Art that motivates people to change

Data tracking tends to be expressed through numbers and graphs, which can be hard to relate to. While people are not necessarily motivated by numbers in the long run, art can move us to think and act differently. For this reason, Victoria Hammel and Gunes Kantaroglu from the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) developed smART, an interactive art piece that presents our energy use at home in a new way and creates a more captive audience than graphs or charts would.

It’s never been more important to keep track of the amount of resources that we use. 40 percent of CO2 emissions come from heating, cooling and powering buildings, meaning that we all have a role to play in tackling climate change. But while consumers are starting to wake up to the need to live more sustainably, keeping track of our resource use at home is difficult. We have the data; the real problem, however, is how we can harness it to make people modify their behaviour.

Victoria Hammel and Gunes Kantaroglu set out to find a way to motivate people to use less heat and water at home. After interviewing homeowners and smart home experts, they decided that data about a home’s resource consumption needed to become more meaningful and intuitive.

Victoria Hammel and Gunes Kantaroglu set out to find a way to motivate people to use less heat and water at home. After interviewing homeowners and smart home experts, they decided that data about a home’s resource consumption needed to become more meaningful and intuitive.

“We envision that the home will be a place where people try to be less wasteful as the world's natural resources become more strained. So we need solutions for presenting big data in an understandable way that is neither intrusive, nor creates cognitive overload”, says Hammel. 

40 percent of CO2 emissions come from heating, cooling and powering buildings.

Their resulting product is smART, an artwork that changes according to the user’s use of water and heat. If the user doesn’t hit targets for keeping down their resource use, the colours drain from the artwork. “The current apps that are available for tracking our energy consumption tend to be number and graph based,” Hammel explains.

“This gives a really complex overview that is hard to interpret and relate to. People are not necessarily motivated by numbers in the long-term.” Kantaroglu adds: “We are much more likely to be motivated by something that moves and changes because we ascribe life to it – you want to take care of it, like a plant or a pet.”

smART is a very different type of interface to those ordinarily found in modern homes. In the prototype created for it, the front layer is a beautiful abstract pattern that is interchangeable, and can be created by different designers to suit different tastes. The front layer partially obscures the colourful layer behind it. Heat and water use are represented in this back layer as red and blue, which can easily be decoded by all members of the family. Together they form a dynamic artwork that can also serve as a conversation starter when guests visit.

We are much more likely to be motivated by something that moves and changes because we ascribe life to it – you want to take care of it, like a plant or a pet

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