17 avril 2019

(Service) design as a powerful ecological catalyst

Acting for a more human future obviously means thinking about people. This also means thinking about our environment, Planet Earth. Caroline, our eco-design expert looks back on our (many!) experiences with eco-responsible and eco-intelligent design. So that we have better understanding of the processes at work in integrating environmental considerations into our projects, and so that we can draw inspiration and make better use of them. For the common good.

par Caroline Burzynski-Delloye

“A more beautiful, smarter, more human future”, has been our guiding mantra at User Studio since day one. A credo that underpins many aspects, one of which is becoming more prominent every day. Acting for a more human future obviously means thinking about people. This also involves thinking about our environment: Planet Earth!

a more human future […] means thinking about people, it also involves thinking about our environment

At User Studio, we are convinced that design has everything it takes to be a formidable catalyst for ecological transition and sustainable development. And as we are not lacking in get up and go, we are proving it by example, with some projects already under our belts.

Plüm Énergie

Plüm is a next'gen renewable energy supplier with a strong focus: it offers an incentive system to reward energy savings.

In 2016, we supported this start-up in the design and implementation of its experience strategy up to the MVP of the service's customer space. We designed an educational, intuitive and enjoyable experience for Plüm users. Discovering good habits and the real cost of your actions, understanding your levels of consumption, being aware of the economic incentive, community coaching, all these elements are integrated into a coherent journey from start to finish.

Plüm promotes the use of renewable energies and as such finances their development, in addition to encouraging more frugal consumption, resulting in a doubly positive impact. We are acting to promote energy transition both via the supply side - Plüm obtains its supplies in France from small hydroelectric producers - and via the demand side by changing behaviours.

So that going green is the easiest, smoothest, most comfortable and most appealing experience yet

Plüm's approach is highly consistent with our view of the role of design as an accelerator of ecological transition: so that going green is as easy, smooth, comfortable and attractive as possible. The ecological option is accessible to all, regardless of economic status or the degree of individual commitment. It is possible to act in an eco-friendly way without being an earth warrior.

The pedagogy used in parallel makes the user grow in his or her understanding: I act and at the same time I grow in understanding, further fuelling one of the driving forces behind the action.

Urmet - HomeBook System, energy in your flat

\ As the nerve centre of the home, the intercom is able to retrieve information on the consumption of water, gas and electricity in each flat. A gold mine of information on what is being used! The idea was to create the architecture to present this data to the occupant in an interesting way, to help them better manage their energy consumption, thereby benefitting both their wallet and the planet.

electricity consumption is counted in batteries, water is measured in jerry cans and gas in gas bottles, pure and simple

We decided to represent the energy consumed on the basis of very specific metaphors: electricity consumption is counted in batteries, water is measured in jerry cans and gas in gas bottles, pure and simple.

Instantaneous energy consumption is illustrated to brighten up the system and present dry, numerical data in an animated way that is easily interpreted by the human eye. The landscape is improving, but it can also deteriorate depending on whether or not you are paying attention to your energy use.

Choices that allow residents to simply understand their energy use, easily anticipate its effects and act with full knowledge of the facts. And to take the empowerment that design can provide to its logical conclusion, it might then be possible for each resident to compare their energy use with their neighbours or visualise the impact of their joint efforts. The application has been rolled out to their customers and mobile and tablet versions are also available.

Oreka – DEM'Plus, nuclear decommissioning simulation software

Now owned by EDF, the Oreka company initiated the development of software that could simulate the dismantling of a nuclear power plant. The product resulted from the observation that, while mass dismantling was still prospective, the associated expertise relied on only a handful of experts. The start-up wanted to digitise this practice in order to share good practice, standardise the process and help decision-making by producing risk scenarios.

While a V1 of the interface was already in place, the company called on User Studio in 2011 to fine-tune the co-development of this digital service with the experts and thereby rally the employees around the service's vision and enhance the value of the associated consultancy services.

