Master's project for
One of Gengame's acquired concepts from their University partnership
An app concept that empowers renters using smart energy meter data
GenGame is a UX design consultancy who specialise in helping energy tech providers engage with their customers. They approached the Loughborough Design School Master's cohort looking for help in establishing future experiences that utilise smart energy meter data.
Household energy smart meters are enabling new experience's such as real time energy feedback and dynamic load tariffs. However, GenGame set a challenge to see what other experiences energy data can enable for end users.
"Build a mobile app concept that utilises smart meter data to reduce the impact of domestic energy consumption"
A key intention of the brief was to not dictate the user group or part of the energy experience to use data within.
To help contextualize, group home research sessions were conducted with a range of Loughborough University contacts. This allowed each of us to quickly spot potential problem area's to explore further individually.
This initial research was distilled, from which, a range of 'How Might We' questions were brainstormed. I saw a potential in how energy attitudes had shifted due to increased remote work so used my initial findings to construct a hunt statement around this.
I am going to research recent university graduates’ domestic energy use attitudes and behaviours...
focusing on how they have changed due to working from home in rented urban properties in the UK...
in order to inform the experience design of a mobile app that will allow users to reduce the negative environmental impact of their household energy consumption.
From my hunt statement it was important to map the underlying questions, this was done through the 6W's method and on reviewing the main themes these three key questions rose to the top:
When do people think about energy?
What stops people using energy?
How has WFH altered these energy attitudes & behaviours?
Okay, I had established a direction to solve the brief in, but how could I investigate these questions?
Time constraints and the initial user research context led to focused research around 3 households with an emphasis on insightful depth. These were established through convenience sampling.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions all research & testing was conducted remotely
The first part of these household studies were long format (2 hr) user interviews. These covered user's current habits, how they had observed changes in their use and how their view's on climate change challenged their use of energy.
The research was not laser focused on user's interactions with smart meter data, but more their interaction with energy as a whole
These semi-structured interviews were followed by remote video tours of the participants households. Dynamic questioning was used to investigate further energy habits and specific setups.
To conclude the sessions several reflection exercises were used to prompt user's actions. This started with card sorting that looked at prioritisation between a range of energy experiences.
To finish off the reflection exercises, an open 'draw' challenge allowed the participants to explore how they would summarise their relationships with energy. Each of these sessions were recorded and fully transcribed in order to enable thematic analysis.
Using affinity mapping, the findings established from thematic analysis of the sessions were compiled and synthesised to identify patterns.
"Even knowing how much energy the freezer uses it's not like I'm going to turn it off"
This research map allowed easier conversion of user research into clearly defined insights.
Working from home has heightened users' awareness of their energy use due to increased costs, however this has only heightened the feeling of powerlessness due to the inability to change their housing infrastructure and their own usage as both feel non-negotiable.
Renting tears the incentives of home energy use apart as users must submit to the infrastructure they are given due to cost, while landlords bear no casualties for the inefficiencies their neglect creates and have no reason to change.
Users working from home have become experts in their home's energy efficiency problems, resulting in tedious workarounds and habits that fit within the confines of renting.
Working from home has shifted the energy equation in user’s households as comfort in the form of convenience and pleasure has become a greater priority now that the home environment is directly linked to their productivity.
To present both my synthesised findings map and my key research insights in a more user empathetic way, Jerick was born.
“I’m done being a cold student, now I earn a salary I want to be comfortable”
“It's not my house, I just rent it but I have to pay for all the problems it has so I can actually live here”
“I can’t see how to cut down on anything, I use energy for a purpose and that’s what I pay for”
“I have more important things to think about, I don’t feel like managing everything in my life”
My participants helped me realise their underlying problems and goals, it was time to figure out how I use these to untangle what felt like a broken energy experience.
Using the insights and persona of Jerick, many 'How Might We?' questions were developed. These HMW's were ranked in a potential matrix and the most promising and persona relevant questions were used to aid sketch ideation of concept solutions.
HMW enable lasting efficiency improvements in household energy use even when the current tenant moves out?
HMW create incentives using peoples smart data to make them shift energy use away from their most convenient time?
HMW combine the organic intelligence provided by the user with their smart data to create better informed heating experiences?
3 distinct concepts emerged...
These were developed and fleshed out via additional combination ideation.
Through development of more in-depth user interactions a synergy between the 'Heat.ai' and 'Reconnect' concepts emerged
When reviewed against Jerick's pains and goals the combination of these concept journeys stood out in a way that the other initial concepts failured to achieve.
