or actions - the ability to connect one to the other, i.e. a system choosing which affordances or perceived affordances to present, based on information.

Looking at Donella Meadows' work, it seems that the three Design with Intent approaches map reasonably closely to three of her leverage points, or at least subsets of them:

Persuasion through information and feedback:

6. The structure of information flows

There was this subdivision of identical houses, the story goes, except that for some reason the electric meter in some of the houses was installed in the basement and in others it was installed in the front hall, where the residents could see it constantly, going round faster or slower as they used more or less electricity. With no other change, with identical prices, electricity consumption was 30 percent lower in the houses where the meter was in the front hall.

We systems-heads love that story because it’s an example of a high leverage point in the information structure of the system. It’s not a parameter adjustment, not a strengthening or weakening of an existing loop. It’s a new loop, delivering information to a place where it wasn’t going before and therefore causing people to behave differently. ... Missing feedback is one of the most common causes of system malfunction. Adding or restoring information can be a powerful intervention, usually much easier and cheaper than rebuilding physical infrastructure.

Manipulation of actual and perceived affordances & constraints:

5. The rules of the system [or, as originally outlined, 'The rules of the system (incentives, punishments, constraints)']

The rules of the system define its scope, its boundaries, its degrees of freedom... As we try to imagine restructured rules...and what our behavior would be under them, we come to understand the power of rules. They are high leverage points. Power over the rules is real power.

Affordances, constraints or persuasive elements selectively enabled or displayed depending on users’ behaviour at the time:

4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure

...these rules basically govern how, where, and what the system can add onto or subtract from itself under what conditions.

(As an aside, the PDF on the Sustainability Institute's website, linked above, is 'SECURED' in an attempt to prevent people copying text from it, as I've done above. This constraint is an example of Meadows' Leverage point 5, of course. But thanks to the rebalance of information flow (Leverage point 6) afforded by the internet, it took me less than 30 seconds to find something to strip the protection from the PDF and let me copy the text to the clipboard.)