Northern User Experience Event – Social Media & Energy Use Behaviour Change

The nice folks over at the Northern User Experience (NUX) group recently invited me along to do a talk and interactive session on social media + energy behaviour change at their stylish space at the Round Foundry Media Centre in Leeds. The talk was part of the Leeds Digital Festival and also aligned itself with the World Usability Day theme of:

“Designing with an intentional outcome of sparking change in how people behave, communicate, and do things in the world”

So who are NUX? Their membership is diverse and dynamic and spans disciplines such as HCI, information design, usability, user experience and development with a vast amount of industry and academic experience to tap into.  A meeting normally takes place every month on a specified subject with an open invitation to all interested and is headed up by Keith Doyle. Check out the latest news from NUX on their events page or follow hashtag #nuxuk on Twitter.

The format of the session comprised my talk of around 40 minutes followed by an interactive task, in total it lasted 2 hours. I presented 3 case studies, two for domestic energy and one promoting physical activity that used the same social media approach as the energy studies. I noted one of the first tweets after I started the presentation was “Strong Lincolnshire accent tonight #nuxuk”, knew right away I was in good company. The energy studies presented (Wattsup and Power Ballads) delivered innovative energy feedback through social media, specifically the Facebook platform. Wattsup and Power Ballads case studies are great examples of social media + energy feedback synergies for the domestic domain, even more timely now as major energy utility company Opower is using the same approach and commercialising ‘social energy’ into a product. However, let it be said that we at LiSC were early innovators of social-energy research and delivered Wattsup back in 2009, see here and here! As with most of our completed work at LiSC, both the Wattsup and Power Ballads work is in the public domain as published peer-reviewed papers available from here and here.

All present enjoyed the unique and engaging user experience the domestic energy studies provided with plenty of questions put forward. To finish the presentation I briefly spoke of our Electro-Magnates project investigating organisational energy, and how the challenges in an organisational environment are different from the domestic domain. Also noticed some of the developers present enjoyed the adoption of opendata and discovery of tools such as Yahoo’s YQL for scraping data. At the end of the presentation there was some agreement that the first step of designing any energy app was to name it using a witty pun, this approach is carved in stone at LiSC with many hours spent getting it just right, or just plain wrong….

After the presentation I facilitated an interactive session with the goal to design (via paper prototyping) an energy visualisation for a specific theme and target user group. Each group would then present their work at the end of the session by doing a 1 minute elevator pitch, with a vote to decide the winners. Four groups then set about doing the task with beer on tap, which never fails to stir up a healthy dose of creativity. After some cracking of the whip pen was put to paper. Prizes were placed on a pedestal at the front of the room, 1st Box of Jelly Babies and 2nd Box of Heroes. I know what I prefer.

So how did they do? Not bad at all actually. The take home message was to realise how difficult energy is to understand in terms of usage due to its intangible nature. Attempting to design a visual representation of energy consumption with a view for reductions is no easy task. The table below shows the themes and target users each group had to design for, great to see the ‘witty pun’ naming convention style was present, kudos.

Group Theme User Group App/Visualisation Name
1 University Academics Tune In Turn Off
2 Household Older Adults Just In Case
3 Organisation Administration Power Rangers
4 Organisation Employees Appliance Alliance

First prize went to ‘Power Rangers’ – a visualisation that brazenly adorned a departmental manager’s avatar with items of super hero clothing if their department’s energy consumption is being reduced, but also removes the clothing if usage rises. Inter-departmental managerial super heroes are compared in a league table. At first glance it would be pretty easy to see which departments are doing well……


I had an enjoyable time during the talk and felt it was well received from the feedback at the end and through the on-going tweets. NUX are a great community to be involved with and have their fingers on the pulse of the latest developments in design, HCI and user experience. I’d thoroughly recommended anyone who is doing anything interesting in these fields to check them out, and also with a view to doing a talk as they are currently looking for new ideas.

As usual no visit outside my usual haunt of Sheffield would be complete without sampling a few beers. First stop was ‘The Hop’ pub with a nice selection on cask where I tried Osset Brewery’s Silver King and Excelsior pale ales. On my way home I stopped at the Midnight Bell and tried Leeds Pale and Blue Moon, I’m not a fan of Blue Moon, despite labelling itself a North American Craft Beer its basically a very fruity wheat beer.


Leave a comment

Subscribe Scroll to Top