This led to the ability to put a flag in the ground via the use of a vision statement:
There is an opportunity, via energy data to reconnect the incentives of tenants & owners in household energy efficiency.
A platform that can calculate energy efficiency improvements via past energy data could financially reward the owner using money the tenant already spends on wasted energy.
The expertise of tenants within their homes can also be leveraged alongside AI to enable a frictionless installation process.
From this established vision three design principles were constructed to help the final design achieve this. At this point the concept was also given a brand, 'Shift' as it aims to shift the incentives of the property owner back onto the side of tenants energy use.
Shift should inspire confidence from the users by its precise and accurate technology that allows users to trust its judgement.
Shift should offload as much friction as possible from the user in order to allow them to enjoy the benefits of the service without stress.
Shift should prioritise allowing the user to feel in control of the experience at all times, enabling a frictionless experience that serves the user.
Iterative experience journeys were developed for the concept. These were then tested via 'quick and dirty' remote experience prototyping sessions with the households I had previously interviewed.
The first part of the journey requires users to explore their homes, looking for key parts that could be upgraded in efficiency. This was prototyped using the iOS measure app to simulate the scanning experience. Users were provided a guide of what parts of their house to investigate.
Users then simulated uploading the photos and scans they had taken of key features in their home. They were provided digital feedback of elements that could be upgraded and asked to book these upgrade appointments.
The final part of the user journey involved testing how the user would prepare their home for the installations taking place. This was prototyped by informing users what upgrades were planned and seeing how they would temporarily adapt their homes in order to facilitate this.
These prototyping and feedback sessions led to several findings to adjust.
Enjoyable to explore home for things to improve in context of app
Capturing and measuring can be awkward for certain items
Lack of privacy is a concern, user needs trust in security of scans
Area preparation are additional nuisances when working from home
These potential problem areas enabled additional solution ideation that was then fed into the overall user experience. To be presented back to GenGame this level of concept was then worked up into hi-fi screens and a storyboard.
Shift enables renters to save money on their energy bill by splitting free energy savings with their property owner.
AI enables smart meter data to be used to calculate the efficacy of upgrades on renters energy usage, providing savings for the tenant, additional income for the owner and energy savings for the planet.
What elements enable Shift to provide this experience for the user?
A machine learning based behavioural analytics engine would enable Shift to calculate the efficacy of household energy efficency upgrades. This delta can then be split to align owner incentives with tenant savings.
Property owners would pay for the most impactful upgrades to the homes their tenants scan. Owners would then be able to earn money back to cover these upgrade costs by taking a portion of the energy savings value.
The smart meter data of both the tenant and the property itself would be combined with more dynamic elements to calculate this amount.
The Shift AI would continue to estimate what energy use the tenant would still have been paying depending on what has been upgraded in their home.
These savings in monthly energy bills are then divided between tenant savings, the property owners earnings to pay back the upgrades and a platform cut.
The tenant side of the experience would be facilitated by the Shift app that would perform three main functions:
The app allows users to scan and map parts of their home to find out if it is worth being upgraded by more efficient equipment. Scanned areas can range anywhere from old lightbulbs to loft insulation.
The users data is then remotely analysed and a comprehensive home diagnosis will be sent to the tenants and owner.
Users have control and freedom within the app to schedule upgrades to their home that the owner has signed off on. This allows renovations to fit around the tenants lifestyle and schedule.
The app then functions as a precise energy use feedback interface as well as show and explain it's predicted efficacy levels, improving user trust.
The user can also continue to use the app to scan, book and manage the key energy devices in their household.
The owner side of the experience would be facilitated by the same Shift app but from an owner specific view that would also perform three main functions:
Property owners will receive the in-depth reports generated from tenants scans. This will allow them to decision the most impactful and profitable efficiency upgrades.
An in app local marketplace allows owners to easily contract out specific upgrade work for their tenant's property. The app also aids with applying for UK government green grants for financing renovations.
The long term use of the owner app allows continued management of new upgrades, profitability estimates and payments to be made.
Users are empowered and are able to influence and improve their own home.
Would provide a unique and valuable moat for an energy provider which could significantly reduce customer churn, a major industry problem.
Users pay less in energy bills, reducing carbon emissions while preventing sacrifice of painful non-negotiable energy use.
Landlords gain a vested interest in investing in the most effective green installation possibilities.
Engage landlords as a second primary stakeholder to integrate into further design development.
Further user testing of hi-fi app screens.
While outside of GenGame's brief, look into design need for tablet and web based delivery methods.