From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Design for Limited Attention Spans: 9 Minutes for Energy

Opower ( designs customer engagement programs for more than 90 partners in the utility industry.  They serve millions of domestic and commercial customers on three continents, North America, Europe, and Asia, providing energy efficiency services through customer engagement, helping them to understand and manage their energy use.  This results in higher levels of energy efficiency, increased demand response, and improved grid resilience.

Since "The average person thinks about energy use for only nine minutes per year,” as Deena Rosen, Senior Director of User Experience for Opower said at GreenTechMedia's Soft Grid conference ( on 9/10/14, Opower has to design with limited attention spans in mind.  [more at GreenTechMedia

Design rules for limited attention spans:

Always pair data with insight - Opower uses a utility bill format that compares your usage to your neighbors and gives you usable feedback on your energy use.  In some areas, a little star or two at the bottom of the bill for high efficiency customers kept them improving.

Personalize it

Don’t make people work to understand the ideas involved.

Use familiar mental models

Always lead to action - create triggers for the right moments:  changing the label on the can from Trash to Landfill can affect a decision "at that key point where I'm about to throw something away. This is behavioral design,” Deena Rosen said.  "At Opower, we've become experts in behavioral design for energy users.”

Aim for a long relationship - don’t annoy the customer and make communications two-way.

Build for everyone - "Energy users are not a tidy, well-defined group," said Rosen, "35 percent are renters that don't have complete control over the building they live in.”  Know the audience and the channels available:  70% are not digitally available, 8% of men are colorblind and can't read charts by color.

Assume people don’t care.  Opower bears the "burden of relevance: boring until proven otherwise.” Their utility bills provide the raw data within familiar mental models - comparison to average energy use, record of our own use over time, proportions of use devoted to heating, cooling, cooking, refrigeration, plug loads…

Design for the actual behavior people exhibit, "nudge" people in the right direction at the right time in an effective way. 

I wonder how people can apply these proven ideas on behavioral design to climate change, globally, locally, personally, and immediately. 


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