UX · PRODUCT — 2018


16 weeks


Research, Educational Integration, Concept Development, and Product Design


Mary Tsai, Jesse Wilson, Adrian Galvin



Teaching sustainable behaviors in the home


The Orion system is an in-home IoT device that monitors 4 utilities (energy, gas, water, and air quality) and relates those utilities to local sources to promote sustainable behavior change. In addition, it matches users to environmental organizations based on the user engagement patterns.  



The project brief focused on exploring at how artificial intelligence can be utilized to support learning. We decided to focus on volunteering and environmental advocacy as our topic of investigation developing the following question:

How might we teach people to comprehend the environmental impact of their daily home behavior and foster lasting behavior change to improve human sustainability?


Research + Process


Throughout the project, we spoke with our target user group, employees and volunteers from environmental organizations, and academic experts in the fields of social sciences.

Expanding a person’s frame of reference for where their responsibility begins and ends.
— Academic expert in sustainability and design


  1. How can citizens develop a personal connection to environmental issues?

  2. What is the level of environmental awareness citizens have on a daily basis?

  3. How might volunteers gain confidence and empowerment through the act of advocacy?

  4. How might AI improve communication between volunteers and advocacy groups?

It’s good to help those outside my community but there is additional value to providing for family and friends.
— Survey participant 30

Workshop Design + Facilitation

I took the lead on developing the workshop activities and facilitation during the workshop. We designed a series of activities that built upon one another to gain an understanding of the life events and viewpoints that people believed have strong influences on people’s perspectives of environmental advocacy.

  1. Personas: Develop two personas (cares about the environment/ indifferent about the environment) that identified the life experiences and current goals that influences this person’s current views on the environment.

  2. Timeline (Part 1): Map out the life journey of each persona focusing on the events that influenced their current views on volunteering and environmental advocacy.

  3. Magic Device: Design a “magic device” that would make connecting to environmental issues easier for the personas they developed.

  4. Timeline (Part 2): Adjust the original timeline based on how the "magic device" changes the perspectives, actions, and futures of the two personas.


Based on all the research we performed, we developed key insights which informed our design principles that we used during the concept development phase.


Key Insights


People feel that their contribution does not make a difference because they cannot see visible concrete results.


People are aware of environmental issues but do not actively engage in environmental talk or actions if it does not actively impact and improve their day-to-day routine.


There is a push and pull between focusing on personal values (e.g. family and friends) and advocacy values (e.g supporting causes).


People take action when they become invested in a narrative or future vision.


Volunteer commitment and scheduling are key breakdown points.


Design Principles


Our design should focus on small scale, daily life activities.


Our design should make the impact visible.


Our design should utilize awareness as an empowering catalyst for behavior change.


Our design should connect personal values to a larger environmental context.


Our design should be flexible and allow for personalization based on the user's daily routine.


Our design should motivate the user but through personalized means.


Concept Development

We developed 3 concepts directions to explore and speed date with users. We performed product development, developed personas, and performed a mental models sketching exercise to develop our visualizations.

Concept 1: Invisible to Visible:  Waste and consumption are visualized by an in-home device

Concept 1: Invisible to Visible: Waste and consumption are visualized by an in-home device

Concept 2: Immersive Experience:  This system shows a user what their environment might look like if different choices are made

Concept 2: Immersive Experience: This system shows a user what their environment might look like if different choices are made

Concept 3: AI Home Agent:  A contextually aware AI agent that engages the user in conversation during their daily routines and practices

Concept 3: AI Home Agent: A contextually aware AI agent that engages the user in conversation during their daily routines and practices


As we refined our concept, we tested various possible features looking at the degree of integration within the home, level and frequency of interactivity, and balance between voice, visual and touch interactions.


The Orion System

Orion moves the user through a sequence that is personalized based on the interaction patterns that occur between Orion and the user.


Orion learns about the user by monitoring their behaviors patterns around 4 utilities (energy, air quality, gas, water).


Orion provides information and suggestions to maintain an efficient home based on the user’s desired goals and behavior patterns.


Orion begins to relate the user's utilities to their sources (e.g water to the water source) to promote a connection between the user and their surrounding environment.


Based on the user's engagement, Orion connects the user to environmental organizations that they may be interested in.

Orion uses multiple levels of engagement to provide the user with information and promote behavior change. These include ambient visualizations, projected visualizations, and auditory interactions, as well as a variety of motivator tactics including light, sound, and movement. 

orion system.png

Ambient & Projected Visualizations

Ambient visualizations provides the user with an overall sense of how their utilities are performing in realtime. We used visual metaphors to represent the utilities, which provides a mental model for the user as well as an intriguing element to help motivate the user to interact with Orion.

Projected visualizations provides the user with detailed information about each individual utility. They are able to see information about their usage patterns and goal progress on a daily, monthly or yearly time frame. They can access information about the sources of the utilities and information about the recommended environmental organizations.


Incorporating Learning + Motivation

I took the lead on structuring the learning component and developing frameworks based on research about different learning theories.

We developed a framework that focused on identifying goalposts that Orion would move the user through. Each of the 5 goalposts are separate nodules that build on one another. Based on the user’s goals, Orion will adjust the speed and movement through these goalposts.

We developed a motivation framework that uses multiple tactics to engage the user. Based on spontaneity, Orion uses a set of motivators to engage the user when they are exhibiting low engagement based on a motivation profile. This profile is periodically reevaluated over time to continuously make profile adjustments. Orion uses topics of interest (ex. money, health) to motivate them to exhibit changes in their behavior. 

Learning goalposts.png

Orion App

The Orion app allows the user to remotely access realtime utility data providing the flexibility to keep track of information while on the go. The user is able to see an overview of past and current goals + success rates, create new goals, and customize notifications and privacy preferences.


Future Considerations

This project is an exercise in experiencing deep investigation and research and how it informs the design of a solution. With my interest in design research, I found the experience of structuring research plans and facilitating research methods very fulfilling and a great learning experience.

For next steps, because we are dealing with behavior change, we need to user test over longer periods of time. In addition, we would like to explore the volunteer organization portal and how it would function and connect with Orion more in-depth.