All posts filed under “Announcements

Invitation: Home Energy Hackday, Saturday 9 November

SusLab Home Energy Hackday, Dana Centre, Science Museum, London SW7 5HD
Saturday 9 November, 8.30am – 8.30pm

Sign up at Eventbrite

Are you interested in energy, design, prototyping or user research? As part of the European SusLab project, we’re running a one-day hackday event to explore new ways of making home energy use more tangible, visible, or understandable, and we’d love you to take part. We’re looking for makers, however you define: hackers, coders, designers, artists, systems people, to come together and push this area forward.


There’s loads of work going on about reducing energy use, feedback, behaviour change and smart metering, but a lot of it misses a fairly basic insight: people don’t understand energy very well, and it’s difficult to change what you’re doing if the feedback doesn’t mean much to you.

From user research with a diverse group of householders, we’ve found that two of the biggest problems are that energy is ‘invisible’, and the units are conceptually difficult for many people. Equally, it’s clear that people are not setting out to ‘use energy’ — they’re meeting everyday needs for family comfort, cleaning, food, entertainment and so on. And lots of energy feedback systems don’t really reflect this.

So, our group of householders (you’ll get to meet some of them on the day) have collectively set a brief:

Build something that helps me understand my home energy use better, by making it more tangible, visible, audible, relatable in some way…. It should ideally also be directly useful or actionable – not just giving me data, but solving an actual problem: e.g. helping me know whether I’ve left things switched on, or helping me know whether what I’m spending is more than I should be.


We’d like you to tackle / explore / challenge that brief, bringing your range of skills to bear in whatever way you see fit. Electricity and gas use are both in scope, together with other relevant variables – temperature (indoor and outdoor), occupancy, anything you feel is relevant.

You could make something physical, or digital, or (most likely) both, a product, a service, combining off-the-shelf bits in new ways, or doing something from scratch. Maybe you already have a project that you think is relevant or could be adapted, or maybe you have an idea and would like to find like-minded people to help you develop it.

What you build will potentially be tested in people’s homes, and in the Institute for Sustainability‘s Living Lab test house on the London Sustainable Industries Park in Dagenham early next year, and there will be the opportunity to develop your ideas further.

We’ll provide food and drink throughout the day, and there will be prizes. You’ll also get to meet and work with some lovely people — with lots of different skills and expertise. We’ll also provide some equipment (this list will be added to over the next couple of weeks!), but please do bring your own too (and add it to the list, if you like).

Please do sign up at Eventbrite, and let people know you’re coming! It’s a relatively small, quick, one-day event, but if you miss out, there should be more opportunities as the project progresses.

Any questions, comments, suggestions or ideas – please comment below or get in touch – or

Life Examined: SusLab at the London Design Festival


Photo by Karolina Raczynska

London Design FestivalFrom 15—23 September, our work on SusLab will be featured in Life Examined, the 2013 Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design exhibition, taking place at the RCA’s Dyson building in Battersea as part of the London Design Festival.

Dyson exterior_Helene Binet

Photo by Helene Binet

Life Examined is the annual presentation of design projects by the Helen Hamlyn Research Associates, exploring design to improve people’s lives. Socrates famously observed that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. Here the theme of ‘life examined’ reflects the emphasis in the work on in-depth user research with different groups of people — from taxi drivers, hospital patients and office workers to care home residents with dementia or autism. These interactions with individuals and communities are captured in a series of specially commissioned photographs that will form the backbone of the exhibition.

The Helen Hamlyn Research Associates programme provides a platform for new design graduates of the RCA to address key social challenges, and is supported by a wide range of business, public sector and third sector partners.

As part of our SusLab display, we will be presenting insights and outcomes from our ethnographic research and inviting visitors to explore their understanding of ‘what energy looks like’, visually. This is part of an ongoing theme within the project, aiming to understand better people’s mental models of energy, to enable us the design of new interfaces for showing energy use, in Phase 2 of SusLab.

