Our goal for the Energy ThinkIn™ is to harness the collective expertise and creativity of entrepreneurs, executives and innovators to create a symbol and a brand for the energy conscious consumer. More
Wednesday, October 27, 9am – 5pm
It’s been three months since we held our Energy ThinkIn, an all day ideation session done in collaboration with the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) to find our Energy Panda, a prompt with a name, symbol, product, ecosystem and story, that inspires energy conscious individuals and galvanizes their communities to change the ways they use (and even think of) energy. With input from thought leaders from companies and organizations like Control4, Ember, GE, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, People Power Company, PG&E, Silver Spring Networks, and beyond, the ThinkIn started a fulfilling and fascinating journey, and it’s not over yet.
Since the Energy ThinkIn, frog designers, technologists and strategists participated in multiple “design sprints”—quick creative sessions to evolve concepts, enriching them with stories, symbols, and services. To understand the energy conscious consumer, we spoke to average folks about what the words “eco” and “energy” and “smart grid” mean to them. We expanded our audience to kids and asked them to tell us what they think a symbol for electricity should look like. We’ve taken our concepts on the road to conferences across the country, getting feedback from industry experts on how to shape our ideas and make them a reality for consumers.
Today, at the SGCC Symposium at the DistribuTECH conference, we’ll present the three concepts that, through exploration and iteration, have continued to rise to the top over and over again because of their emotional power and potential impact.
Following the symposium today, our goal will be to work closely with SGCC members to choose a final concept to carry forward and bring to reality as part of the organization’s mission to make the smart grid more accessible to consumers.
LOOP: Connected web of energy for all
Form follows function, but it can also inspire awe, reverence and ceremony. Loop uses the mobius strip, a perfect mathematical form with one continuous surface (like an infinity symbol) to remind us of the our contributions to a never-ending natural cycle: from engineers to consumers, from plants to transmission cables to homes, from the Earth to our fingertips, and back again. At first, the loop will be an energy-conscious lifestyle statement, appearing as a t-shirt decal, a pinwheel for your bicycle, or a rain chain for your house. In time, the loop will become more than just a ubiquitous symbol. As a community’s adoption of the loop grows, the objects can function as a rooftop generator or as a large-scale monument that physically plugs into the grid, representing your neighborhood’s commitment to the energy cause.
CHARGE: The energy grid in all of us
The Charge concept connects us to the energy surging through our communities with a single handshake. The seed of Charge is a solar-powered ring made from a core of tungsten encased in a clear resin. When you put the ring around your finger, your skin connects the two ends allowing the light to travel from one end of the ring to the other. The tube of light reveals a lightning bolt at the center. When you shake hands, fist bump, or come in close proximity with another rinjig wearer, the two rings exchange data and literally start building a network of energy conscious consumers. A connected smartphone app, visualizing your real-time energy use, can pull data from your robust social network and provide an augmented reality, like a pair of energy x-ray goggles, that allows you to see your environment in a new way.
FACES: Smart power for a better world
The Faces concept rests on a kid-focused mythic universe of characters that represent different forms of energy. The seed of this concept is a short video on YouTube or a mini-game that shows the heroes saving overworked electrons , abused by clueless humans. The stories turn ordinary actions, like leaving the fridge open, into extraordinary adventures. Once children adopt these characters and their lessons, Faces will grow into a transmedia franchise with comic books, backpacks, and figurines much like Sponge Bob or Dora the Explorer. These artifacts will not only become part of the next generation’s understanding of energy conservation, but will also remind the whole family to be more cautious about the energy they consume.
Check out Executive Creative Director David Merkoski explain the thinking behind the concepts in the video below:
New energy products are teaching consumers how to take control of their power.
How different our cities and towns must have been before the electric streetlight. Gas lamps—and before that torches—had to be lit and re-lit on a nightly basis. This first “grid” was laborious, slow, and disconnected. Electricity changed all that. The enormous industrial effort that put in place an infrastructure capable of moving electrons, with their instant, always-on quality, gave us a mighty kick from the 19th to the 20th century.
This century is bringing change, too. It’s coming not from the power companies, but from you—the energy consumer. If the first generation of electricity was all about industrial power, then ours will be about consumer power. And if consumer demand grows big enough and fast enough, then it has the potential to pull utilities, regulators, and corporations along with it.
This next wave isn’t on the horizon. It’s here now. Consumers have a wealth of energy products available on the market. They have names like Nucleus, Leaf, and Volt. They come from companies like Tendril, Blink, and Xanboo. Just by owning these products, you will, over the course of your life, reduce your energy consumption enough to save a lot of cash and improve your outlook on the future. Their wide adoption (like electric lights before them) is virtually certain, as money and security provide the necessary motivation to ignite real and widespread change.
So why is it taking so long?
It’s more a question of behavior than of technology. All new products, and the technologies they’re based on, come with a learning curve. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be new. In some cases, like when the group of end users is small, the learning curve is steep (think airplane cockpits). But if we want to engender a global mainstream culture of efficient and sustainable energy use, then it’s up to designers—in collaboration with inventors, entrepreneurs, and energy experts—to flatten the learning curves. By focusing on how a user actually behaves, and making products that are attractive enough to purchase, simple enough to use, and easy enough to keep using, we can put more choices—and more power—into consumers’ hands.
A good example of this behavior change is the adoption of electric vehicles. Replacing one combustion engine for an electric motor doesn’t change our perception of a car. But what’s under the hood is having a dramatic impact on our behavior. The Nissan Leaf, for example, the first mass-produced electric vehicle in the United States, introduces an interesting challenge—how to “refuel.” Charging stations, standardized now to work with any EV, do exist in markets where the Leaf is sold, but are not widespread enough to provide a worry-free driving experience. This “range anxiety” (the fear of being stranded with a dead battery with no place to recharge) is one of the biggest perceived barriers to EV adoption. Of course, with almost 100 miles on a full charge, the Leaf should work well for the 85 percent of us who drive between home, work, and the “third place” (mall, café, library). But on longer trips, drivers will need to seek out-of-the-way charging stations—something they aren’t used to doing.
