Design – Paper Prototypes

5 May

Project Description

21 Apr

Ambient Knowledge (AK)

Ambient Energy Information Display

AK is an Ambient Information System that provides the user with information regarding the energy consumption in his/her house. An Ambient Information System appeals to peripheral senses and aims at providing the user with information without demanding their attention or introducing any additional interaction. This will avoid bombarding them with information or distracting them from the task at hand and allow them to receive information and proceed with everyday life. AK allows a smooth transition between the users focus on the task at hand and the information being provided. The project aims to provide the user with aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable and convenient access to information.

The project uses colour as the modality to provide the user with ambient energy information. The scale goes from Green through Blue to Red depending on how much energy the house is consuming. Red is considered a high-arousal colour while blue, green and most violets are low-arousal colours. The properties of a certain colour can alter the psychological message, which can be more significant than the visual experience itself. Colour can affect the human body both physically as well as mentally. Red has been shown to draw attention, increase enthusiasm, stimulate energy and encourage action while Blue and Green have the opposite effect and can be calming and tranquil. Green is also seen as the colour of ecology and has many environmental associations. ( provide this colour to the user the project uses LED lighting. LEDs are sustainable, energy-efficient and environmentally responsible, containing no hazardous or toxic materials such as mercury. A single LED could last three to six years if left on for 24 hours a day.

According to Pike Research “consumer interest in energy consumption is higher than it has been for decades; home EIDs will enter people’s kitchens and living rooms in large numbers over the next few years”. By making people aware of their energy consumption it will motivate them to make behavior changes to cut their utility bills and environmental footprint. In most houses energy use is invisible to the user and people only have a vague idea of the amount of energy they are using and what appliances use the most energy. Feedback allows energy usage to become more visible and easier to understand and control. Ames et al. “hypothesize that information will empower residents to improve city health by making them feel like their actions are visible”. Since the 1970s it has been established that feedback has measurable effects and it is now believed that savings from immediate feedback can range from 5-15%. Feedback can be used as a learning tool allowing users to teach themselves through experimentation. (The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption) (Healthy Cities Ambient Displays). Wilhit and Ling found that increased feedback leads to an increase in knowledge that in turn motivates changes in energy-use and a decrease in energy consumption.

The biggest problem with EIDs is motivating people to sustain their use after the initial novelty of the display wears off. Sustaining a change in behavior will depend on whether the feedback will support the development of new habits over a long period of time. This is where a well thought out energy monitoring device is needed. A new behavior formed over a three-month period or longer is only likely to persist, once continued feedback is maintained. This is why the properties of an Ambient Information System are suitable as an effective Energy Information Display. Continuous feedback can be provided through an easily accessible, convenient, glancable display. Providing the information in a pervasive, aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable manner reduces the burdens on the user therefore they don’t not get annoyed or distracted by the display and stop using it. (The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption)

Cultural Probe 1

20 Apr

Placement of Ambient Energy Information Display

Placement of Ambient Information Display

I decided to conduct cultural probes because they will allow me to evaluate potential users interaction with the prototypes within the intended interaction setting. Because of the nature of my prototype it is also very important that I evaluate the user’s experience and satisfaction of using the prototype over a period of time. In order to know if my prototype is successful I need a potential user to interact with it as they are going about their normal, daily lives. The prototype cannot be properly evaluated in an organised user testing setup because this is not the way it will be used in reality. This will help me develop a design that will cater for the user’s needs and capable of seamlessly fitting in with their lives.

I set up the prototype in the dinning room of a three bedroom house located in Cork City centre. There is a male and female in their 50’s and another female that is in her 30’s. I left the prototype in the house for 5 days and provided each member with a probe pack. Within the pack was an instruction sheet and a notebook and pen that I wanted them to use to take notes. Before we began I described my project and explained what I wanted them to do.

I wanted each member to self report each time they thought about or interacted with the prototype. I explained that I wanted them to report their feelings, thoughts  and experiences of using the prototype. I included a few questions and bullet points on the instruction sheet to help stimulate thought. Basically I wanted each member to explain what, where why, when, who and how they interacted with the prototype. I also asked them to  report any improvements, likes or dislikes.

Main Findings that influenced change in the prototype

  • “Not very interested in the in between colours I just have a quick glance to see if its blue or red”
  • “It seems to be always blue and then every now and again it goes Red if someone in the shower or kettle is on etc”

The focus seemed to be on how it changes when large appliances are turned on but not on any of the small changes. Numerous times it was mentioned or suggested in some way that it needed to be more sensitive, and change colour more throughout the day and not just when large appliances are turned on.

Because of this I introduced a third colour which would allow me to make the prototype more sensitive and at the same time not go red easily. On testing this with the same group of people they all preferred it and agreed that it worked better.

  • “At night in a dark room the colours are much too bright”

This inspired me to investigate including a light sensor so that when the room gets darker the light dims. I am only implementing this feature at present so I still have not tested the results.

  • “Can you turn it off? Now that I’m conscious of turning lights off around the house it seems mad to leave this on all the time”

This supports my decision to include a motion sensor so that when nobody is in the room the prototype will automatically turn itself off.


12 Apr

Im using an RGB LED to provide the colour to represent the current being used at any time.


I was also investigating using the intensity of light under the base to represent the Cumulative Kwh

Current and Cumulative Kwh Schematic

12 Apr


2 Apr

I am now focusing more on the aesthetics and design of the Ambient Energy Information Display. I began by researching what symbols, words, materials, designs etc were related with environmental awareness. I investigated the use of a “tree metaphor” as this is often associated with environmental awareness. I was also exploring the idea of using a wooden sculpture because its more natural and nature related.

The “Mood Lamp” and “Flower” are two prototypes I have developed. The Mood Lamp is a hand-made, wooden sculpture that can also be used as a candle holder. At an earlier stage in the project I was considering the use of a candle holder because candle light is an effective form of mood lighting that doesn’t consume electricity.

The Flower prototype is still at an early stage but the concept is to incorporate the use of colour into a flower sculpture.  Using Fibre Optic strands and LEDs I was able to develop an abstract flower design.

The Mood Lamp

The Flower

Prototype Ambient Energy Information Display

25 Mar