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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.

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Drawing Energy and Powerchord at the London Design Festival 2014


The latest Powerchord prototype in use..

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The London Design Festival is a huge event taking place across London from today (13th) for the next couple of weeks, and we’re proud to say that two of our SusLab mini-projects, Drawing Energy and Powerchord, are featured, as part of two exhibitions.

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V_and_A_DiliffV&A Digital Design Weekend: 20 & 21 September

At the Victoria & Albert Museum, the 2014 V&A Digital Design Weekend, on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st September, from 10.30am to 5pm, is a fantastic transformation of the V&A into “one big workshop… where visitors come together with artists and designers to discuss and think about objects, making and working collaboratively.” We’re honoured to be presenting our work in some very talented company, including James Bridle, Tine Bech and Bristol’s REACT Hub.

You can take part in Drawing Energy–please come along to see the collection, and create your vision of energy!–and play with Powerchord, and contribute to shaping the next stage of its development.

Dyson exterior_Helene BinetBreaking Through: New projects from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design: 15-25 September

Our projects are also featured in the Helen Hamlyn Centre’s own exhibition and symposium, taking place in the Dyson Building at RCA Battersea, each day from the 15th to 25th September, from 10am to 5.30pm. Breaking Through “demonstrates how emerging ideas can shape alternative futures in areas as diverse as energy use, office life and ageing populations–when ethnographic research and people-centred design are considered in tandem. From designs for a new London taxi to innovations in healthcare and developments for digital communities, there is an emphasis on user push rather than technology pull as the driving force to improve people’s lives through design.”

We’ll be showing the results of Drawing Energy so far, and you can also play with Powerchord by using appliances and hearing how it responds.

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About the projects

Drawing Energy (What Does Energy Look Like?) is a drawing project led by the Royal College of Art to explore how people imagine and think about energy. It is part of the wider European SusLabNWE project that is exploring energy use in the home.

Over the past year we have asked over one hundred people – students, children, academics, energy experts, designers and members of the public – to draw for us what they think energy looks like.

The project is described in a paper presented by Flora Bowden at the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics 2014 Congress in New York:

  • Bowden, F., Lockton, D., Gheerawo, R. & Brass, C. (2014). ‘Drawing Energy: Exploring the Aesthetics of the Invisible’. IAEA Congress 2014: Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, 22-24 August 2014, New York (paper PDF).

Powerchord is a prototype data sonification system, under development, which turns near-real time electricity monitoring, of multiple household appliances, into sound. The concept was developed from ideas suggested by householders during co-creation sessions as part of the SusLabNWE project.

The prototype uses the ‘guts’ of a CurrentCost energy monitor, connected to an Arduino which reads the XML data stream from the monitor and maps the power levels to particular tracks, played using a WAV Trigger. The current iteration uses birdsong, of different intensities, from recordings at xeno-canto.org

The project is described in a paper presented by Dan Lockton at the SoniHED Conference on Sonification of Health and Environmental Data, 12 September 2014, York:

  • Lockton, D., Bowden, F., Brass, C. & Gheerawo, R. (2014). ‘Bird-wattching: exploring sonification of home electricity use with birdsong’. SoniHED — Conference on Sonification of Health and Environmental Data, 12 September 2014, York (paper PDF).

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

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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.

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