Better Place, another company in the EV market, is rolling out a network of battery-switching stations (where it will take two minutes to “refuel”). But that approach is in its first phase and doesn’t address the problem of station density. So to help drivers adapt, designers have softened the learning curve by creating dashboard interfaces that direct a driver to nearby locations for charging, changing the route he or she takes but not the final destination. Designers are also adding cues for energy-efficient driving (i.e., heated seats, which are more efficient than whole-car heating), subscription services for charging your car wherever you go (like a mobile-phone roaming plan), and helping create offerings from retailers to lure consumers to EV parking spots (free coffee while you charge).
These behavior-based design techniques, and others like them, should be enough to conquer our anxiety and boost adoption.
You can read the full version of this article by frog's Executive Creative Director David Merkoski over at GOOD magazine.
This is the fourth and final entry in a series of posts telling the story behind our Energy Panda concepts including visuals of the current state of each concept as they undergo further refinement. More iterations on these concepts will be revealed at the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative Symposium at DistribuTECH on January 31st.
Virtual worlds aren’t just fantasylands anymore. They’re becoming educational parallel universes that can encourage kids(and adults) to carry their online experiences into real-life. Since these worlds mirror the real one, they’re complex and have myriads of characters that co-exist and influence each other in both positive and negative ways. Nothing follows a pre-determined script. Rather, characters and forces form relationships and interact inside a world the player overseas or cultivates.
Carbon Characters introduces a sophisticated and playful world that teaches children about better energy behavior. In this world spirits influence everything from household appliances to family members to become energy conscious or wasteful. Like Pokémon, these characters embody abstract qualities like apathy or laziness and are part of an ever-expanding family.
The seed of this concept is an online game where players first have to restore the balance of their bedrooms and living rooms, calling on the help of positive spirits to battle electronics and appliances that have been corrupted. Only after they prove their ability to maintain their homes can they move on to restore their community, country, and even planet. Players could use mobile devices that record their actions in the real world and influence their progress in the game. Once they’ve reached higher-levels of the game, kids will even be able to develop their own characters and add them to the collection.
Rooted in an online game, Carbon Characters expands into the physical domain as a franchise. Cartoon shows, comic books, backpacks, and figurines are just a few of the touch points kids will have with the new brand of characters. These artifacts can serve as reminders for the family to be more cautious about the energy they consume. As families and communities start acting together, they’ll realize that like the energy spirits, their collective effort is what creates positive change.
This is the third entry in a series of posts telling the story behind our Energy Panda concepts including visuals of the current state of each concept as they undergo further refinement.
The world is technologically catapulting itself further and faster than it has ever done before, creating more devices that need to be plugged into walls to be kept alive. Yet, we know little about what lies beyond the socket and, with so much happening in the cloud and behind screens, we’ve lost our physical understanding of what energy is. However, there are moments when this hidden electric universe reveals itself —when you get a shock as you grab a doorknob on a dry winter day, or when you crunch Wint O Green Life Savers in the dark. And it gets better: this universe isn’t only around us; it’s inside us too.
Spark Journey reveals the passage of energy through the veins of our bodies and through ‘veins’ of our neighborhoods, the knotted infrastructure of pipes and wires that nestle underground. This concept focuses on exposing the energy anatomy of things around you starting with a cuff that reveals the electricity you create to make your heart beat. Once the nodes on either end of the clasp contact your skin, your body completes the circuit, and the cuff starts monitoring your heart rate. Throughout the day, the cuff keeps track of ‘time’ as your body defines it, giving read-outs of heart rate or blood pressure much like a smart meter taking the pulse of energy flowing through your house.
Spark Journey starts with the body through small-scale wearables like the cuff and extends to the environment through larger-scale works like installations that reveal pipes and chords that lie behind office walls. The culmination of this is a smartphone app that shows currents of energy surging through electric wires and posts in the street. The app lets you see the world through a pair of energy x-ray goggles that make the invisible flow of power all around you tangible and real.
This is the second entry in a series of posts telling the story behind our Energy Panda concepts including visuals of the current state of each concept as they undergo further refinement.
Grades in school were easy to understand, A is better than B, and C is iffy at best. You knew what doing better looked like and sometimes it was easy to figure out how to get there. Energy consumption on the other hand, is less clear because there’s no single, easy metric to measure your energy lifestyle. Without a way to gauge your consumption and compare it to others’ scores, it’s difficult to know what ‘good’ looks like and it is even more arduous to tell how you can improve your energy consumption habits.
Our concept e Equals provides a vocabulary for energy consumption that people can use to display their choices, habits and lifestyles in their communities. The movement starts with developing the new index and popularizing the effort by seeding the innocuous “e =” symbol (an isometric version of an electric plug) on stickers and t-shirts, provoking people to ask, “What does e equal?” The mystery behind the symbol will be solved when the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative releases a calculator that’ll enable people to determine their own number. Individuals will popularize their score by purchasing items like custom-printed t-shirts or stickers or by posting their rank to online profiles.
Once people start to recalculate their number and game-up to improve their behaviors, they’ll receive a ream of E-ink Digital Skin. This Digital Skin, equipped with a sensor and linked to your smart meter, will display an individual’s number as it changes instantaneously based on their activity. The Digital Skin can be cut to any size, transforming any surface on a laptop, water bottle, bag or car into a canvas for people to tag their score with dynamic visual graffiti. As a person changes how they use energy, the skin reflects this effort, becoming more illustrative and displaying visualizations of individual usage levels, acting as an equalizer.
The concept of e Equals evolves with you. It starts as a blank symbol, becomes a robust metric and finally grows into a dynamic mirror to reflect your energy-self. By wearing your energy read-out throughout this co-evolution cycle you literally become your own smart energy meter, reflecting your efforts in a new universally understood code for good.
This is the first in a series of posts telling the story behind our Energy Panda concepts, including visuals of the current state of each concept as they undergo further refinement.
What if we could seed energy consciousness in the commodity market through a singular object that is as sophisticated and as inspirational as the ”Bird in Space” sculpture by Constantin Brancusi? The idea isn’t new, but the popularization of a single energy structure or prompt has yet to be cracked because people have no visceral, emotional connection with giant propellers, generators, or other strange industrial contraptions. Instead, we should take cues from Renaissance masters of creating human-scaled structures with golden rations that appeal to our natural human senses. These works, like Michelangelo’s Pieta, help us remember what it means to be human by enrapturing us with their beauty. Form follows function, but it can also inspire awe, reverence and ceremony.
