Interactive Design to Encourage Energy Efficiency in Offices: Developing and Testing a User-Centered Building Management System Based on a Living Lab Approach
- How can design intervention support to deliberately shape behavior to encourage energy efficiency in office buildings?
- What potential energy savings could be reached with a user-centered building management system (UC-BMS)?
- To what degree office behavior and practices can be changed by design interventions and thus support energy efficiency in office buildings?
2. Conceptual Approach
2.1. Interactive Systems and Design for Behavior Change
2.2. Sustainable Living Labs (SLL) and Human-Centered Design
3. Research Design: Methods and Data
3.1. Phase 1 Insight Research
3.2. Phase 2 Prototyping
3.3. Phase 3 Testing and Evaluation
4. Results and Discussion
4.1. Literature Review: Design Intervention Encouraging Behavior towards Energy Efficiency
- Frictional Feedbacks that aim to engage users on procedural level and in interaction with a physical object (also called “Aesthetics of Friction”; “Transformational Troublemaker” or “Transformational Products”). Here, situated, unwanted habits should be interrupted, and alternative, simple action plan suggested [22,27]. An example of a “Transformational Troublemaker” is a special key holder that suggests users to use a bike instead of a car: If the user grabs the bike key, nothing happens. If the user grabs the car key, the “key holder” releases the bike key, which then drops to the floor. Obviously, one can just leave it there. However, when picking up the bike key, it confronts users with a choice: Car or bike.
4.2. Monitoring and Estimation: Optimizing the Heating System Operations towards Energy Efficiency
- Monitoring of the existing heating system
- Estimation of potential energy savings based on an optimized heating system
4.2.1. Results on the Monitoring of the Existing Heating System
4.2.2. Results of the Estimation of Potential Energy Savings Based on a Smarter Heating System
- Results on potential energy savings based on the interviews and workshops
Challenge 1: The heating system is controlled in a way to seek maximum of comfort at workplace but with losses of energy efficiency. With this strategy of heat (over)supply the facility management aims to avoid complaints by office users (avoidance strategy); mainly steered by a minority of office users but significant because of their hierarchical position or due to their many complaints.
Challenge 2: Although the office users’ knowledge for energy efficiency strategies at the workplace was high, the implementation and acceptance of effective measures (lowering the temperature, changing ventilation practices) can be challenging.
4.3. Experiment: Piaf—An Interactive System for Changing Ventilation Practices in Offices
- Description of the co-creation process and results on the overall acceptance of Piaf
- The sound signal indicating to close the window was prolonged and amplified, to increase sound interference with users.
- A confirmation button was integrated, developed to check if modified airing practice is tied to Piaf. In addition, the capacitive switch, integrated as a confirmation button, offered additional sensual involvement, and reinforced user interaction and emotional attachment.
- Experiment results on the ventilation practices the with Piaf 1 in Berlin
- Old building: The Piaf system was tested in an old, not renovated building and without ventilation systems. This building was selected because retrofitting a ventilation system involves high installation effort and is therefore hardly ever carried out. The approach with Piaf works with a minimum of intervention in the building services engineering.
- Building with passive house standard: Piaf was also tested in a building with passive house standard because previous studies have shown that passive houses have problems in archiving target values for energy consumption, mainly due to user behavior. While in the case of single-family houses, the builders have consciously chosen a passive house with controlled ventilation, this is not the case with office buildings. Indeed, the window should not be opened here either. However, in the investigated building, the users insisted on retrofitting window handles, as the air was subjectively perceived as too bad. Thus, the experiments were deliberately carried out in the passive house to visualize and feedback to the users that the air quality is normally good and that there is no need to open the window. Furthermore, the data recorded by Piaf can generally be used to determine whether rooms are over or undersupplied and, if appropriately networked, to ensure that operations are managed according to requirements.
- For one office (building C) it became visible that the suggestions of Piaf were followed at the beginning (5–6 weeks), but later “ignored” as observed CO2 levels increased. This could indicate a beginning of disinterest after initial enthusiasm for the system (Figure 6).
- For one office the introduction of Piaf did not significantly impact the ventilation practices. This might be because the natural office ventilation of the passive house (Building A) did not require additional ventilation practices. The CO2 concentration remains constant below 900 ppm, except for a few outliers (see Figure 7).
- The analysis of changing ventilations practices based on data from sensors offer findings on the starting point of the ventilation practice (decreasing CO2 levels). However, the collected data make it difficult to identify the stopping point of the ventilation practice. This means results on the duration of the ventilation were limited. Future research can improve the experiment design e.g., with sensors in the window to identify opening and closing of the window or by utilizing tracer gases to determine the air exchange rate in the room building (tracer-gas leak testing).
- The mounting of Piaf was designed for monitors at the workplace. However, the waste heat of (older) monitors confused the sensors of Piaf, making ventilation recommendations difficult.
