This is my master thesis, officially named as “Internet of Things for Circular Economy, design of a Pay-per-Use smart PSSs eco-system”. It was a 6th months project developed all by myself for HOMIE BV, a Circular Economy minded start-up located in Delft. HOMIE offers washing machines on a pay-per-use model in which users are charged according to the program used. This is enable by a built-in tracker in the washing machine that is connected to HOMIE’s database and sends data each time the machine is used. Therefore, creating a connected product
The project was divided in two main phases: research and design. The research part focused in exploring the relation between Circular Economy and Internet of Things, more specifically the potential collaborations between these two topics in the framework of products as services, which are considered a strategy for extending product life.
The design phase, on the other hand, used HOMIE washing machines service as a case of study, in which a human centered design approach and an iterative approach were considered to define the most suitable features for the smart service. Different tools where used during the design process, from customer journey and user research to creative sessions and prototyping.
Current linear economy or “take, make and dispose” model is high resource-intensive and thus unsustainable in long term. Circular Economy is an alternative to this model. It proposes that resources input and waste can be minimized by slowing, closing and narrowing material loops, what can be achieved by long lasting design, maintenance, repair and reuse among others. Internet of Things can support Circular Economy in its goal of decoupling economic development from finite resources consumption, but how to do it is the problem to solve by design in this project. The following statement briefs that problem:
To explore how product connectivity on a Pay-Per-Use model can support Circular Economy. Based on that, shape the interaction design of HOMIE’s washing machine service to ensure a consistent User Experience (UX) with their value proposition.
Approach and process overview
The project was developed by a double diamond design process with a human centered and iterative approach, all known as fundamental for design thinking. This way it was possible to evaluate what capabilities and characteristics of a Smart PSSs were strategic and relevant for both the user and the environment.
The first diamond corresponded to the literature research, benchmarking, company analysis and user research. The insights obtained were narrowed down to a design brief with a specific direction to focus upon. This direction is detailed in a customer journey as three points of intervention in HOMIE current service and a specific target group.
The second diamond, that corresponded to the case of study design, starts with the ideation process. Multiple potential solutions are developed with a creative session and personal ideation that are transformed in idea cards. These are afterwards clustered to find four design directions. These directions are evaluated with a theoretical framework and an expert interview to finally select the most appropriate, which is developed through and iterative approach that included the definition of the smart eco-system components as well as their features. Wireframing, paper prototyping and user testing were also used to iterate the design.
By compiling the insights obtained in the literature research, benchmarking, company analysis and more importantly the user research and customer journey, a clear design goal is defined:
The final design is a Smart PSSs eco-system of 3 components: webpage, washing machine interface and app, the concept is presented through an eco-system map, a touchpoint matrix and the embodiment of the UI design.
Each component is a service touchpoint that responds to the three opportunities identified in the customer journey . The webpage intervenes the service steps exploration and contact, the washing machine the use phase when doing the laundry and the app the use phase during the follow up.
Due to HOMIE goal of circularity and sustainability, the service must balance users’ needs with environmental goals to achieve a true impact in users’ behavior. So, each eco-system component has a specific goal in terms of sustainability and fulfill users’ needs in each step of the service experience. Accordingly, each one is equipped with different features as shown in the ecosystem map, as follows:
User Interfaces are designed to be consistent yet pragmatic all over the service. The visual design has been carefully selected to convey trustworthiness and positiveness. The blue color and the use of gradients has the intention of representing a mix between water and sustainability in a clean and stylish layout, what was proven successful during the user test.
Since all the eco-system components have different or complementary features, a touchpoint matrix was developed to depict the expected interactions in multiple scenarios of use. Thus, it becomes apparent which features will be used in which activities.
For example, a first-time use will start with the setup of a multiple users account in the app or washing machine. The cycle will be selected in the resource-efficient cycle menu, which works as a steering strategy. In this navigation flow, users receive feedback on water and energy consumption, load and eco-index. And finally, they will have notifications when the cycle starts and when it finishes.
Methods and tools
If you feel like checking in more detail which design methods and tools were used for the project, here you go! Because design is not only about the result but about the process
A benchmarking was used as both research and inspiration tool, it defined the state of the art of connected products at home and Circular PSS, and how are those making use of connectivity to drive sustainable behavior change, it also helped to identify challenges and opportunities in the products User Experience.