Our concept Infinity Loop directly uses the structural metaphor of a Mobius strip, a perfect mathematical form with one continuous surface, to make us aware of our contributions to a never-ending natural cycle. Western civilization has constructed time as a linear progression, but the environment around us follows cycles of birth and decay. Indigenous people have long respected and seen the passage of time as a non-linear sequence, where all spirits past and present co-exist in one reality governed by the rotations of the sun and the stars. Instead of seeing our lives as one common linear advance or as part of a sequence that ends in a final destination, we must recognize our contributions as recurring cyles to larger systems.
The seed of the Infinity Loop concept is in a small pinwheel that can be stuck onto a bike or the top of a car. The form itself will be co-developed with design and industry experts to translate engineering and mathematical perfection into a visual, physical, and beautiful form. At first, the small pinwheels will be more of a lifestyle statement, but as awareness builds the symbol can grow to become small energy generators for apartment buildings or functional large-scale sculptures for parks. These Infinity Loops will transform cityscapes into wind gardens, evoking a meditative reverence like Tibetan prayer flags rippling in the wind.
We’re refining our Energy Panda concepts as we prepare to present them at the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative Symposium at DistribuTech in San Diego at the end of January. We’ve identified five distinct components, or elements, that we believe will help an Energy Panda succeed.
Each Energy Panda concept must have all of the following:
A successful example is the LIVESTRONG brand. The name communicates the program’s mission of empowering people to fight cancer.
A visual sign or gesture that embodies the concept at it’s most distilled and iconographic form.
The single ‘thing’ or starting point that seeds belief in the energy movement.
A family of products, services and partnerships that illustrate how the concept can grow virally over time.
5. Legacy Story
A narrative articulating how the concept will resonate with today’s and tomorrow’s energy conscious consumer, i.e. Millennials.
The image above is a quick look at one concept taking shape. Check back soon to see refined images and legacy stories of our final concepts.
To keep the ball rolling, last Monday frog kicked-off a series of Weekly Design Sprints to evolve concepts from the Energy ThinkIn. The Weekly Sprints focus on blowing-out one concept or theme, taking it through a blitzkrieg design cycle of ideation, synthesis, and refinement. The Sprints are open to all who are interested, and a smaller group of frogs are tasked with culling the set.
By the beginning of January, the targeted Sprints will have produced a set of concepts inspired by the original 5 pandas that can start rolling-out within 2 years time. These concepts will be presented at the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative Symposium as part of the 2011 DistribuTech Conference.
LAST WEEK’S THEME: DATA TO ACTION
Last week, participants riffed off-of Data to Action, a theme focused on making data around energy usage transparent, visible, tangible and meaningful. Participants used the example concept Life Tag (think of it as a nutritional labels for products) as a point of departure.
In the room was also an ‘Inspiration Board’ filled with 11 x 17 print-outs of existing analogs for services and products that raise awareness and (hopefully) motivate behavior change. On the board were products that reward tracking like Mint.com and the Nike +, and companies that pull back the curtains on material sourcing, manufacturing and distribution like Patagonia. For a more visceral response, syrupy images of the top 20 worst drinks in America boasted their sugar equivalent in pie, doughnuts, and ice-cream sandwiches, thanks to Men’s Health Sites.)
SIFTING FOR GOLD: DESIGN SPRINT ACTIVITIES
Facilitators kick off the event with a high-energy Improv exercise to warm-up people’s bodies and brains. Next, facilitators gave some context for the session, explaining the theme, what makes a good concept, and orienting participants to the Inspiration Boards.
Participants were then let loose during a rapid ideation session to first jot down as many ideas as possible, and then transfer their favorite idea to an ‘Ideate’ sheet. After the burst, participants shared their concept with the rest of the group and conducted full-body affinity mapping where they walked over to and stood with people who had similar concepts. Following a lightning round of discussion, each cluster shouted-out their name to the rest of the group and the first Sprint came to a close.
CHERRY-PICKING: SYNTHESIS DESIGN SPRINT ACTIVITIES
After collecting the concepts, a smaller group of frogs revisited the clusters, breaking apart larger ones and pulling-in concepts from the Energy ThinkIn as needed. The team then identified which ideas were strongest from the group and synthesized them into one final concept. One of these concepts became the next evolution of Life Tag, and the other two are wholly new…stay tuned for more.
Our group of energy gurus at frog are always wearing their design research goggles to find the latest trends, articles, and artifacts from the energy space. Here are the top articles we curated that show how large companies, you, and your avatar can use more energy efficient systems and methods.
Moving Energy into the Cloud
Just because something is virtual doesn't mean that it's energy free. A Microsoft-sponsored study found that computing is far more efficient when it's concentrated in the "cloud" at giant data centers instead of localized IT infrastructure posts. CNET points out that “...few companies appear willing to publish their total energy consumption or emissions, perhaps for competitive reasons. One way to be more transparent about cloud computing energy use would be for these companies to publish the efficiency of their data centers and disclose any plans to lower them.” What if a company’s energy usage was, indeed, made public? Could internet-based behemoths and tech companies at large be catalyzed to change? Much of our energy concerns center around physical manufacturing processes, but the power associated with running virtual industries still remains an unarticulated area.
The Bloom Box
Ebay and Google have both started using ‘Bloom Boxes,’ from the California start-up Bloom Energy. The boxes generate power from thin ceramic wafers that use solid oxide fuel cells. These ‘clean energy’ boxes run a premium of about 800K per pop, and aren’t available to consumers, although the company’s Board of Directors, including Colin Powell, have aspirations to use these power-generating wafers to Africa.
Tell Your Avatar To Unplug
An older study shows how an avatar from Second Life roughly equals the energy consumption of the average citizen in Brazil, approximately 1,752 kWh. While this independent study is slightly dated, its content is still relevant. With everyone roaming around the Twittersphere, it would be interesting to use this study's equation to find out how much energy our Twitter handles consume.
