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Research Project “EcoViz” at FHP wins price!!! September 19, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gamification, sustainable interaction design.
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(image source)(left: Frank Heidmann (FHP), center: Timm Kekeritz (Rauhreif)

I am very proud to announce that one of the projects within the larger research project “Eco-Viz“, which I am heading with my colleague Frank Heidmann, won the German “clean tech media award” in the category “communication”:

The winning project is called “Eco Challenge” and has been developed by Rauhreif, an interface design company started by two alumnis from the “Interface Design” department where I am teaching. Eco Challenge consists of carefully designed info-graphics to help to raise the awareness, a included calculator which enables the user to quantify his own behavior and so called »Challenges« which provide the users with a small assignments. These assignments are small steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle. (source)




IFA: Impressions E-Mobility September 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gadgets.
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Energy Visualization in Japan August 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gamification, innovative interfaces, sustainable interaction design.





Because of the horrible disaster in Japan only 17 out of 55 nuclear plants are currently operating. Therefore there is a high need of reducing energy consumption.


One oft the measures taken is a visualization of the current energy consumption. On this website, TEPCO, the company operating the broken plants of Fukushima, is showing real time data about energy consumption, and comparing it with last year’s consumption, the day’s maximum supply and demand from the day before:

(image source, screenshot taken today)

According to this article in the New York Times, so far forecasts and actual use have hovered around 75 percent of maximum capacity, “thanks to unseasonably cool weather brought on by a typhoon”.

I doubt whether this tool will really make people change their behavior. It does not really help to understand one’s personal impact on reduction of energy consumption as the graph is displaying the total Electricity use within TEPCO’s service area. This includes not only a huge population, but also many industrial facilities.

So, I guess it would make more sense to break this information down to individual consumption of households and companies. Furthermore, I suggest that applying simple rules of gamification (goal setting, comparison to similar units, communicating personal behaviors, etc.) would help to support the good will of the motivated population. Especially in Japan, where the society is very transparent (just think of paper doors and walls), I assume that making one’s energy consumption more transparent would motivate people – and not make them feel like living in Orwell’s 1984 – at least when the form of displaying this information is designed correctly.

Predictably Irrational April 29, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gamification, theory.
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As mentioned before I am currently involved in a research project where we try to understand how interfaces can support people to change their behavior, in our case, their ways of consuming energy.

For this project I just read the wonderful an inspiring book “predictably irrational” by Dan Ariely, who is a professor for Behavioural Economics at the MIT. In this book, Ariely is describing various “hidden forces”, which make us decide in ways, which are not rational.

In the chapter “The Truth about Relativity” Ariely shows that people always base their decisions on direct comparisons, be it the price of a certain product, their salary or even the partner they choose. He also shows that this behavioral pattern leads to irrational decisions: for example we compare locally to the available alternative regardless of the true impact of our decision: “it is so easy for a person to add 200$ to a 5.000$ catering bill for a soup entrée, when the same person will clip coupons to save 25 cents on a one-dollar can of condensed soup.”
Ariely also presents a popular pattern in marketing to make people decide in a certain way. He names this pattern the “decoy”: Offering three options – two are easily comparable with being one a those is not as good as the other one (A and –A), and the third option is not comparable (B). Most people will then go for A, because they can compare A to –A, while B is cannot be compared and therefore will not be considered. His examples range from ranking attractiveness of people to selling magazine subscriptions.

(image from the book)(Example for the decoy effect: Ariely took pictures of two similarly attractive people (A, B), added one, which was a digitally modified version of one of the faces to look less attractive (-A). Over 75% of the participants responded that they would prefer A. – for the left side)

Regarding my own research project “Experience the Energy” I think that Ariely’s thought in this chapter are quite interesting: How many of us are using energy saving light bulbs  and therefore feel like contributing our fair share to a better world. However, for every holiday trip we fly all over the world – causing a huge pollution in comparison with the savings from our bulbs – or should we rather think as my mother taught me: Kleinvieh macht auch Mist!?

In the chapter “The Fallacy of Supply and Demand” Ariely proves that the old concept of supply and demand is not true with us, non-rational humans. Instead the values of products are imprinted on us – similar to the attachment of ducks to the first moving object they encounter (similar to Konrad Lorenz and his ducks).