Washing machines, energy monitors and circular PSSs were analyzed. The analysis started with understanding the product features and service steps, the latter was depicted through customer journey mapping, afterwards both IoT capabilities and sustainable behavior strategies were analyzed through frameworks retrieved from literature, and finally the User Experience through was analyzed based on users’ self-reports online
Multiple opportunities in terms of features and experience were found, as well as potential withdrawals of product connectivity. For example, in washing machines users appreciate to have a remote control as well as notifications but those do not work properly if the machine lacks connectivity, what is a common issue.
The customer journeys were depicted in “real time board”, check them here.
To be able to evaluate certain aspects of the design concepts in a trustable and accurate way, theoretical frameworks were used. These were retrieved from the literature research as theories and/or concepts classification that explain certain field or phenomena. For IoT the framework was related with its capabilities and for sustainable behavior was related with its design strategies.
Smart products have a special relation with sustainable behavior strategies, since connectivity enable in great extent the design of features and interactions for fostering sustainable practices. This relation is presented in a designed framework that join the above-mentioned ones, it presents on the left, the IoT capabilities and, on the top, the main groups of sustainable behavior strategies.
This framework is used in the company analysis in order to identify spaces where connectivity can be used to enhance current sustainable design interventions and for the concepts evaluation.
This mapping provides a holistic overview of all the service process by considering both service provider a user perspective. The journey details the service main stages and steps per stage. These steps are shortly described afterwards by detailing customer actions. Eleven touchpoints were identified, including both physical and digital, which are highlighted according to their use in each stage. Its goal is to gain understanding of the service and provide a communication tool with the company while detailing their touchpoints and sustainable design interventions through time.
Afterwards this map is iterated to a customer journey with a more human centered approach.
The user research aimed to generate insights about user needs and behavior when doing the laundry as well as about HOMIE service perception. It had two main information inputs, data collected by HOMIE during the service and an extended user qualitative research. These sources were thoroughly analyzed by a simple statistical and grounded analysis correspondingly to retrieve insights that answer the stated research questions.
The generated insights are afterwards used to define the design brief, more specifically to provide a human centered approach to the problem and goal definition.
The research questions were structured by considering the laundry process, it means: sorting, filling, selecting the cycle and dosing detergent, so the research did not only focus in the interaction with the washing machine itself, but tried to provide an holistic overview of all the experience of doing the laundry.
• Which patterns can be found in the users’ washing behavior?
• What are the users’ main concerns and needs when doing the laundry? Which are more important?
• How do users sort, select the cycle, choose temperature and pour detergent?
• Which habits and knowledge drive this process?
The received data from HOMIE included: 294 washes (Temperature, program, users, time, date) for 19 users during April. Since the data is only one month, it can represent use patterns assuming that washing behavior is steady throughout time. Time series are not considered in the analysis. Quantitative data was analyzed through a simple statistical test. It was grouped and visualized through dynamic tables in Microsoft Excel.
Multiple behavior pattern in terms of habits, and program and temperature selection were found. For example, that 75 % of households use 3 or less type or programs what means that the 10 left programs are almost never used. Also, it was noticed that40° is the preferred temperature with 39% of the washes and from those 92% are done in cotton programs, and that eco-mode is only used for 18% the washes.
The data was collected through semi-structured interviews due to its flexibility. Six users that fitted the users profile were interviewed for around 40 minutes. The questions were structured to systematically explore all the laundry steps while avoiding priming the participants. Props were provided to boost participants natural behavior and promote reflection without being in the laundry-home context, these were small pieces of clothes to sort out and select the cycle, and the current HOMIE washing machine interface. Besides card sorting was used to identify the most relevant concerns.
An analysis was performed to find patterns and insights. First, quotes and general data were clustered according to the laundry step, potential concerns, feedback and interaction channels. One color was assigned per user. Afterwards, information was synthesized and re-clustered according to found patterns.
Different insights resulted from this process. For example, regarding users concerns, clothes condition and cleanness are the most important factors, these completely overrule any other factor, including consumption.
“I concern more about my clothes, even if I feel guilty for doing a wash for only 3 items”
When sorting, users mix and match different factors, as color, temperature and material. Color is classified in color, dark and white, sometimes including delicates as well.