You may not realize that the avocado your eating has traversed more land than you did on your recent road trip. But now HarvestMark, a new web app can give you the inside scoop on your food's travels. Products with the HarvestMark Code can be traced online on the HarvestMark site. It’s a bit like a tracking number for a package-that you can eat. You can find out more about the farmer, any recalls, recipes, and nutritional information. You can even give feedback for the product you purchased. But, awareness-building is only half of the battle. Technology becomes relevant and can truly affect change once people can integrate it into their lives and decide how it makes sense to them. Maybe you'll think twice and be more motivated to buy local.
Time Magazine just released their list of 50 best inventions of 2010. Some of their top picks in the Green Energy category are great examples of visualizing energy consumption in a way that makes electricity and energy tangible to the user.
The Interactive Institute, a Swedish non profit that focuses on technology and design, makes the list with their Power-Aware Cord. The cord glows with neon blue light to make show how much electricity is going into each appliance you use. The stronger the current you are using, the brighter the light of the spiral cord. Beyond causing a distraction with an electrical light show, has this really changed user behavior? In research testing for the device they found that by making the "invisible visible," users were more conscious of their energy use and motivated them to unplug from the appliances that were energy vampires.
Before pulling out five key concepts at the end of our Energy ThinkIn, we had distilled the larger themes of the breakout group. One was "The E in Me," the idea that human generated power could be an energy source for major appliances; any extra energy you exert from, say, working out, you can contribute to the smart grid for your community. Apparently telecommunications provider Orange had a similar idea. Orange created a prototype of rubber boots that can convert heat into currents so the more you hit the streets, the more electricity generated to power your cell phone, for instance. Building off this idea and harnessing people power, engineers in Paris use the heat generated from collected body heat on the metro to heat a public housing on Rue Beaubourg. According to the article "by 2011 Métro heating system will cut carbon dioxide emissions from the housing project's heating system by a third."
Our Energy ThinkIn elves are toiling away on concepts from the day. Until our final concepts emerge, we want to give you a sneak peak from behind the scenes.
The idea is that the Solar Lantern collects enough light during the day to illuminate at night. The concept pulls from the cultural metaphor of a candlelight vigil and evokes the reverence felt when communities gather to hold candles in the dark to honor a cause. Families place lanterns in their windows, and the houses themselves become the vigil attendees, standing and carefully guarding the light in memorandum. In this case, each house would be representing their respect and consciousness around energy conservation.
Did you miss the Energy ThinkIn? No worries, we captured it all on film to give you the highlights from the day. Watch the video below to see how we searched for our Energy Panda — a face that can encourage a wide range of beneficial consumer behaviors such as buying energy-efficient smart appliances and opting for renewable energy sources. The video talks with participants from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, Intel, GE and others who dove into our all day collaborative workshop to create an icon, and ultimately a brand, for energy itself.
At the end of our EnergyThinkIn, we focused on five concepts, but there were some fascinating ideas that didn't get featured. We'd like to give you a glimpse of what is on the "cutting room floor."
In the afternoon session of the day, we came up with the idea to have a doorbell connected to a smart meter. A ring of LED lights would tell the neighborhood how well you are optimizing your household energy, in real-time, by lighting varying hues of green and red.
Think of it as a mood ring for your house. Your doorbell would be broadcasting your levels of energy efficiency to your neighbors, so you'd be motivated to change your behavior to be more energy conscious. You know, so you don't have to do the energy walk of shame around the neighborhood.
The Energy ThinkIn may be over but the concept work has just begun!
The ThinkIn team met up to discuss more ideas that weren’t captured or fully articulated in the five concepts generated from the day long workshop.
We started to discuss what the concepts were, but we also articulated about why those concepts were so powerful and distilled them to identify what, at their core, gives them strength. As a result, the team expanded their understanding of the five concepts, enriched them with new theory, and identified new seeds for what we hope to be our "energy panda."
We captured a closer look at ouor whiteboard mind mapping in the photos below. The word illustrations marked with a green star are ones we found most compelling: What would you add or highlight?
This article originally appeared in Venture Beat's GreenBeat.
Makers of home energy efficiency products like dashboards and smart thermostats have a myriad of issues to contend with — getting their products into more homes, making sure the technology works, raising money, crafting long-term business plans, to name a few.
But the biggest hurdle may be a deceptively simple one: Getting people to use the darn things.
As energy-efficient product makers vie for market dominance, companies are looking to better engage more consumers, most of whom aren’t used to actively managing their energy use. The industry itself is seeing shifts to more sophisticated and innovative approaches, whether that’s Microsoft Hohm reducing the number of questions in the set-up phase, or new players like the GE-backed Consert letting users set a target amount they want to pay for their energy bill and designing a program to hit that goal.
All of these changes are much-needed. According to Stuart Lombard, CEO of smart thermostat maker Ecobee, only about 22 percent of smart thermostat owners bother to program their thermostats. The consumer engagement problem is one that reaches far, from smart meters to in-home dashboards — and it’s a topic VentureBeat will be discussing our GreenBeat conference in a consumer efficiency panel Nov. 4 at Stanford University with Google’s green energy czar Bill Weihl, as well as executives Saul Zambrano of PG&E and Scott Hublou of EcoFactor.
“One factor is clearly usability. A lot of products were historically not consumer friendly,” Lombard said. The biggest reason consumers don’t use their smart thermostats is that “people don’t know how they work,” he added.
“It really is a problem space which has been for so long left untouched and left undesigned that it’s extraordinary how many opportunities there are,” says David Merkoski, executive creative director at Frog Design. The company designs energy-efficiency products for clients like car charging station-maker Ecotality and utilities like Germany’s Yello Strom.
Companies are tackling the challenge with a mix of behavioral science and appealing design. Ecobee, for example, says it gets 80 percent of its tens of thousands of customers to engage with their smart thermostats (pictured) — four times the industry average — because the products are designed to be quick and easy to set up. Just spend a few minutes answering questions, and you’re done. And home energy company Tendril recently acquired GroundedPower — an energy efficiency technology company that, interestingly, was founded by behavioral scientists who previously pioneered a top quit-smoking program.