(image source)

Ariely calls this process anchoring: a new product or service is connected to a certain price/anchor. According to Ariely, these anchors can be arbitrary, but once they are set, we use them quite coherent. He calls this observation “arbitrary coherence” and proves it with an experiment, where the value of products (wine and cordless keyboards) was connected to an random number (in his experiment the last two digit of the participant’s social security number). Once these products were anchored to these random values, the participants reasoned very coherent within this system, e.g. a higher rated bottle of wine would cost more. He is even proving that humans stick to the initial anchoring – so once a price is set, it is very hard to get re-anchor it. I have sometimes the feeling that with most electronics innovations this price is set far too low – they are turned into gadgets. Apple is one of the few companies, who manages to keep prices high!
As an good example of how anchoring works Ariely explains the phenomena of Starbucks, who – when started – offered a new anchoring system: “Starbucks did everything in its power to make the experience feel different – so different that we would not use the prices at Dunkin’ Donuts as an anchor, but instead would be open to the new anchor that Starbucks was preparing for us.”. They did so by being like a “continental coffeehouse”, e.g. not offering small, medium and large coffees, but “Short, Tall, Grande and Venti, as well as drinks with high pedigree names like Caffè Americano, Caffè Misto, Macchiato, and Frappucino.
For designers the “different experience” is the key: that is what we can offer to a new product and where we have to be very careful of how to design this experience!

A third thought in this book was important for me: How expectations shape our perception and our behavior – be it through fandom/stereotypes/fanaticisms, through related rituals or through the price. Ariely is quoting a couple of studies with quite surprising results, amongst others on Placebos with different price tags (the more expensive the better), on tests with Asia-American women, who perceived themselves either as Asian-American (good in math test) or as women (bad in math test), or on beer with vinegar and how the right story made people even like this drink.
I guess this area is the one, where most of traditional design is happening – and as Ariely points out, it is important to understand that “two mechanisms shape the expectation that make placebos work. One is belief – our confidence or faith in the drug, the procedure, or the caregiver. […] The second mechanism is conditioning. Like Pavlov’s famous dogs […], the body builds up expectancy after repeated experiences and releases various chemicals to prepare us for the future.
How true for good marketing and design!

GreenGoose – play real life for green April 11, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gadgets, gamification, innovative interfaces, making the invisible visible, physical interaction design.
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In my research I came across GreenGoose, a company which offers sensors for real life gaming for a better lifestyle. The images below explain quite good, what they offer:

On their website they are calling game developers, however this link doesn’t work. So, I don’t know about the real life situation of this company… 🙂

However, I think that this is quite a radical approach to bring gamification into real life. We all know about the wii fit including a scale (they call it balance board, which might help). So, the GreenGoose concept is just going one step further. However, the nice thing about the Wii Fit concept is, that it is a little more indirect than just counting the number of times you drink… Some research needs to be done about whether a direct, obvious approach is better than a more playful, indirect approach!


Persuasive Technology April 10, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, social computing, theory.
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In the discussion of how interaction design can change our behavior – and even our thoughts – one book should not be missing – and will be quoted again… 🙂

(image source)

B. J. Fogg’s “Persuasive Technology” (2003) points out, which advantages computers offer over human persuaders:

1. Be more persistent than human beings
2. Offer greater anonymity
3. Manage huge volumes of data
4. Use many modalities to influence
5. Scale easily
6. Go where humans cannot go or may not be welcome

Under point 6, Fogg mentions embedded computers in the bathroom or in the bedroom or a “smart toothbrush”, which helps motivate kids to brush their teeth right…


Symbolic Energy Saving April 9, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, making the invisible visible.
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The Japanese web-designer Qanta Shimizu developed the Twitter-Plugin SETSUDENER, which symbolizes one’s good will to save energy: the own Twitter-profile-photo is darkened during 17:00 and 20:00, the daily peak time of energy consumption.

The name of this app is a wordplay : Setsuden (節電) in Japanese means “conserve electricity.” Therefore, setsudener can be translated as, one who conserves electricity (learned here).

This app reminds me of the Earth Hour initiative, which asks people to switch off all eletronic devices on a certain day and time.

Especially in the context of my current class about integrating energy consumption into the social reward system the symbolic aspects might be an interesting approach…

(via BerlinerGazette)