Computing for habitual sustainability (and a cool bendy speedometer)

Posted on May 12, 2009


sohn_speedoMinjung Sohn aims to produce products that are “used unconsciously by users with reduced environmental impacts”.   With her colleagues from KAIST, she  argues that existing approaches to eco-friendly design mainly focus on educating users, or making them recognise the need for sustainability.  In Designing with unconscious human behaviors for eco-friendly interaction, Minjung and her colleagues instead try to make the sustainable behaviour an unconscious or habitual action. 

They identify three categories of pro-environmental behaviour:

Behaviors involving a toggle selection: This type causes environmental impacts by performing or not performing an action. With these behaviors, users often do not know which action is appropriate, or they have a weak motivation although they know the required action.
Behaviors involving a selection among multiple options: Selecting one among multiple options (such as separating rubbish). This type of behaviors takes place quickly, so users tend to be habitual.

Behaviors involving an analogue adjustment for an optimum condition (eg optimal speed). Careless behaviors bring about redundant energy use.

They also identify four attributes of unconscious behaviours: reaction, adaptation, conformity, signal.    These form a matrix which they as framework for designing “eco-friendly” interaction.   They present three examples, derived from the framework:

– a pull-me-out power cord uses a signal to prompt a toggle action: the carrot sprout grows  when connected devices are drawing power

– a follow-me garbage collector aims to promote people selecting the right option by playing on the conformity attribute

– a curvy-speedometer has a deformable indicator needle that indicates both the current and optimal speeds. 

sohn_unconciousbehavioursMinjung doesn’t present any validation of these designs, but does promise further work on the framework.