“It’s from the addiction to nictoine to the addiction to energy,” said Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck in an interview last month with VentureBeat. GroundedPower is also mostly hands-off, offering a two-question set up process, then gradually introducing suggestions over time. “Consumers really just want to be told now and then, ‘Here’s some things you can do,’” he said.
So what’s the right approach? There are no silver bullets yet, but here are some of the key trends and approaches emerging today:
Don’t bombard users with data
Most energy management systems out there offer visual data displays of energy use — charts, graphs, the like. Businesses likely want more of that data — especially when a software maker like Hara can help them maximize big savings using that data — but consumers want less of it.
“The smart grid industry has been laboring under the idea that consumers have been kept in the dark about their consumption, which is true. What’s not true is immediate response is to bombard consumers with data,” Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck says.
“We are drowning now in this awareness tech,” echoes Merkoski of Frog Design. “The technology alone isn’t going to be successful. Lots of products have charts and services that read your consumption.”
Consider the gaming experience instead
Charts and graphs were “round one,” Merkoski says — now it’s time to design displays that consumers can see themselves in, designs that trigger consumers to act. Part of that challenge is making energy saving more like a fun game and less of a chore (that is, if you’re not one of those people who loves geeking out over stats and bar charts).
True, no one’s figured out how to make saving energy a game people want to play. Still, the social and gaming elements of Mafia Wars and Farmville are arguably seeping into approaches like that of industry darling OPower. OPower prints bills that show consumers their energy usage compared to their neighbors’ and that of their region — with a smiley face for those who are beating the area average — an approach that has yielded great energy savings gains.
The dashboard of soon-t0-be-released hybrid Chevrolet Volt also has a slight game-like quality to it — bright, shiny graphics that reflect gas and battery mileage. In a way, it creates a “game” of getting the most out of the Volt’s battery before the car switches into gas-powered mode.
Convenience and comfort are key (duh)
Smart thermostats traditionally haven’t been very easy to use — or have turned consumers off because they didn’t adjust for fluctuations in season or time, making for uncomfortable homes. Ecobee, for example, is quickly programmable and pulls in factors like the weather to precool or preheat your home before you return from work. It also learns your schedule, which you can set or reset with a quick drag-and-drop program.
Icons are important
The EnergyStar logo is a great example of how valuable icons are — one look and you know the fridge you’re buying is energy-efficient. The Live Strong wristband is probably one of the strongest examples of an icon that conveys an entire movement — and it’s something Frog Design is trying to emulate in creating a logo that will brand the energy-efficient “movement.”
The Chevy Volt makes use of a leaf icon — both in a physical button on the console and in a swirling, color-changing bubble on the dashboard that shows when the car isn’t being driven efficiently (accelerating too fast or braking too hard).
Untangle the set-up process
When Microsoft Hohm first launched, there were “a ton” of questions involved with setting up an account, said spokeswoman Kate Keefe Sullivan. But after hearing feedback, the company revamped it to quickly show potential savings — and saw a “hike” in users after the improvements. Microsoft also created an energy efficiency score on a scale of 1-100 — users can compare their scores against their neighbors. There’s also a questionnaire that will help users get better results, if they decide they want to spend the time answering extra questions. “It’s up to them how much time they’d like to invest,” Sullivan said.
GroundedPower also uses a similar easy set-up approach — it asks whether you’re interested in energy efficiency because you want to save money, or because you care about the environment — then, over time, proffers recommendations based on what it’s learned about you and your energy habits.
Mobile is the way to go: The light switch effect
Most people turn off the lights in their house when leaving but don’t adjust their thermostat, because it’s not as obvious or easy to do so, even though A/C systems suck up way more energy than lights. Companies are in search of the “light switch effect,” or an application that’s as simple as flipping a light switch (but applies to any number of energy-saving applications).
Mobile may well be the answer. People already have smartphones, and apps are already being hotly used by the emerging hybrid and electric car market. Just as you can check your gas tank on your phone, you can also control the A/C in your house from afar. Companies like Visible Energy (pictured) specialize in visualizing energy design, offering easy-on-the-eyes apps for the iPhone and iPad. Home energy management companies like Control4, Ecobee and EnergyHub offer apps. Ecobee’s Lombard says mobile apps are currently the company’s most-requested product.
Use analogies to help consumers relate to new technology
In the design for the sleek-and-slim Ecotality electric car charger, designers intentionally created a “hose” because it’s something consumers are used to when pumping gas or unfurling a garden hose to water their lawns.
“The reason we did that was because consumers are still trying to figure out what is this EV [electric vehicle] charging thing. Can’t I just buy it and go? Isn’t it like a Prius? We wanted to make it seem more familiar,” Merkoski said.
In the same way, electric car makers are by and large placing and designing the charge point similarly to a traditional car’s fuel tank flap — the location and size of the charging “tank” are roughly the same.
Read the full article by Iris Kuo
This story originally appeared in Smart Grid Today.
About 50 people from organizations inside and outside the power industry gathered in a big, white, noisy room at San Francisco's Frog Design yesterday for a day-long “think-in” intended to create a universally recognizable, emotionally appealing symbol for the smart grid and energy efficiency.
“The World Wildlife Fund has its panda,” Jesse Berst, acting director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGT, Oct-18 http://www.smartgridtoday.com/members/2185.cfm ), told the group as free-association exercises got underway promptly at 9:30 am. “Lance Armstrong gave us the ‘Live Strong' yellow wristband to help fight cancer. What we're after is a way to help consumers worldwide relate to the smart grid in the same way. It's quite a challenge. It needs to touch hearts and appeal to the head. It has to be understandable to rich and poor, technical and non-technical folks. We're here to find our panda.”
No symbol or campaign currently in existence quite does the trick, Berst said. The Energy Star logo is industrial and has no emotional resonance, though “it's the closest thing we have right now.” A green ‘Live Strong' wrist band? “Too easy.”
Frog Design, an industrial-design firm that helped shape Apple's IIe and Mac computers, offered its headquarters and staff as an in-kind payment for membership in the collaborative. “We're lucky to have Frog Design, the cool kids, on our side in this,” Berst said.
But Frog Design independently determined this summer that the smart grid as a societal issue was something it wanted to get involved with, David Merkoski, executive creative director, told us, adding, “We already realized it needs a symbol that people can display that says ‘You believe in a cause, just like I do'.”
