I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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May 04, 2009

Going Green and UI Design: The Parable of the Prius

This year I was a judge in the MITX Technology Awards Competition, in the Business Intelligence and Devices categories, along with Charles Berman (SVP at Fidelity) and James LiVigni (VP Sales at Kronos).  The devices category had a number of green tech entrants.  As we opened our discussion, Charles shared  an observation that struck me as pretty profound.

"I've been driving a Prius for a while," he told us.  "It dawned on me that it represented a pretty interesting experiment in psychology. I mean, the interior's just ok and the performance is only one step up from a Yugo.  So why are people so rabid about it?  Sure, there's the green angle generally.  But my personal experience has been that it's about the mpg meter.  The Prius has this gauge that goes from zero to a hundred mpgs. It becomes a game to see if you can keep the average above your target -- mine's 50.  You get this constant feedback.  It becomes the focal point for how you drive.  You get hooked, not just rationally, but biochemically."

His broader point of course was to suggest that we should consider the degree to which the entrants in the category had addressed the need for behavior modification in the design of their solutions.  It isn't enough to provide reports on energy savings.  You have to put this information in very visible places, integrate targets, and make a game of it if you want people to change their ways.  If we want kids to remember to turn off the lights, why are the electric meters only outdoors?

Take it one step further, whether in business or consumer applications:  BTUs are really BTU$.  Why not displays that integrate actual versus target usage with energy prices updated wirelessly?  Then, in any given period where actual usage is below target usage, pay the relevant users a 10% (for example) "commission" on the savings?  Or, take it two steps further.  Network the measurement devices, and provide competitive feedback as part of a new MMPG: instead of green monsters "World Of WarCraft", create green heros in "Globe of GreenCraft".  Three steps beyond: track relative usage across the network, and target users with usage tips and ads for relevant products and services (reminds me of the Binge-o-Matic). Four steps beyond: create town-level teams, and enroll your neighbors in friendly competitions?  (No cheating by turning the local park's trees into firewood.)

So how does your application re-wire the user's brain in addictive ways?

Postscript May 11, 2009: AKQA wins One Show Interactive for Fiat ecoDrive.  Nice, but somewhat derivative?


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