“I choose 60 because it makes me feel safer, for towels and underwear specially”
Users do not know how much detergent to poor, intuition is the most common method
“I have absolutely no idea on how much detergent to pour, I usually use one cup”
There is a general lack of knowledge about the difference between different programs, how is water, energy, time and temperature regulated, and how that impacts clothes. This lack of knowledge about the most suitable (efficient) program settings in relation with the type of clothes lead to doubts when selecting the cycle. The machine does not guide or inform users in that matter, so the program selection process is seen as troublesome.
“Nobody knows the difference between different programs, is like a black box you select the preset and that is it”
For establishing design opportunities for a better UX and sustainability boosting, a customer journey was developed. This is divided in two main parts, user experience and business opportunities since the goal is to balance both.
Three opportunities are found that are relevant for HOMIE and could benefit from UX improvements along with the use of connectivity. First, users typically experience uncertainty when trying new services, it means the awareness step could benefit from clearly showing their value proposition.
Second, when interacting with the washing machine users lack knowledge about programs, then experiencing hesitation when selecting the cycle. Third, consumption reported in the users’ web portal and in the monthly feedback is fragmented on different platforms, therefore lacking brand consistency and restricting users’ consultation.
With the clear overview of the customer journey along with the potential steps of intervention the design goal is defined.
The session was carried out with 6 design students. First, an introduction of the project and design brief was done, followed by a personal reflection about laundry experience to encourage empathy. Next, in groups of three, participants were invited to state what they consider are the user’s physical and emotional needs when doing the laundry. Afterwards, a brainstorming session was guided through a “How to” exercise.
With the ideas collected from the creative session plus a personal ideation, idea cards were developed. These were clustered to identify potential ideas that together could lead towards a certain direction. This process gave as a result three concept-directions and multiple complementary features that if available in the webpage would increase users’ willingness to adopt the service.
To evaluate how each concept fulfilled the design goal three main aspects were taken into account. First, whether or not and how the concept responds to the user needs identified during the user research. Second, how are IoT and sustainable behavior considered in the design. And finally, an expert evaluation carried out by HOMIE’s CEO.
Ecosystem components and features
When considering the service steps, the three defined touchpoints (i.e. webpage, washing machine and app) become relevant in different steps of the journey. The webpage constitutes the main touchpoint with the service offer as well as the main contact channel for new users, the washing machine is the use phase principal interaction channel and the app complements the use phase with monitoring and enhance reflection through feedback. Consequently, since each component is used in different steps and time, their purpose in terms of interaction are expected to differ as well. It is important to notice, however, that consistency should be achieved throughout all the components. With this in mind a definition of each component goal into the experience and its corresponding features was developed.
Wireframing and paper prototyping
Wireframes per touchpoint were developed to translate the defined features in the User Interface (UI). Different menus and navigations were proposed per each interface as well as content displayed and icons. This were evaluated with HOMIE’s CEO,. This process gave as a result a preferred menu and navigation per interface, as well as the most relevant content and early detected usability problems as counterintuitive navigation, small fonts and missing information.
To evaluate the connected ecosystem interfaces in terms of both User Experience and usability a user test was performed. Due to the cross-devices experience in different steps of the customer journey, a prioritization of the functions to prototype was done to define which features were more relevant to test according to the device. The interface screens were built in Adobe Illustrator and animated in Invision.
Similarly to the User Research the test was guided with a semi-structured interview, users were also asked to perform certain tasks or explore the device features in the prototype One-to-ten scales were used to quantify certain aspects of the interfaces and to enable information triangulation. These were complemented with System Usability Scales (SUS), a standard method to evaluate systems usability, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) to identify user’s overall satisfaction with the service.
The quantitative information collected during the test was tabulated in Excel and visualized in Box Plots to depict the data distribution, the central value and potential outliers. The overall experience is positive as the SUS and NPS values indicate. The SUS above 68 points means that users have experience a good usable system. This is confirmed by their high likelihood of recommending the service.
Additionally. based on users’ performance, a qualitative analysis was executed. First, all insights were located in the relevant interface screen. Next, patterns among them were identified which displayed both achievements and drawbacks of the proposed design.
The found insights were used to iterate both the service design and interafaces, this way leading to the final design.