The day began with about 20 frogs -- as the design firm's staffers call themselves -- passing out color postcards of varied images to all participants, who came from organizations including Accenture, Adidas, Cisco, Control4, DOE, Ember, GE, PG&E, Stanford University, Silver Spring Networks and Yukon Energy. The images included Lego blocks, a Giacometti sculpture and the Great Sphinx of Giza.
“The choices were quasi-random,” Merkoski said. “They're not about energy. They're designed to elicit feelings and thoughts, to be generators.”
People taking part wrote on a yards-long sheets of white paper up to 25 words they associated with the image they had been given. Frogs tagged each word with a sticky note color-coded pink for nouns, yellow for possible icons and gray for energy-related terms. The frogs then grouped one pink, one yellow and one gray note onto single sheets called “stitches.” Participants then broke into subgroups and free-associated on the stitches, coming up with “half-baked ideas -- the less baked, the better,” said Michael DiTullo, a creative director who helped lead.
Much gesticulating and vigorous, if random, conversation ensued.
“Live in a modern forest,” one group said to Ratna Desai, another session leader. “Reduce temperatures. A reachable future. An ideal future.” Tim Morey, yet another session leader, heard participants riff on a sketch of a throne. “Some mysteries you don't question, because you trust them,” said Sharon Talbott, a manager at Control4. “Energy has parameters. It sets the rules. It's the ruler.”
Fractals and photo mosaics emerged as an idea in another group. The image of a boiling kettle was cause for musing -- “it tells you when it's ready. It's an excellent image of how energy is used,” group participants told frog Katie Dill. “Whatever the symbol is, it has to be muscular, US-centric, with no question about patriotism,” said Linda Schuck, director of the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Project at the California Institute for Energy and the Environment.
“I know the process seems random at the outset, and it is,” Sara Munday, Frog Design marketing director, said during a break. “But the more you narrow it down at the outset, the more you limit what comes out of any creative exercises.”
Lisa Magnuson, marketing director at Silver Spring Networks, found the two-hour free-association session exhilarating. “It's so cool to bring together a group of people who all have such different perspectives and just let them roll,” she said.
Then frogs chose their favorite stitches and pitched them to other frogs, winnowing out a handful for further consideration. Those remaining were subjected to yet more group brainstorming. The room grew warmer and noisier. “We have now created confusion and uncertainty,” Merkoski said. “It resulted in some excellent ideas.”
The field narrows
By lunch, no panda had emerged. But 50 ideas had. Among them: the slogan “Power it forward.” The peace symbol modified to look like an electric plug. A large numeral 1, symbolizing the difference one person can make. Three fat concentric arrows facing upward, resembling a house and symbolizing the individual, community and world interacting.
In the afternoon, divergent thinking gradually became more convergent. Frogs had grouped the 50 best ideas into five themes, and participants gathered near the theme they found most appealing. The themes: Leaving a legacy, the “e” in “me,” gamesville, data to action and making it viral.
In the leaving-a-legacy group, discussions centered on whether conservation ought to be a strong message.
“People won't rally behind conservation as a long-term strategy,” warned Bob LeFort, CEO of wireless-sensor firm Ember. “Jimmy Carter's failure to rally Americans behind the idea showed us that.”
In the data-to-action group, conversation veered away from the smart grid to product lifecycles for 45 minutes until one participant reined it back in.
Many participants referred to Prius owners, who show the world they care about energy use through a very visible symbol. But for every Prius driver who brags about mileage there are 100 Ford F-150 drivers who are indifferent about it, others noted. Same with energy: “How do we make people who don't care, care?” one group wondered.
Five ideas emerge
It remained difficult at mid-afternoon to see how the masses of verbiage and whiteboards full of squiggles might be distilled into a succinct message, symbol or program. But at the day's end, five ideas emerged:
As spent participants ate hot wings and the San Francisco Giants prepared to play their first game in the World Series down the block, Berst declared the day a success.
“We got kernels of ideas we can flesh out over the next few months and likely present at our symposium in January,” he said.
© 2010 Modern Markets Intelligence Inc.. IMPORTANT: This article was reproduced from the October 28, 2010 issue of Smart Grid Today with the limited permission of the owner. To view the full story on Smart Grid Today’s website, please visit http://www.smartgridtoday.com/public/2233.cfm?sd=31.
After the large group discussion, everyone turned to face five large boards displaying the distilled themes for the breakout groups: "Make it Viral, The E in Me, Leaving a Legacy, Data to Action, and Game-Ville. The five frog facilitators turned the boards to reveal the big concepts generated for the day. Check out the illustrations of the concepts below.
Project Green cultivates an ecosystem around energy consumption through the engagement of the entire community. Using LED lights to display different homes individual energy use, the concept creates social competition among neighbors.
En-power is based on the need to empower the consumer and give them tools to manage their energy in their home by tracking their power-usage. Different energy groups would go into each neighborhood to talk about how to change energy consumption in that space and create a number or symbol for neighbors to compete with eachother. Somone shouted out "house parties for house power" from the audience.
Power Forward looks at the importance of legacy and building a collective movement. Power forward aims to create a currency of trust by actualizing ideas through micro-actions. It gives the consumers a voice and a platform by focusing on people's actions and not a singular product.
Kill Pluggy uses gaming to help users to be more aware of ways to reduce their energy consumption. Pluggy is an energy vampire that you kill through different energy conservation efforts whether that is through solar power or composting.
Lifetag:Whatever you are purchasing or interacting with gets monitored so you understand the energy consuption for each appliance. Think of it as a Nutrition Facts for energy.
frog Executive Creative Director David Merkoski rang the cowbell for the last session of the day. All of the groups converged for an open discussion about the key themes generated from the day and reflected on the major challenges that come with branding “energy.”
