Ash at CIID

Ashwin Rajan's blog while at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability

Ecopup – Final Concept for Intel

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Our industry project for Intel resulted in a video scenario for a service concept we called Ecopup. Since our target user was a young, upwardly mobile professional living in a big Asian city, we decided to situate the scenario around the typical lifestyle of such a user.

The service was visualized as being something that would be accessible through any standard Corporate Benefits program. It would use a combination of online communications, personal messaging, social networking, and location-aware technologies to prompt shifts in the lifestyle of the user towards more sustainable practices and choices. If the individual made such choices, he or she would be offered incentives, all of which would feed back into a reward system. The points earned in this manner would be held by the individual as a kind of currency or capital, which could then be exchanged, traded or used for other sustainable activities.

This video makes a demonstration of how one scenario for Ecopup might work.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

June 6, 2009 at 11:54 am

Provocations: Making Sustainable Practices A Currency

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Based on user feedback on the Elevator Buzz concept for Intel, my team quickly realized that systemic solutions designed to generate and sustain conversations around sustainable practices had viability. Then our next concern became the issue that some users had raised around ‘incentive’ – “I think this is a good thing to part of, but whats in it for me?” This got us interested in alternative currencies – can sustainable choices made by individuals translate into a currency with the possibility for real world use?

As an impromptu exercise for provoking new perspectives when exploring this area, here are some word clouds I generated on Wordle. I used the Wikipedia Community Currencies page and the Kashklash project home page to find make three different wordles. Interestingly, they had different characteristics as seen below.

Wordle of five random articles from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

Wordle of five random articles from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

When five random articles from Wikipedia’s ‘Community Currencies’ pages were wordled together, the word ‘currency’ obviously stood out, with ‘eco-money’ making a surprise leap into the forefront.

Wordle of almost all pages together from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

Wordle of almost all pages together from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

But when almost all the articles from Wikipedia’s ‘Community Currencies’ pages were wordled together, ‘local’  was the clear winner, with ‘economic’, ‘services’ and ‘people’ starting to become prominent as well.

Wordle of text from's home page. Made with

Wordle of text from's home page. Made with

Finally, when the text from’s home page was wordled, the prominent words were even more interesting: ‘sharing’, ‘communities’, ‘people’, ‘future’.

Driven by exercises like these and others, my team began to explore the question about whether communities of practice could be built around sustainability, which could also exchange any ‘wealth’ generated between the individuals in the community.

‘Elevator Buzz’ Concept for Intel

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Here’s the presentation for the Elevator Buzz concept that my team worked on for the Intel-CIID industry project. The storyline for the scenario is as follows: three office goers step into the office elevator, as as they arrive at differnt floors on their way up, a visualization inside the elevtor shows the energy efficiency of the floor. The performance of the floor is reflected in the expression of the person who works there, ranging from embarrassment to elation. At the end of the piece, the worker on a floor with low energy efficiency makes a small behavioral change (switches off the light in an unused office space) for the better.

The panels were then drawn up in a neater, crisper scanario to use as context-setting probes for acquiring later user feedback on the concept. The reactions and feedback gathered from users were used to define next steps, setting the agenda for the overall design direction of the project.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 17, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Ezio Manzini on The New Design – 危机: crisis (危: danger; “机: chance)

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Leading design thinker Ezio Manzini spoke at CIID on the theme ‘Next Design – Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability’ in March this year. This is a snippet of his talk from the Service Design Synposium held in Copenhagen in 2008.

I found his views so interesting that I’ve added a full description of his March 2009 talk from the CIID website here, for the benefit of readers as well as my own future reference.

Ezio Manzini is a designer, engineer, architect, educator and author – he is one of the most important thinkers in design today.

危机: crisis (危: danger; “机: chance). In Chinese, as in several other languages, the term “crisis” has the double meaning of “danger and “chance”. Without doubt, we can say that today we are facing a worldwide, deep crisis. Many people are talking about the risks. But it is necessary and timely to talk about opportunities too. This is particularly true if we want to discuss the present and future role of design: by its nature, design has to consider opportunities and to become their active promoter.

However, facing the present crisis, to play this role, design itself must change. A change that could happen if the design community takes at least the following three steps:

  • To adopt an adequate economic model (the emerging idea of social economy)
  • To extend the definition of design (the central role of service design)
  • To generate a new design knowledge (visions, proposals and collaborative tools).

Manzini will present these three steps and introduce the concepts of next economy and next design.

