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Designers Hack Together Water-Saving Device Using Flywheel, iPad, Psychology

Designers at Teague hacked together a water use monitoring system that reduced the amount of water employees used by 75 percent.

Here's another nice example of how just having data about something that's normally opaque—like water use—can prompt a positive change in behavior. As part of a campaign to raise money for water projects in the developing world, the design firm Teague set up a meter to measure water use at an office sink.

At first employees just monitored water use from their desks, and patterns of behavior didn't change. But then they rigged an iPad up to the meter to provide people with real-time information about how much water they were using right at the sink. The effects were dramatic:


[vimeo][/vimeo]

John Pavlus, writing over at Fast Company, notes a broadly applicable moral:

That's a powerful lesson for one of the most pressing issues in sustainability today: smart metering of energy use. Some companies are content to give you monthly read-outs about your energy use compared to your neighbors, hoping that this will spur you to do better. Yet other companies simply provide you with gadgets that give real-time readings of your energy usage. You can think of those two approaches as being directly analogous to the Teague experiment -- and their learnings tend to favor simple real-time data.

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Immediate feedback is clearly more powerful than retrospective information. It would be much less fun to try to maximize fuel efficiency in a hybrid car, for example, if you just got a printout at the end of the month telling you your miles per gallon, rather than a real-time dashboard display.

I also think the kind of information presented will depend a bit on the domain. With electricity use, for example, real-time feedback would certainly be more effective if it were presented in dollars and cents, rather than watts. And, because the dollar amounts are small, it might be best to show a hypothetical monthly bill, extrapolated from current usage, so that people understand the cumulative effects.

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