Substituting fossil or nuclear energy with renewable energy inevitably means dismantling nuclear power plants. Expertise and a business tool that we have helped make more accessible and more widely available to both internal staff and customers.

EDF - My consumption and me

In 2017, EDF asked us to re-design their annual energy consumption report to be sent to a wide range of users. For people who may or may not be comfortable with figures, we needed to simplify, explain and make them accessible.

Electricity consumption data is full of potential information on our habits, on the weather, on the applicable taxes and duties... The intention is to highlight the proportion of sustainable and less sustainable energy and allow everyone to get to grips with it.

The approach we took enabled us to come up with an experimental strategy for this new billing service and produce a workable version: the one you receive through your letter boxes.

"EDF - My consumption and me" transforms a bill with little use value, but which is sent to the majority of the French population, into a universally accessible tool for understanding energy consumption in a very simple way. It can be used to lower consumption, level it out and channel it to the right times. Actions that are carried out en masse have a real impact on production capacity needs, the types of energy used and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Design [...] expertise to be used to the full for ecological and solidarity-based transition

Energy transition has entered an emergency phase and is therefore inescapable. Design has the ability to take objects that are viewed or used by everyone and reinvent them to give them a new use and better understanding. Expertise can be used to the full for ecological and solidarity-based transition. But we must ensure that as the user’s understanding develops, we provide the means for the user to take real action. So that individual aspirations meet collective organisation. This is a way of boosting the possible impact of this dual approach, instead of creating frustration or cognitive dissonance.

EDF – BBC: software to help you choose an ecological system

In 2012, following the launch of the BBC (Low Energy Building) label on ecological and responsible building designs, EDF R&D asked us to consider how to promote it to individuals to make it easier to embrace. Our aim was to develop a tool that would enable everyone to place these global issues at the heart of their personal projects.

We have therefore developed a platform to help you choose ecological systems, depending on the heating equipment, external factors such as the geographical area, the household occupants, etc. In this way, thanks to the modelling of this virtual house, everyone can measure the ecological impact of their own energy choices, between a heat pump or a wood stove for example, and plan their future home.

all the tax or labelling measures taken [...] benefit from being supported by design

The building sector is one of the key sectors for combating climate change, both during construction and in the subsequent use of buildings. All the tax or labelling measures taken to achieve this benefit from being supported by design to increase awareness and, more importantly, to facilitate uptake and use.

Envirobat Méditerranée - Fil vert, the green building hotline

Reflecting on the future of the services it offers to sustainable construction professionals, Envirobat Méditerrannée asked User Studio in 2012 to help design Fil Vert, its green building hotline service, which enables members to obtain expert information quickly.

We paid particular attention to information content, communication and internal working tools. The result is a series of written and visual prefigurations that allow us to envisage the physical and symbolic universe of the service. In addition to setting up a smooth and truly useful service for architects and engineering offices, our involvement has brought people together internally and encouraged the development of a new member-centred approach.

Green Creative - R3D3, the waste (and self-sorting) bin strikes back

Green Creative, a start-up committed to waste recycling, asked us to transform its "R3D3" automatic sorting bin for office buildings into a real service for companies. The challenge was to develop the platform connected to R3D3 into a seamless user experience.

In 2015, from the early stages, we were working closely with Green Creative's customers to ensure maximum use value and uptake.

We sketched the key screens of the connected application. We then developed the R3D3 fleet management application interfaces in SaaS (Software as a Service) mode, including the centralisation of alerts, the generation of reports, etc.

With R3D3, Green Creative is rolling out the practice of sorting at the very point where cans, cups and bottles are thrown away in order to introduce them into the correct recycling channels. Its SaaS platform organises and optimises the organisation so that this circular economy becomes more efficient.

As designers, our approach is based on ecosystem thinking

As designers, our approach is based on ecosystem thinking. We design services by listening to all stakeholders in order to deliver a seamless and robust end-to-end experience for every user. A consideration that we know is particularly current on the issue of waste separation and recycling.