The next economy is, mainly, a service-oriented, social economy. It “produces” services, knowledge and networks of meaningful interactions. Its main fields of action are the ecological re-orientation of the production system, the social production of a new generation of services, and regional eco-development programs: a cluster of activities that, considered as a whole, will be “the industry of the XXI century”.

The next design is, mainly, a design for social innovations and sustainability. It adopts design skills and capabilities to co-create original solutions for the next economy. That is, for the emerging social economy. It refers to socio-technical systems innovation, adopts a service-oriented approach and conceives and develops visions and solutions endowed with sustainable qualities.

Today design for social innovations is still at its early phase. But, around us, in all the region of the contemporary globalised world, the possibility to develop it moves in parallel with the growing wave of social innovation. To link design with social innovation is the main opportunity that we have to give design the role it could play in the transition towards the next economy. That is, also, towards a viable sustainable society.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Brainstorming Based On Insights From Interviews – Intel

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Continuing notes on the Intel-CIID industry project. The following are some of the user quotes from feedback obtained via remote online interviews, on the issue of sustainability by energy efficiency practices.

  • “Long term costs of managing residences …. now seem to equal or out-weight cost of acquisition”
  • “I think it (energy efficiency) is a good concept for the future. But, wondering how this issue effects my current life… ”
  • “We need to get used to ‘self-sufficiency.”
  • “A thinking generation could make this (sustainable energy efficiency) work.”
  • “Costs for water, public lighting, lifts (elevators), and washing clothes can be shared among (residential) communities.”
Concepts from brainstroming

Concepts from brainstroming

At this point, we had spent a few continuous days in near proximity of users, hearing them out. So we thought it was a good point to zoom out a bit and identify dominant patterns in the thinking of our users. The idea behind this was to move away from the exact thoughts as verbalized by users, and carry those concerns forward to ‘open up’ the domain of opportunity for design.


To do this, the team used the quotes and resulting insights collected as inspiration for a series of  brainstorming sessions. The sessions were driven and managed by CIID and Intel faculty Vinay Venkatraman and Jay Melican, and consisted of a series of exercises with different goals. Switching to a ‘studio’ mindset, members from across the project class circulated between teams and helped put up ideas on walls by the dozen (and this is such an effective way of capturing the skills and perspectives of members across the studio). We were looking for associations, hidden meanings, metaphors, anything – however literal, visual, conceptual or semantic – that would help us move from the realm of concrete concerns into the domain of inspired insight. Here are some images from the brainstorming sessions.


Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

Remote user research – Intel industry project

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Here are further notes on generating insights from user research to inspire design concepts for the CIID-Intel industry project titled ‘The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change’. Doing background research on the concept of the smart grid, my teammate Mimi and I found ourselves in an fascinating conversation about how urban residents in our native countries South Korea and India seemed to perceive the idea of sustainable and energy efficient housing. We thought this was a very interesting target audience to explore further and design for.

Given a very short period of time (less than a week) to conduct user research to inspire us in our solutions, we decided to conduct online interviews with people we could reach in South Korea and India. The exercise was simple: address the issue of energy efficiency in urban residential apartment complexes and try to understand how aware people were of the concern, how they associated it with in their daily lives, and if they actually participated in making any sustainable energy choices.

In order to set the context, we used simple videos available from publicly available content online. The subjects were asked to watch a video (like the one shown below, made by one of my favorite design firms Xplane) and then take an open, informal online interview on Skype. Using an online tool like Skype helped tremendously as it was easy to work in multiple modes, exchanging links or references and text, while also speaking freely at length.

After setting the context for sustainability in general and energy efficiency in particular, we were able to dive in further with specific questions like:

  • Do you know the concept of a ‘green building’ or ‘sustainable construction’ ?
  • Do you know anyone who owns or lives in a ‘sustainable’ home or construction?
  • What are the points that are most energy-intensive in your apartment block or society?
  • What are the points that are least energy-intensive in your apartment block or society?
  • Are there energy costs that you think you can share with your fellow apartment or society residents?
  • How much do you think you can save on energy by changing the design of your apartment and the materials in it?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you think consume the most power?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you consider most dispensable?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you consider least dispensable?

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 10:25 am

Sustainlane’s Greenest US Cities

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Treehugger has this comprehensive piece on Sustainlane’s (a “people powered sustainability guide”) list of the greenest US cities for 2008. Portland tops, and a lot of action underfoot elsewhere as well.

Map of Portland’s performance on several green parameters. From

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 10:05 am