One participant spoke about the benefit of bringing people from diverse perspectives on the issue (utilities, consumers, etc) in one room, “We’ve faced a lot of stagnation in our industry. We get caught up in the same discussions and can’t move past our own debates. What’s nice about today is that we got away from all that. In fact, I sat by two of my competitors and we moved past those issues to come up with some “kick tail” ideas. A lot of people emphasized the importance of thinking of the “energy issue” from outside of themselves and how to make our “panda” or symbol and program radically inclusive in order to create a viral movement. Could there be a universal design that addresses a nationwide concern? How can the ideal program balance engaging a broad audience while avoiding the clichés that are framed for a specific audience that is already in tune with energy conservation? As Steve Hauser, Vice President of Grid Integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said, “We need to reach a greatest common denominator, but not the lowest common denominator. We need to find a solution that is both compelling and engaging for those who aren’t already the archetype “energy conscious consumer.”
The debate quickly evolved into the best way to motivate behavior change. One engineer brought up the issue of who would be leading this charge, “We are trying to predict the behavior, but we can’t always do that. We have to give birth to an idea and then see what happens.” Sunil Maulik of the People Power Company suggested that if we want to change behavior we have to influence vehicles that transform culture, “We need a TV show on energy! Then we’ll see a change in adoption.” Another participant thought that if we wanted to see a true change large companies would have to fail, while frog Creative Director Matt Schoenholz brought up the importance of creating a platform for new start-ups in the industry to make sure that the smaller companies see the opportunity to shape the future of the space.
A lot of people made reference to other industries to stress that the smart grid’s identity is still evolving making the analogy that “the smart grid is like the Internet in 1995 and no one has created an Amazon or a Google yet.” While there was a lot of debate about how to make this happen it seemed that one thing was clear: the voice of the consumer must be heard and able to weigh in on the conversation. The only way for the user to understand their energy consumption and act upon it, is if data is presented in a way that is completely absorbable and approachable.
The ThinkIn presses onwards and we've disbanded the Orange, Blue, and Green groups in our quest to refine our concepts into more tangible ideas. During the lunch break, our trusty Black Hats have identified five uber themes running throughout the day including: Make it Viral, The E in Me, Leaving a Legacy, Data to Action, and Game-ville.
I sat in on the "E in Me" group and appreciated the recognition by one participant that even as we try to focus on what energy means for the consumer, we can't get away from the reality that the real control at the moment lies with the utility companies. Another participant acknowledged that the utility companies are slowly becoming more aware of the increasing numbers of "me's" out there who are collectively having an impact as they begin to take little actions related to their consumption that add up. Perhaps it's time to give more significance to these daily choices people make, and help make the relationship between the consumer and the utilities an active rather than a passive one.
"Data to Action" Group
"The E in Me" Group
"Make it Viral" Group
"Leaving a Legacy" Group
The "Game-ville" Group, led by Creative Director Mike DiTullo.
The "Gameville" Group discussing how we can use play to motivate the energy conscious consumer.
Creative Director Matt Schoenholz leading the "Leaving a Legacy" Group.
Business Development Manger, Andy Hooper leading the "Data to Action" Group.
Creative Director Sara Todd leads the "The E in Me" Group.
Associate Creative Director Ratna Desai leads the "Make it Viral" Group.
After an engaging morning, particpants and frogs take a breather outside in the alley for an eco-friendly boxed lunch, provided by Organic Chef Catering.
The micro-groups continue to bake their concepts. They translate their mash-up ‘stitch’ sheets into ideation sheets that have a space for a logo or a sketch, a name it, a description, and evocative words. As they name their idea and describe it in concrete terms, they refine the idea and reveal bigger questions that answer ‘why’ the solution was particularly evocative, and how it differs from others. “I have a million ideas” One participant exclaims as she is offered a post-it from her team-mates.
The teams discuss concepts that focus on the idea of the individual as a super-hero, as change initiating with positively reinforcing individual good. Others ideate on how a collective can affect change. David Morris from Yukon Energy asks “But how can we symbolize community?”
Teams have heated discussions on how to incite or spark a behavioral movement
Near the close of the session, teams get a bonus-round: Green mega leader Matt Schoenholz hand-selects members switch teams, bringing-in new perspectives and a fresh set of eyes. Micro-leaders introduce packs of evocative images that their teams can use to amplify, supplement, or change their concepts. The butcher paper around the studio becomes more and more like a patchwork quilt of images, words and rich concepts.
Now for cross-pollination at it’s finest; frogs stay at their station and the participants filter around groups. The cowbell sounds again and Merkoski asks “Do we have any pandas?” Hands shoot-up and the groups eagerly share their top concepts. After each frog Mega-leader shares, they get a panda hat, which David throws into the crowd. The Red group challenges the Green team’s “panda” and groups decide to share their concepts that didn’t make the final cut.
Some initial share-out ideas from groups:
• Power-it forward: Exercise bikes where energy saving company is donating to a community organization.
• “I am energy": RFID tag with a rebate system for tracking behavior. Peace-sign for energy and bringing it forward today.
• The 1 campaign: It’s all the individual things we can start doing to start changing behavior. It’s about finding the seed.
• One more: Building on what Energy Star is already doing to address America's energy needs: I am an American Energy Star.
• “Please don’t dump me”: A marketing event, the most personal and emotive.
• The Lucky Penny: Focused on value, but not monetary value, emotional value and the quality of life.
We're now breaking for some much needed vitamin d and lunch on the back patio. Stay tuned for the second half of the day where we'll reveal our "Big Idea."
The Green Group is getting down to business, narrowing their ideas and working to land on a symbol or a movement that could be our Energy Panda. They’re exploring how doing something small can lead to big change. What if every individual did one thing every day to reduce their energy consumption? That seems low effort enough to make even the biggest climate change naysayers a little more inclined to turn off their lights. They’re also worried about coming up with ideas that will work in California and Kansas at the same time. They’re also intrigued by the concept of a “Clean Card”—something that can be carried around with you that tracks all of your energy consumption—from driving your car to swiping your credit card at the supermarket. Maybe it changes color as you consume more or less energy? Surely someone can come up with an iPhone app for that.
