(Co-PIs UMa: Valentina Nisi, Lia Patrício, Co-PIs CMU: John Zimmerman, Shelley Evenson

Starting Date: 1 Jan. 2009, Duration: 36 months, Person * month in this task: 73


Utility providers have a unique relationship with consumers; they do not want to maximize their revenues by increasing consumption. However, consumers often find themselves interacting with utilities in the same way they interact with regular business. We see an opportunity to transform this relationship by leveraging the emerging power of social networking systems to create a landscape where consumers and utilities can engage in a process of negotiation and shared goal setting.

To investigate this opportunity for transformation, we will take a research through design approach to discover the “sweet spot” in framing the possibility of negotiation. Also we will use service design to identify touch-points between and among consumers, utility providers and other stakeholders to understand the state of the current relationship and the opportunity to transform the service model.

Expected results:

·       A service design approach – focus on utilities as a distinct type of service with new opportunities for understanding how co-production of services can be extended through social networking.

·       Design materials – such as languages and patterns that express the general lessons learnt in the work package. These will be of significant value, as they will enable much of the expertise accumulated during the project to be formalized and conveyed to others in the field.

·       Concrete designed product/service systems – emphasizing practical exploration as the mechanism for developing design expertise. The prototypes will offer a concrete framing of the relationship between utility consumers and providers as well as exemplars that allow other design teams to apply these findings to other consumer/utility relationships.

Through novel integrations of behavioral theory, ethnographic research, business modeling, service design methods and technical opportunities we will deliver:

·       3 months – development of a stakeholder design team that involves participation of members of the utilities, other relevant businesses, and consumers in a specific community, and trained interaction and service designers including professionals and students;

·       6 months – a territory map involving results from the stakeholder design team sessions, ethnographic studies including an initial design framework. A general social economic landscape of sustainability services, including envisioned business models;

·       1 year – a consolidated design framework, including a range of concepts and low fidelity prototypes of viable services that reflect both business and customer perspectives of sustainability;

·       2 years – a set of tested pilot product/service systems including improved understanding of their viability and potential in terms of adoption and enduring business potential;

·       3 years – Rollout larger scale services in the Living Lab explored in conjunction with the partner companies. Identification of additional business areas (e.g. tourism) that could explore the potential of the new product/service systems.


In the research through design approach followed in this work package, design researchers make novel things in order to make transformative products and services. This approach lays a foundation for new conventions in the form of design patterns and design languages to emerge that allow other design researchers and practitioners to more easily enter this new space and extend and advance the work.

Our research through design investigation will use the following process:

·       Exploratory – We will apply ethnographic methods to understand the current utility consumption practices in the home; the perception consumers have of the utilities; and the perception utilities have themselves, their customers, their relationship with their customers. We will investigate consumers’ and the utilities perception of sustainability and how this quality fits into their self-definition to develop a model or design framework and principles that will inform prototype development. We will also explore the business perspective through research focusing on understanding potential adoption differences related to environmental and cultural factors. This study will help to: a) develop a clear market segmentation, b) understanding the potentiality of each market, c) shape the final stage of new product/service design in relation to specific contextual/cultural/environmental expectations, d) prepare ad hoc divulgation initiatives in order to raise awareness in the entrepreneurial community;

·       Generative – Taking a participatory design approach, we will iteratively develop and refine low-fidelity prototypes designing with members of the utility and with consumers. The prototypes will systematically speculate on possible futures, creating enough sense of the potential future experience to reveal points of conflict, reducing the risk of building a complex system that consumers and/or the utilities would likely reject.

·       Evaluative – refine the design framework for viable product/service systems for sustainability. Deploy pilot services in the context of the Madeira Living Lab and conduct evaluative research to test their adoption and business viability. Rollout larger scale pilots supported by companies and through new and innovative business models.

By adopting this approach we will generate a range of sustainable product/services design solutions as well as creating new opportunities for explorations and evaluation of sustainable solutions in product/service design in the two addressed domains. The lack of shared visions of well-being makes it difficult to work towards and promote sustainable solutions embraced by users/consumers as well as private and governmental organizations. By involving multiple stakeholders, including users, researchers, designers and business interests, the adoption of this methodology leverages the position of Madeira as a European Living Lab for innovation.