The Light Shifting Display is a low-resolution lighting display that can present real-time data through an ambient lamp. The prototype, created by Marius Hoggenmüller and Alexander Wiethoff features a discrete and continuous display mode to support a wide range of visual representations designed to explore the boundaries between data display and luminaire design.

During Marius Hoggenmüller’s time as visiting scholar of the Sydney University Design Lab (headed by Martin Tomitsch), Kickstand facilitated a collaboration between the university and green tech startup Solar Analytics. The goal of this study was to observe the behavioural effects the Light Shifting Display might have on solar owners.

Would a beautiful, ambient display, giving a solar home owner real-time data on their solar panels, affect their energy behaviours?

The plan was to take the Light Shifting Display lamp, install it in the home of customers with Solar Analytics energy monitoring and see what happens.

Before we could begin any research we first had to choose what and how we should display information through the lamp. Solar Analytics monitoring captures a lot of data around solar production, energy consumption, panel performance and more. But the lamp itself was very low resolution (17x12 LED pixels) and so the information displayed had to be simple.

We agreed it would be important for solar owners to see:

1. Solar energy production – how much energy their panels were making; and
2. Home energy consumption – how much energy their home was using.

Kickstand’s previous research at Solar Analytics had shown us that this combination of data was the most powerful in creating an awareness of how to get the best value out of solar energy.

The team gathered for a co-design workshop where we sketched, cut, pasted, coloured and presented our designs for discussion and refinement. Using a custom-made Sketching-In-Light toolkit created by Marius, we were able to see a low resolution representation of what the display would look like.

With the new designs implemented, we were ready to test. Three households were chosen and asked to keep the Light Shifting Display in their homes for one week before being interviewed about their experience. Each household included at least one family member who would be at home during the day. The results were fascinating.

The team at Solar Analytics had hypothised that the lamp would increase engagement with the Solar Analytics app, and they were correct. But interestingly, the lamp encouraged multiple members of the household to become engaged with Solar Analytics for the first time.

In fact, the family member most engaged with the Light Shifting Display tended not to be the most ‘technically savvy’, rather the highest energy consumer. In other words, the person who was at home the most and could therefore make the greatest impact on the household energy use.

When asked whether they checked their Solar Analytics dashboard more or less often, the technical user said less, because they could see what was going on. The non-technical user said:

“I checked it more, because I had never really engaged with it before, and because of this I looked at it more.”

The takeaway from this for Solar Analytics was that the person who advocates for, or even purchases the solar system for the household was not necessarily the user they should be prioritising. The person using energy in the home during solar production hours was the one who most needed and wanted live production and consumption data.

When this user was given this real-time data, the behavioural change followed swiftly after.

“I’m pretty sure we saved money just the 10 days that we’ve had it, in terms of our consumption. You know we’ve altered our usage habits based on this being here…”

All three households felt a physical display like the lamp conveyed a better real-time experience than the Solar Analytics app which they preferred for retrospective analysis and energy bill comparison.

All three households offered to buy the prototype lamp.

“This [Light Display] is so present. All I have to do is be in the kitchen and glance at it. That’s the sum total of effort that it takes for me to get an understanding of what’s going on in the household. The convenience, the attractiveness, and the ease of interpretation…”

This was a really important finding of the study and while mass production of the Light Shifting Display was not something Solar Analytics could commit to – it did help inform future marketing, dashboard notifications and onboarding material that Kickstand created for Solar Analytics.

“Kickstand supported us in all phases of our UX research process. Thanks to Amanda and Sophie, the recruitment process to find appropriate candidates for our research study was improved tremendously and saved us cost and time.

At later stages, Kickstand supported us in translating research findings into actionable product updates. The collaboration with Kickstand was a great success – also resulting in highly visible academic research outputs.”

Marius Hoggenmüller

PhD Candidate, University of Sydney