Amidst energetic conversations the cowbell sounds once more and Executive Creative Director David Merkoski wrangles the micro-groups to tell them why they are here. Holding up a ‘Livestrong’ armband, Merkoski asks the group “Does anyone know what this is?” “It’s so 2000” came a reply. After the laughter subsides, Merkoski explains that the purpose of the session is to identify the equivalent of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) panda for the Smart Grid Consumer Collective (SGCC). The iconic panda is more than a logo, it gives a face to the problem and provides a resonant narrative that acts as a call-to-action. Joining David is Jesse Berst of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, who explains, -”we must have a smart grid, we must electrify transportation, we're moving into an electric economy, we need to connect with consumers, and connect them to the idea of the smart grid...I'm so happy that the cool-kid (frog) is at our party.” Now that everyone is prompted, David turns to the participants to kicks-off a group share-out, asking “Do we have any pandas yet?” Some highlights from the team share-outs: Blue team: Creative Director Michael DiTullo announces ”some really good half-baked ideas.” The blue group focused on creating micro-monuments, like micro-lending, or smaller ways to share their energy pride and making those monuments sharable. These monuments have to: • Build organically around what we already have • Bridge to the next thing. These monuments will have to pull people along that bridge. Sometimes these ideas will have to be mysterious so people want to know more. • Green team: Creative Director Matt Schoenholz’s group takes the slogan-eering angle, showing a post-it note drawing of a plug, “Off is not off.” The Green team’s other ideas centered around the notion that people can create enough power for themselves and also a bit more for people in the community: • Play creating power: Children in the US using play to create power utilizing activity on see-saws. • House on wheels: the idea that smart energy starts at home. Looking at the home as a source of power, not as a consumer of power The Red Team: ride + electric + snake, hunger for travel. Art + connecting + young. Up next: All the groups will rotate and examine the other teams' ideas for a closer examination and to develop the concepts more.
The agenda of the big day.
Attendees receive their nametags and assigned group.
Mingling during breakfast
Brian Duggan, Thought Leadership Program, West Coast Green
Eric Lightner, Director, Smart Grid Task Force, US Department of Energy
Jesse Berst, Managing Director, Global Smart Energy
Lisa Magnuson, Director of Global Marketing and Communications, Silver Spring Networks
Divergence is a beautiful thing. The room is brimming with post-its that laterally connect seemingly discrete concepts and ideas. There are three colored post-its with three types of content: yellows have doodles inspired by post-card images, pinks have words evoked from post-card content, and grays have words that relate to energy. Over in the blue group, Creative Director Michael DiTullo and Associate Creative Director Ratna Desai facilitate 'stitching,' where small micro groups mash-up one pink with one yellow and one gray. Juicy creative inspiration comes through discussions around why certain words and images make the perfect match. Frog Micro-group leaders follow the conversation, capturing nuggets and phrases with blue sharpies. "We gave them the license to be absurd and how we're making them deal with it." DiTullo explains. Micro-groups are instructed to choose their favorite two to share with the team and the journey towards convergence begins...
- Rayna Wiles, frog interaction designer
When it comes to thinking creatively, getting out of your comfort zone is something we're used to here at frog. But as the Energy ThinkIn kicks off and we get people who normally don't use Sharpie pens to draw pictures or come up with word associations at 9am, it's clear we're making our diverse group of guests, well, just a little uncomfortable. Our hope is that by making people feel a bit off kilter and out of their routines, we'll force them to come up with insights and inspiration in a short amount of time that will eventually lead to some great ideas by the end of the day. So far, people look like they're having fun, even if they are feeling a little uncomfortable.
-Sara Munday, Director of Marketing & Communications, frog design
The cowbell sounds and the frog Energy Thinkin begins. "Those with a red marker go to the red group! Who has a green marker? Meet with the green group over in the corner!" People meander into groups and start drawing or writing "how they conserve energy" on the wall-to-wall butcher paper. Elbow-to-elbow, participants write bullets, sentences, phrases, and mind-maps that express the larger picture of how they use energy and why. "It's okay to be selfish," Creative Director Matt Schoenholz and Mega Green captain tells his group. Matt says, "think about what you do." Next, participants are given post-cards and are told to write what they see. "It doesn't have to be about energy...write what you see, what you observe in the image." Images of bicycles, CSA boxes populate the white paper, along with phrases like 'Spankin' the Grid!' and words like 'nuclear', 'food', 'volts' and 'vampire.' It's rapid-fire here in the green-group, they're just revving up for the rest of the day.
- Rayna Wiles, frog interaction designer
Energy can be a large faceless commodity, making it very difficult for people to understand the correlation between the amounts of energy they consume and how that relates to their actions.
To guide those looking for a better understanding of their energy use, industry experts have turned to the smart meter, the smart grid’s most visible consumer touch point. But the smart meter needs a makeover. Right now, most people don’t know what they are or how to use them. Those who do aren’t overly confident in the smart meter’s ability to make a difference, as homeowners continue to witness price increases, failed installations, and a lack of meaningful return on investment. This type of smart meter protest has created a backlash on the rollout of a new smart grid that will ensure a sustainable future for energy.
Some might say energy utilities need to “find their panda” in order to garner public interest and enthusiasm around the smart grid. (http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/04/06/06greenwire-utilities-learning-t...) That is to say, they need a symbol that people can rally around (similar the World Wildlife Fund’s iconic panda). It’s clear we need more than an icon to get a critical mass of people on board; we need something that can help individuals understand their energy usage information and devise ways to change their behavior to minimize their environmental footprint. We need to find an Energy Panda — a face that can encourage a wide range of beneficial consumer behaviors such as buying energy-efficient smart appliances and opting for renewable energy sources. In order to find a face to lead the clean energy revolution, we need to create an icon that builds on the success and momentum of existing programs, but collects them into something singular (something that channels the Live Strong bracelets or makes use of a badge on your favorite geo-location social site like Foursquare or Gowalla).
On October 27, frog will host an Energy ThinkIn in collaboration with the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, in order to create a symbol and a brand for the energy conscious consumer. This will be an identity that can be communicated simply and socially, ultimately leading to positive behavior change. frog and the SGCC will convene an exceptional group of entrepreneurs, executives, and innovators to create a program that can be symbolized by an icon and supported with a messaging framework.
In other words, we’re looking for our panda.
Want to join the conversation? Follow @frogdesign on Twitter and the hash tag #frogthinkin to get real-time updates on the ideas, discussion, and concepts generated from the lively all day hybrid conference and workshop. We’ll post pictures throughout the day and live stream key insights from our energy thought leaders to be revealed at the end of the day.