A consideration that we would like to have the opportunity to implement even further upstream in order not to sort waste, but to avoid its production in the first place.

Lyonnaise des Eaux - Service Lab in Orléans, co-creating the metropolis of the future

In 2011, for the renewal of its water supply contract in Orléans, Lyonnaise des Eaux contacted us to design and carry out a consultation process with local residents and stakeholders to involve them in the creation of new services focusing on: the creation of biodiversity islands related to social housing and the inclusion of unemployed young people.

After organising, co-creating and synthesising creative workshops at our place, we proposed: an allotment garden scheme at the foot of the building, as well as a rental service for electric canoes on the Orléans canal. Two local innovative services combining social and environmental aspects. The allotment garden project in particular has benefited from a thorough design by us and is called the "Jardins d'eau" [Water Gardens].

Design has the propensity, competence and tools to develop a common vision within a group

Biodiversity is a global commons. An asset shared by all, which we should all support. Design has the propensity, competence and tools to develop a common vision within a group and to engage it in producing concrete, activable and attractive proposals. This added value is all the more useful in environmental matters, where responsibility and consequences are shared, but where joint action is difficult to achieve.

MAIF & Koolicar - Zaléo, alternative transport

In 2017, Koolicar - the private car rental start-up - and MAIF's collaborative economy division called on User Studio to help them picture how shared transport could work with the habits of people living in large cities. The project, co-financed by Ademe, takes the form of a MaaS (Mobility as a Service) focused on alternative transport: The Zaléo application draws up itineraries for travelling by alternating traditional means of transport with new forms of mobility. A service designed by User Studio with UX strategy and UI design in mind.

The Zaléo project uses an intermodal approach with alternative transport and makes it more accessible. Self-reliance is limited, sharing is encouraged.

Traveller information is a key design skill - and one of User Studio's pet projects. Using it to promote greener transport and intermodality acts as a catalyst for ecological transition. This type of project should be pushed even further, with priority given at all times to the most environmentally friendly solutions.

And afterwards

Let’s be honest, in the course of these projects, we haven't always had the opportunity to follow through on our hopes and beliefs.

We would sometimes like to take our understanding of the ecosystem or user research further, in order to better identify unexpressed needs, obstacles and motivation; we would like to involve all stakeholders, we would like to take user empowerment, personalisation, pedagogy and desirability further. Of course, we would also like to be able to set indicators of service uptake and environmental impact, so that we can circle back to projects and suggest continuous improvement.

We are not afraid to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to ecological transition with its uncertainty and constraints [...].

Ecological transition faces many unknowns, yet embracing uncertainty and using creativity to develop solutions is part of a designer's DNA. We see constraints not as dead ends, but as opportunities to explore (FR). Creation under constraint is also part of our daily life. So, we are not afraid to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to ecological transition with its uncertainties and constraints, which we must all embrace. We are used to uncertainty, we know how to tame it, test it, experiment with it in order to find suitable and adoptable solutions.

What makes things a little trickier is that design is perhaps not seen by everyone as a skill that should be associated with environmental and social innovation projects... even though it has so much to contribute. The profound changes that we must make - or those that will be imposed on us if we don't start thinking long term - are inevitably accompanied by new services and uses that must be detected, devised, designed, anticipated, created, realised and perfected. This is precisely where our added value as (service) designers lies.

All the better if environmental benefits are just the icing on the cake, as long as it increases the impact of more eco-friendly goods and services tenfold

And why not transform the purely ecological objective of a project into something that is simply great for users, that increases their well-being, provides them with another form of simplicity, comfort and coherence? It’s great if the resulting satisfaction is multi-dimensional. All the better if the environmental benefits are just the icing on the cake, as long as this increases the impact of goods and services tenfold that are more virtuous and that work better for humans and their environment. To create a more beautiful, smarter, more human future that is better for people and their environment.