- Direct sun light on Piaf can also bias the results (temperature and humidity).
- The experiment requires full WLAN connection (24 h, 7 days a week) in all participated offices. Otherwise, collected data cannot be stored and analyzed.
4.4. Room Climate Comfort Check
- Central system optimization due to weather-dependent settings of the flow temperature control and by lowering the temperature levels outside (and during) working hours. Based on an estimation including 12 offices and three scenarios, the results indicate energy savings of 5–27%. Thereby, the facility management should be supported in the system operations to maximize comfort and energy efficiency as well as to minimize complaints by office users. Accordingly, the literature review, interviews, and workshops have shown that realizing the full potential of energy savings require a user-oriented approach; otherwise, interventions may not be accepted.
- Against this outcome, a user-oriented and interactive assistant system (called Piaf) was co-prototyped and tested to show to what extent daily routines of ventilation practices at the workplace can be changed. The experiment results of Piaf (N = 27) indicate three main insights: First, there are positive effects of Piaf encouraging behavior change (ventilation practices). Second, effectively supporting behavior change requires engaging systems with a meaningful design that can elicit positive emotional product attachment. In this way, Piaf was designed based on a tangible story titled “the canary in the coal mine”. Feedback systems are thus no longer an anonymous technical device, but a personal assistant with a personality. Third, sharing Piaf’s climate data of each office room with facility management can support the operations for an optimized central system and the development of a digital communication platform.
- A survey on the individual comfort level of temperature in offices (“Comfort Check”; N = 24) provided insights on how to expand a digital communication platform between facility management and office users. The results made it clear that the perception of temperature has building-specific characteristics, that live feedback can localize further energy-saving potentials, and can help to limit complaints and to adapt the heating system towards actual user needs and not a few “opinion leaders”. Nevertheless, depending on the building heating circuit, adaptions can made for building sections only.
5.2. Future Research
Conflicts of Interest
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|Coercive Interventions||Assumes that the user does not think beyond basic reflex responses coming from the design stimulus. There is no need for understanding, design silently structures behavior (e.g., microwave works with door closed only). Users follow the designers’ behavior specification without necessarily being aware of it. The aim is not to provide users with a range of choices, but force functions , to make a job easier and for providing safety.|
|Persuasive Interventions||Assumes that users are bounded rational  and want the easiest way to do things and to minimize cognitive expenditure. Thus, user decision-making addresses automatic and unaware aspect of human behavior with the goal of playing along with people’s natural actions and reactions . This model of a user takes “shortcuts” rather than thinking deeply about problems and how to solve them . The aim is to help people navigate in available options (choice architecture) and to pick the best result due to reducing complexity (archiving simplicity) without forbidding, banning, or hiding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives . In behavioral economics, this approach is known as Nudge  in design as Persuasive .|
|Reflective Interventions||Assumes that users reflect on actions and change their behavior in response to reasoned arguments and persuasive rhetoric . Thus, users are not acting on impulse and automating processes as utilized by “Nudge”. Mostly this relies on the provision of feedback to allow users to explore the implications of their actions. Choice and reflection are left to the user and is meant as the beginning of an explicit process of meaning-making. Meaning addresses user’s mental activities, emotions, and motivational knowledge  to e.g., implement changes in consumption practices .|
|Insight Research||(1) Screening of efficiency strategies and design interventions||Literature review||26 Research studies,|
8 Research projects
|(2) Indoor climate monitoring and estimation of potential energy savings for an “Optimized Heating System”||Monitoring based on data logging (Extech); estimation based on 3 Scenarios (reduction of room temperatures)||February–May 2018|
3 Office buildings (Berlin)
|Prototyping||(3) Co-creation of prototypes and assessment of their overall acceptance||Co-creation workshop and survey on the overall acceptance incl. usability, user experience, ergonomic and cognitive perception||Workshop (N = 12, Bochum)|
Survey (N = 26, Bonn)
|Testing & Evaluation||(4) Testing and evaluation of the interactive feedback system “Piaf”||Real-world experiment, quantitative assessment on (changes) of ventilation practices||December 2018–April 2019|