Alongside Life Examined, two other exhibitions are taking place: Mind the Gap looks at the challenges facing modern urban transportation hubs and the design strategies used to respond to them –a collaboration between RCA Design Products’ Platform 17 students and the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan; and Lazy Bytes, a collaboration between EPFL+ECAL Lab, the Kudelski Group, the RCA, ENSCI – Les Ateliers, and Parsons The New School for Design, asking ‘Can the TV remote control become a valuable object?’

Introducing AcrossRCA: Seeing Things

Please see the updated schedule for the week

AcrossRCA is a week-long programme of cross-disciplinary working at the RCA, bringing together students and staff with different expertise, interests and perspectives to collaborate on a wide range of briefs set both internally and by external partner organisations.

This year, from 28 October to 1 November, the SusLab team are running an AcrossRCA project, Seeing Things. This builds on the ‘energy visualisation’ theme of SusLab to challenge students – potentially from diverse RCA programmes including design, architecture, communications, fine art, materials and humanities – to explore visualising a broader range of hidden patterns in everyday life, relating to either human behaviours or environmental conditions.

Nearer the time, we’ll be blogging about some more of the ideas behind Seeing Things, and other relevant projects, but in the meantime, here’s the project outline:

Seeing Things

Brief: Visualise invisible patterns relating to human behaviours or environmental conditions.

Number of people 12-20

Keywords: Visualisation, Sustainability / Environment, Human behaviours


Seeing Things has emerged from the SusLabNWE project, on which the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and SustainRCA are partnering with Imperial College London and the Institute for Sustainability.

SusLab focuses on domestic energy use and the social practices, behaviours or activities that result in that energy use. Energy is largely invisible and one of our interests on the project is in visualising and communicating these invisible patterns.

In Seeing Things we would like you to think more broadly about visualising invisible patterns, relating to either human behaviours or environmental conditions. Through the project you will have access to a range of sensing technologies, as well as insights that have emerged from our interviews and co-design workshops with a diverse range of householders over the summer as part of SusLab. You can therefore generate your own data about energy use or human behaviours, or can use other source material (SusLab’s or your own) as your subject matter.


This is a full week project, but you are free to arrange your time how you like on the Wednesday and Thursday. There’s no ‘homework’ as such. You are free to form your own groups with people you’d like to work with, up to a maximum of four people per group, or work on your own if you prefer. We’ll be around to help and provide mentoring, but it will be up to you to decide what you want to do.

Depending on your background, interests and expertise — and those of the people you choose to work with — your projects could be very different, potentially involving anything from automatically generated data visualisations to hand-made installations. So the equipment you might need will vary. We have a project website for SusLab — — which will be updated during August and September to include more details of Seeing Things.

The projects you create will be presented to invited guests from the design, built environment and sustainability sectors on the Friday, and there will be further opportunities for them to be installed and exhibited in the Institute for Sustainability’s SusLab ‘Living Lab’ house early in 2014.


Monday 28 October

9am Introduction

SusLab background including insights gathered on human behaviours and energy use (Phase 1), results from co-creation and next steps for the project

Seeing Things presentation — case studies of other projects about ‘visualising the invisible’

10.30 Break

11am          Brief and Teams

Brief: Visualise invisible patterns relating to human behaviours or environmental conditions.

Spend time talking to other students about your interest in the subject and form teams of up to four people. You can also work on your own.

1pm Lunch break

2pm Presentations from guest speakers (tbc).

Speakers will address projects on visualising the invisible, human behaviours and energy use.

5pm End

Tuesday 29 October

9am Introduction to sensing

Introduction to the data and sensing equipment that will be available to use. Opportunity for students to try out different technologies and look at data produced.

