Category Archives: Articles

What does energy look like? Drawing Energy book now available

Drawing Energy book

Some news from the SusLab project:

Last year, Flora Bowden blogged about our investigation of people’s perceptions of ‘energy’—how do people visualise, or think about, what is for the most part an abstract, invisible concept?

A book detailing our research, Drawing Energy, is now available to download or order:

Bowden, F., Lockton, D., Gheerawo, R. and Brass, C. (2015). Drawing Energy: Exploring perceptions of the invisible. London: Royal College of Art. ISBN 978-1-910642-10-8. Editor: Rama Gheerawo (PDF)

Drawing Energy describes a drawing-based research project undertaken by the Royal College of Art as part of SusLabNWE (2012-15). The project explored people’s perceptions of energy, by asking them to write, draw or illustrate their thoughts and reactions to the question ‘What does energy look like?’ Over 180 members of the public took part in the process.

The larger SuslabNWE study saw 11 partners from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK come together to understand and investigate energy use in the home. At the Royal College of Art in the UK, we looked at bringing together two ideals and practices around inclusive design and sustainability. Both often have different starting points and deal with different scales. Inclusive design usually focuses on people’s needs and capabilities at the domestic scale, while sustainability embraces complexity and systems thinking, addressing systemic change.

Drawing Energy negotiates a space between the two, bringing together people’s aspirations and perspectives with the context of socio-political mandates and changing infrastructure or technologies. The study also moves beyond the idea of purely functional research (such as numerically measuring energy use) to depict the less tangible area of how people relate to energy in a visual, literal or metaphorical way – it takes us from data ‘performance’ through to human ‘perception’. The work represented in this collection builds on a history of using drawing as a tool for research and as a way to enable people to express their ideas and imagination fully.

We hope you appreciate this publication, whether you see it as a strategy within design research, or simply enjoy it for the rich and varied artwork that represent the public’s views of energy.

Drawing Energy: Exploring Perceptions of the Invisible was designed by Hannah Montague and edited by Rama Gheerawo.

Drawing Energy - gallery

Designing with people in sustainability and behaviour change research: DRS 2014 Workshop, 15 June 2014

DRS2014_screenshot

On 15 June, at the 2014 Design Research Society conference in Umeå, Sweden, we will be running a workshop on Designing with people in sustainability and behaviour change research along with SusLab project colleagues from Chalmers University of Technology and the Wuppertal Institute.

This full-day workshop should be of interest to designers and researchers working at intersections of sustainability and ‘behaviour change’—two major current themes across product, service and architectural design and human-computer interaction.

We hope we can learn from each other—we want participants to share methods, ideas, stories ‘from the field’ and needs and possibilities arising from ongoing and future projects, through group exercises, presentations and re-enactments; over the day, we’ll collect these insights in a structured format, matching needs, methods and case studies with potentially applicable behavioural design techniques. This will be then published online as a guide for researchers, but also to inform others working on sustainability and behaviour change—including in a policy context—of design research’s value in this area.

While technology is important, people (whether or not we call them ‘users’) are key to the environmental and social challenges of design in everyday life. Understanding people—and the contexts and social practices of living and working—is crucial. Without these insights, work on sustainability risks being based on assumptions about human behaviour and decision-making which may not capitalise on the opportunities design offers.

In the workshop, we’ll be exploring methods for involving and including people better in design research for sustainability and behaviour change—designing with people. These include ethnographic methods, participatory design and co-creation, prototyping, probes and provocations, and integrating qualitative and quantitative data. We’ll discuss aspects distinguishing sustainability and energy research from general user research—how can specialist knowledge best be used?

Here’s our proposal for reference (PDF)—the details may change slightly.

Taking part

To take part in the workshop, you need to be registered for the conference (you can’t register separately for the workshops), and also submit a case study (see below) directly to us – email dan.lockton@rca.ac.uk – by 1 April. We will let you know your acceptance by 15 April, which is also the cut-off date for the early bird conference fee, so we’ll try to make sure we let you know a few days before this.

Here’s information on the DRS 2014 workshops and how to register.

Submitting a case study

We would like participants to put together brief case studies (approx 2-4 pages) of methods, ideas and stories ‘from the field’ about research relating to behaviour, people’s interaction with products, services or environments, with either a sustainability perspective or relating to other areas of social benefit. These do not have to be formal papers, but they can be if you wish. Key things to include are:

  • how you framed the problem you were investigating, or what you were trying to find out
  • how/why you chose the research methods you did
  • how they worked in practice – how did the results inform your design process?
  • how you would improve the methods

Ideally, we would like you to bring to the workshop (or at least have images of) some of the actual artefacts / tools involved. For example, if you used a form of design probe, be prepared to talk through the details of it.

Please also include, again briefly, some needs and possibilities you see arising from ongoing and future projects: what kinds of questions are you going to need to answer?

