Co-design of products enhancing energy-responsible practices among users.
In the search for more sustainable consumption patterns, "behaviour change" has become a motto. A usual way to deal with this aim is the idea to change first attitudes of consumers, so that a behaviour change will follow. There is however more and more research showing that practices are not changing so easily, especially when consumption is inconspicuous as it is the case of household energy consumption (e.g. Shove 2003, Jackson 2005).
How to design products that may influence users towards new and more sustainable behaviours? Beyond the eco-efficiency of domestic equipments, is it possible to think them so that they suggest to their users they should be used in a thirfty way? Design generally pushes consumption and tends to be part of the problem: how to use the same design skills to make enable households behave in a more responsible way?
This paper will focus on these questions starting from the ISEU research project funded by the Belgian Science Policy . ISEU stands for "Integration of Standardisation, Ecodesign and Users in energy using products" and is a 4 years socio-technical integrated study on production and usage of energy consuming domestic appliances. It is jointly conducted by Universit Libre de Bruxelles, the Institut de Conseil et d'Etudes en Dveloppement Durable and the Centre de Recherches et d'Information des Organisations de Consommateurs in Belgium.
Part of this research project focused precisely on a 6 months co-design session with users, conducted by Strategic Design Scenarios and grie Research, Belgium, in order to collaborate with families and to associate them to participative design sessions to define together with design teams, innovative design strategies and related sets of domestic appliances likely to induce energy-responsible behaviours of households. The development of the paper will focus on two main aspects of the research project: a first part will present the collaborative work with the users, the tools and interactions used to ensure their involvement in the design process. A second part will describe the results obtained at a methodological level proposing four design guidelines to favour energy-responsible behaviours and at a practical level to describe eight new concepts of products in the sectors of lighting, heating regulation, clothing care and energy smart meters.
Involving 'friendly users'
The co-design with users session has been developed during 6 months in four phases starting with online discussion with 16 families, discussing their energy consumption patterns, exchanging pictures of their living contexts and progressively building trust for the second phase of self-investigation training and ethnographic observations at their homes. The third phase has invited the families to work together with design teams at Strategic Design Scenarios offices and co-design new products concepts. Finally the fourth phase (still in progress) consists in delivering to the families, mock-ups of the products they co-designed, makes them familiarise with these new equipments in their homes, and asks them to describe why they think these new appliances are likely to improve their energy-consumption practices in front of a video camera. The short video clips of users presenting their involvement in a design process, the results they obtained and the behaviours changes they expect will feed the following of the ISEU research project, in particular to stimulate qualitative discussions with larger samples of users as well as designers and producers of domestic appliance.
The purposes of this approach will be analysed as an ideas-generation process involving users to stimulate and 'debug' designers creative thinking based on a 'casting' of 'friendly users' which involvement value is less in their testing potential rather than in their willingness to invent a supportive environment toward new and more sustainable way of living (Evans, Burns and Barrett, 2002; Snyder 2003; Jgou 2009)
Developing design guidelines to favour energy-responsible practices.
The ISEU research project selected 4 categories of domestic appliances on which families were invited to focus on. For each of them an original interpretation of the current context emerged from the early investigations with the families, showing why according to them the current appliances proposed on the market were not facilitating a rational use of energy or worst, were favouring energy overconsumption. For each category of equipment, a new design attitude has been identified between the users and the design teams that brought, on the one hand, to a series of emblematic concepts of new products and, on the other hand, to four design guidelines to favour energy-responsible behaviours with a general value going beyond the product category they emerged from.
Processes, motivations, resulting guidelines and related concept products will be presented in detail:
- "Subtractive principle and lighting environment" allows imagination of new light switches and light distribution in the living environment to minimise the number of lights on;
- "Semi-manual interface principle and thermal regulation" reduces user cognitive overload in the fine thermal regulation following movements of people in the home while facilitating users manual regulation;
- "Resetting default principle and clothing care" allows to prompt low energy-intensive washing processes and to push evolution of users habits;
- "Eco-conscious artefacts and smart energy meters" facilitates interaction of users with energy metering enabling them to streamline household practices.
The conclusions of the specific co-design sessions within the ISEU research project gave rise to 2 levels of benefits:
- the user-centred approach starting from household activities generated very interesting results without any technological improvement of the eco-efficiency of the domestic appliances: only resetting usage patterns by a redesign of existing components 'from the shelf' shows promising solutions in streamlining energy consumption practices of households;
- the very process of the co-design sessions, the progressive training of the families, their involvement in the design of their own future environment brought us to consider all the interaction process and the material developed to be used during the sessions between users and designers as a sort of training toolkit to question people domestic practices, to take a distance from them and enable the families to re-invent progressively their daily ways of living.