1pm Lunch break

2pm Teams begin project work

5pm End

Wednesday 30 October

All day Teams work on projects at College

with mentoring from HHCD and SustainRCA

Thursday 31 October

All day Teams work on projects at College

Friday 1 November

9am Teams finish projects at College and install in [space tbc]

3pm Project presentations from teams in [space tbc]

5pm Reception with invited guests

Please visit the AcrossRCA blog for more details and to sign up (by 17 October).

Welcome: Introduction to SusLab

SusLab aims to reduce household energy use through the design and trialling of new people-centred products, services and interfaces, developed collaboratively with householders

Reducing energy use is a major challenge for society and the need to change our behaviour is receiving increasing attention. However there is a need to integrate the ‘what’ of quantitative data with the ‘why’ of people-centred design research. Why do people use energy in everyday life–what are they actually doing? And how can design address this?

Understanding energy use in everyday life

People don’t set out to ‘use energy’- demand is the result of solving everyday problems, meeting needs for comfort, light, food, cleaning and entertainment, often in emotional contexts. This is where research can provide insights directly useful for the design process. At the Royal College of Art, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and SustainRCA are partners in SusLabNWE (2012-15), an INTERREG-funded European collaboration between research organisations in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and UK, to investigate this issue. In the UK, we are working with Imperial College London and the Institute for Sustainability to combine quantitative research processes with ethnographic design methods.

The focus of SusLab is on reducing household energy use through new design interventions, developing and testing products, services and interfaces. The project draws on a broad scope of expertise, including environmental scientists and architects alongside designers, and each region is creating a ‘Living Lab’–a specially designed test home for short-term studies on sustainable living.

We are currently in Phase 1, researching ‘in the field’ to establish baseline information about householders’ everyday routines, energy use and understanding of energy through in-depth home visits and probe studies. Through deeper insights into everyday interactions, we are aiming to help frame the ‘problems’ and contexts of energy use–and address them through design–in more nuanced ways.

This autumn we will move into Phase 2, which will be centred on the ‘lab’ – a specially designed test home for short-term studies on sustainable living, being constructed in the London Sustainable Industries Park, Dagenham by the Institute for Sustainability. Using our insights from Phase 1, we will employ co-creation processes to create new prototypes that will be tested by users and iterated in the lab. In Phase 3, the final phase of work, our product, system and service prototypes will be tested with wider user groups in their own homes, validating the research and design process.

The Royal College of Art’s role

Central to the project is the development of people-centred design research methodologies that can provide insights to other partners about the usability and adoption of sustainable innovations across many sectors. The RCA is leading on the development of design research methodologies and, together with project partners, has created a kit of methods to be used across all three phases of the research, drawing on the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s Designing With People kit as well as inputs from TU Delft, Chalmers TH and the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment & Energy.

These involve observational techniques, self-reporting methods, and product and service prototyping, as well as new research methods developed specifically for the project, such as user re-enactment. The research methods kit has been disseminated to all project partners and is informing the design research undertaken in all SusLabNWE regions. A public version will be released later in the project.

The RCA is also collaborating with Imperial College London to establish the sensing technologies that will be installed in the UK Lab to measure domestic energy consumption and monitor human interaction with energy-using devices. This collaboration will enable new comparisons to be made across qualitative and quantitative data and will lead to deeper insights for design research processes.

This website is under development: in the meantime, please contact Flora Bowden (SustainRCA) or Dr Dan Lockton (Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design) for more details.

Project details

Research Associate: Flora Bowden
Senior Associates: Catherine Greene (2012-13); Dr Dan Lockton (2013-15)
Principal investigators: Rama Gheerawo (HHCD); Clare Brass (SustainRCA)

Research funder: INTERREG IVB NWE Programme
UK research partners: Institute for Sustainability, Imperial College London
Other research partners: TU Delft, Chalmers TH, Wuppertal Institute, CityPorts Academy, Hochschule Ruhr-West, Innovation City Ruhr, Johanneberg Science Park, Woonbron Housing Association.