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Getting feedback from my toaster

Technology

Image by Flickr user JD Hancock; used under Creative Commons Attribution licence

This morning I turned on my toaster at the wall and it flashed into life. The toast popped out, I turned it off again and its lights went out. All normal.

Then I had an epiphany about my own behaviour.

Next to the toaster is the microwave. It sits there quietly, no lights, but always on standby. I’ve never turned it off at the wall.

Why?

Because only my toaster gives me feedback.

The blinking lights are a subtle reminder that it’s using energy. I see the light, I shut it off. The microwave on the other hand stays dark and I blissfully ignore it.

Appliances aside, it’s an important point.

Feedback has a huge influence over the decisions we make.

The right feedback can help people sustain or adapt their behaviours for the better. For example, dieters who know they’re losing weight are more likely to continue, while on the flip side, patients who start feeling better often wrongly stop taking their medicine. The same principles apply to individuals and organisations. Decision-makers are often far too removed from those on the ground to know what’s best for their company. Feedback needs to be quick, informative and easy to use.

Transforming an understanding of behaviour into good design is therefore essential.

Showing information, numbers or data in a meaningful way is difficult, as energy firms are realising. The mass roll out of smart meters in homes will start in 2014, proving people with real time feedback on their energy consumption.

The design of the meters, from the casing to the user interface, will play an important part in helping people control and manage their energy use, save money and reduce emissions. Getting it right will require creative thinking and experimentation. In essence, behavioural design.

Maybe when they get it right, I’ll turn off my microwave.

Originally published at www.designcouncil.org.uk/blog

© 2015 Warwick Business School and the Design Council