The point of the workshop is collectively to share and learn from each other’s methods and experience, so our main criteria for selecting participants will be based on a) making sure we have a diverse set of people, methods and contexts represented, and b) making sure we keep the workshop to a reasonable number of participants to allow easier discussion and group work over the day.

Please send your case study to dan.lockton@rca.ac.uk by 1 April. We will let you know whether you’ve been accepted by 15 April, hopefully before.

Organisers

Dan Lockton, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, UK
Flora Bowden, SustainRCA, Royal College of Art, UK
Sara Renström, Design & Human Factors, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Anneli Selvefors, Design & Human Factors, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Pernilla Hagbert, Homes for Tomorrow, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Carolin Baedeker, Sustainable Production & Consumption, Wuppertal Institute, Germany
Najine AmeliSustainable Production & Consumption, Wuppertal Institute, Germany

 

Guest post at Ethnography Matters

ethno-to-web21 Over at the excellent Ethnography Matters we have an invited guest post about SusLab, explaining the RCA’s work on the project so far through from an ethnographic perspective. From the conclusion:

…we hope to demonstrate, in the context of the wider political, academic and commercial debate over energy and behaviour change, what it means to design with people, rather than for people.

This is something that’s lacking from much of the behaviour change work that’s going on across sectors, both academically and commercially: the value of involving people in the process. Ethnography is a major part of this, and can provide powerful insights into opportunities for developing new products and services that actually take account of the real contexts of people’s lives and everyday decision-making—in lots of areas, not just energy use.

If you’re interested in the links between qualitative and quantitative research in this kind of field – as well as others where the buzzword is ‘big data’ – I particularly recommend Tricia Wang’s ‘Big Data needs Thick Data’ from earlier last year, also on Ethnography Matters.

What’s the future of the UK’s energy? 12 February

talk3-03_900

On Wednesday, 12 February, we’ll be presenting our work on SusLab so far as part of What’s the future of the UK’s energy?, the next event in the RCA’s Sustain talks series, alongside some big names in sustainability policy and design.

By 2050, we could get all the energy we want from safe and clean guaranteed renewable sources. The decisions we make now are likely to impact the trajectory of global warming, climate change, our ability to grow food, how we do business or heat our homes for the next 100 years. Leader of the Green Party for England and Wales, Natalie Bennett; Forum for the Future’s community energy and finance specialist, Will Dawson; and Dyson-Award winning design engineer Sam Etherington explore this future from community-owned energy and renewable wave power to political mindsets and weaning the economy off fossil fuels. With SustainRCA’s consumer energy research project, SusLab. This event will be chaired by Aniol Esteban, New Economics Foundation.

If you’re interested, please do sign up at Eventbrite. The event is free, and takes place at the RCA’s Battersea Campus, from 6.30 – 8.30pm, 12 February.

Update: Here’s a review of the evening by Zara Arshad, and a couple of photos of Flora and Dan presenting.

IMG_0788 IMG_0783 IMG_0836

Home Energy Hackday: the results

hackday1

On Saturday 9th November, about 35 designers, developers, makers, researchers and other interesting people came together at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre. We had everyone from energy startups to service designers, venture capital to building performance and energy consultants, along with participants from our SusLabNWE partner organisations, Chalmers (Gothenburg) and Imperial College London. (Full list of people who signed up).

DSC_0311

DSC_0359

The hackday brought together both more ‘technological’ and more ‘human’ perspectives on energy use in the home, with a range of interests, experience and expertise.

As such, while we had a table of electronic prototyping bits – and more brought by participants, and kindly lent by Imperial -  groups were free to use whatever methods they liked to explore, prototype and demonstrate their ideas, including digital and paper prototyping.

hackday2

DSC_0299

And they did: over the course of 12 hours of intensive (but hopefully fun) work, teams addressed two quite broad briefs / themes arising from our co-creation work with householders earlier this summer and autumn:

In/visibility of energy

▶ Householders have told us that not being able to ‘see’ the energy they use (and what’s actually using it) limits their ability to change how they use it. This doesn’t just mean visualisation via numbers and graphs – what could be new ways of communicating energy? Following on from this, are there opportunities for more ambient (e.g. audio) interfaces for energy use?

Thermal comfort

▶ Heating uses the largest proportion of energy in homes, but the area of thermal comfort is complex and it is not as simple as merely turning down the thermostat. Can we look at this question not directly through temperature, but instead from the perspective of householders’ comfort and their sense of control over the home environment?

Continue reading

Seeing Things: The projects

scr_1

Visualising invisible patterns in human behaviours and environmental conditions

Go straight to the projects

On Friday 1 November, in the Senior Common Room at the Royal College of Art, twenty students from twelve different courses presented the outcomes of their week-long Seeing Things projects to invited guests, including participants in other AcrossRCA projects run by Sustain and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. 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.

Continue reading