3 Office buildings (Berlin)
27 Offices (Piaf)
12 Offices (no Piaf)
|(5) Testing and evaluation of the “Comfort Check”||Daily Survey on the individual room climate comfort level||March–April 2018|
3 Office buildings (Bonn)
24 Office users
|(6) Qualitative assessment of the design interventions||Interviews and Workshop||Before and after the testing Piaf:|
Interviews (N = 21; Berlin) Workshop (N = 26; Berlin)
|Intervention Types||Design Pattern||Examples||Potential (Low, Medium, High)||Reference|
|COERCIVE||Automation||Interlock (AC turns off with open window); automation based on usage data||High, if complementary to reflective interventions.||[95,96,97,98,99,100]|
|Choice editing||Banning energy inefficient devices||High, if complementary to reflective interventions.|||
|Feature deletion||Removing stand-by buttons||High, if complementary to reflective interventions.|||
|Matched affordances||New fitting design for bulbs; old, inefficient bulbs do not match to present lamps.||High, if complementary to reflective interventions.|||
|Hiding things||Heating control||High, if complementary to reflective interventions.|||
|PERSUASIVE/ NUDGE||Incentives/Gamification||(Financial) rewards, vouchers, rankings||Low if there is a lack of financial resources; Low if vouchers incl. unattractive registration; High if gamified experience||[87,94,96,97,100,101,102,103,104,105]|
|Default option||2-page print||High|||
|Reframing by aesthetics||Aware Puzzle Switch: interrupt aesthetic pleasure of light switch when the light is on.||Medium|||
|Perceived affordances||The design of a recycling bin influences recycling compliance||Medium|||
|REFLECTIVE||Rhetoric Feedbacks||Prompts, requests/ reminders, sticky notes at desktop||Low if permanent|
High if temporarily
|Data/ Eco Feedbacks||CO2 scoring, visual dashboard with individual CO2, monitoring||High||[64,83,86,96,100,101,109,111,112,113,114,115,116]|
|Social Feedbacks||Comparing own CO2 emission with others||High||[86,101,111,112,113,114,115,116]|
|Gamified Feedbacks||Eco Island Game||High||[117,118]|
|Frictional Feedbacks||Pleasurable Troublemakers||High|||
|OTHERS||Information materials||Posters, flyers including recommendations on energy saving||Low: Information only without interaction and user integration||[84,86,87,97,98,99,100,101,102,103,104,105,108,112,114,115,119]|
|Qualification and educational activities||Workshops, seminars||High–Medium||[84,87,96,99,100,102,104,112,115],|
|Scenario 1||No reduction in temperature. The room temperature is kept at a constant level of 21°C.|
|Scenario 2||A temperature of 21°C is maintained during working hours. Outside working hours and at weekends, the temperature is reduced to 17°C.|
|Scenario 3||The temperature is reduced to 20°C during and 18°C outside working hours|
|Scenario 1||Scenario 2||Scenario 3|
|21 °C (WH)||21 °C (NWH)||21 °C (WH)||17 °C (NWH)||20 °C (WH)||18 °C (NWH)|
(N = 3 offices)
(N = 5 offices)
(N = 4 offices)
(N = 12 offices)
|Colour||Pulse and Sound Signal||Meaning||CO2 Concentration|
(Approx. in ppm)
|Slow (45 s/pulse)|
|Air quality is very good—no need for action.||750–1000 ppm|
|Medium (35 s/pulse)|
|Air quality is good—no need for action.||1000–1200 ppm|
|Fast (27 s/pulse)|
|Air quality is decreasing—still no need for action.||1200–1450 ppm|
|Very fast (16 s/pulse)|
|Air quality is bad—please open the window.||>1450 ppm|
|Very slow (60 s/pulse)|
|Air quality is good now, the room starts to cool down—please close your window.||<750 ppm|
|Interaction with Piaf|
(Collected Data Based on Piaf Sensors)
|No Interaction with Piaf|
(Collected Data Based on Extech Sensors)
|Heating period||December 2018–April 2019||February 2018–May 2018|
|Offices in Building A|
Passive house standard
|Offices in Building B|
Old building (renovated)
|Offices in Building C|
Old building (not renovated)
|Buildings||Much Too Cold||Too Cold||Just Right||Too Warm||Much Too Warm||Total Voting|
|Building B||-||6%||73%||21%||-||N = 896|
|Building C||>0.1%||4%||87%||9%||-||N = 962|
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Share and Cite
Baedeker, C.; Piwowar, J.; Themann, P.; Grinewitschus, V.; Krisemendt, B.; Lepper, K.; Zimmer, C.; von Geibler, J. Interactive Design to Encourage Energy Efficiency in Offices: Developing and Testing a User-Centered Building Management System Based on a Living Lab Approach. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6956. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12176956
Baedeker C, Piwowar J, Themann P, Grinewitschus V, Krisemendt B, Lepper K, Zimmer C, von Geibler J. Interactive Design to Encourage Energy Efficiency in Offices: Developing and Testing a User-Centered Building Management System Based on a Living Lab Approach. Sustainability. 2020; 12(17):6956. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12176956Chicago/Turabian Style
Baedeker, Carolin, Julius Piwowar, Philipp Themann, Viktor Grinewitschus, Benjamin Krisemendt, Katja Lepper, Christina Zimmer, and Justus von Geibler. 2020. "Interactive Design to Encourage Energy Efficiency in Offices: Developing and Testing a User-Centered Building Management System Based on a Living Lab Approach" Sustainability 12, no. 17: 6956. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12176956