Design Inspirations

Through insights from sensory ethnography and innovative design research methods, we invite designers to think about the everyday through categories of flow, movement, making and improvisation. We propose these might be used to understand what ordinary people do as they live out their lives.

We know that helping people to make changes in their everyday lives is not the sole solution to the problem of energy demand – many other changes also need to happen to enable us to reach various different national targets for reducing demand.  Such as changing energy infrastructures, and new building materials, methods and designs. Moreover the ways in which these are configured will vary in different places. Therefore we cannot claim that our method offers any whole solution. However it is a part of the process, and the insights from our work also help us to understand how ethnographers, engineers and designers can participate in the process of co-designing everyday life environments, technologies and activities that help people to consume less energy.

Categories for Co-Design

On this page are examples of three of the key categories that emerged from our ethnography.

The next stage is for designers, engineers and ethnographers to collaboratively work through the implications of these categories, through co-design workshops and design research to create prototypes for everyday interventions.

Everyday Improvisation

From existing research we knew that people always make up their own ways of doing things, that their everyday life activities tend to be idiosyncratic, and they can also be inconsistent.

Improvisation was part of this, participants invented their own ways of dealing with small, and bigger challenges related to the use of technologies and energy in their homes. This might mean introducing new technologies or systems of doing things, or it might mean using existing technologies in unintended ways.

Intervention implications

We know that people improvise and that they are inconsistent in the ways they approach energy-saving in their homes. How can we help them harness these improvisory tendencies to reduce energy demand? And how can inconsistency be better recognized as a feature of everyday living that design can accommodate.


Making the home ‘feel right’

We were interested in how participants in our research made and experienced the sensory aesthetics of their homes. In our project we conceptualized this as the process of making the home ‘feel right’.

We understood this as an ongoing activity, and a process that does not have an end. It is not perhaps ever achieved in any absolute sense. We found that our participants were ongoingly using the resources around and associated with their homes to create a particular environment of home. By studying how people make their homes ‘feel right’ then we can learn how they need to use energy to do this, and therefore this helps us to know what constitutes energy demand.

Intervention implications

There are 2 related design implications:


One of the first things we asked our participants to do was to show us what they felt they needed to do to make their homes ‘feel right’. Four core themes are relevant here:


Movement through the home

As part of our research design we asked how people move around in their homes, with a particular focus on movement at key transition moments in their daily routines.

Morning and bedtime routines were of particular interest to us and by following people as they showed us these routines we were able to learn about how different fundamental everyday activities were interwoven in these routines as they were played out. Therefore we learned for example that while studying those activities that use energy – like using digital media, using the washing machine, or showering – separately would tell us certain things about the meanings of those activities, by looking at how they fitted together as part of a routine of moving through the home we learned a lot more.

See Pink 2012,  Pink and Hjorth 2012, and Hjorth and Pink 2014.

Movement is a central concept in much of social theory about everyday life and therefore we were keen to be able to catch and engage with our participants as the moved around their homes. We had a hunch that what people did when they moved around their homes, in familiar routines, while doing habitual everyday activities and tasks would offer us interesting insights into how and where energy was consumed.

Of course people also sit still when consuming energy, but we believe that more attention needs to be paid to the ways in which people are mobile when at home, particularly in a context where locative and mobile media and the digital environments of home are very interwoven with everyday life.

When we visited some participant’s homes Sarah and Kerstin tended to spend quite a lot of time standing around with them talking. It was nearly winter during this part of our research and often by the time we left their homes we felt quite cold. We started to wonder why this might be. We came to the conclusion that perhaps it was because our participants didn’t need to heat their homes during the days when they were at home doing tasks, because in fact, given their descriptions of their activities they did not tend to spend their mornings at home sitting or standing around talking. Instead they were mobile, doing some domestic tasks, preparing breakfast, getting ready for work, showering, attending to young children. Likewise when we asked participants to reenact their morning routines for us, they tended to show us little time spend sitting around – their children would often sit to watch the TV, but our participants tended to have a series of other tasks to do in the morning, including laundry, or breakfast making.

Intervention implications

This exercise taught us that if we want to help people to use less energy when doing the laundry, or showering, for example we might need to look at the whole routine through which they do those activities, rather than those activities in isolation. This indeed helps to solve some of the problems that designers have reported when trying to design new ways of showering.