The design and development approach of this project has been one of the most interesting and impressive features to our academic partners and other external audiences, most particularly the project’s use of user-centred design. It was very clear from the outset that delivering CarbonCulture at DECC would be a very dynamic and radical innovation process, and we needed to use the right design tools to make this work.

While the core structure and principles of the project were clear, we knew that we would discover new opportunities, tools and methods through investigations that would only bear fruit once the project was well underway. We would not be able to clearly state the outputs or their intended effects at the outset of the project.

The approach comprised a broad range of design and process tools; however, there are only a few established design methodologies that cover them all (with some overlap). These are: user-centred design, sustainable design, interdisciplinary design and evidence-based design. User-centred design allowed us to put staff at the centre of the process. By collecting their unique knowledge of the context of the building and the culture, we were able to create better-fitting solutions than any external experts could create alone.

User-centred design is a great way of reducing risk on highly innovative projects, as new ideas are tested and iterated with users towards a successful outcome that meets user needs. When developing software (as, in some parts of the project, we were) the popular Agile Development methodology is a critical part of user-centred design. Any design failures can be identified early in the process and changes made before substantial effort is spent on, for example, engineering them to production quality.

At the same time, including users in the process and acknowledging the value of their input helped us to build awareness and engagement with the project, ensuring that it did not feel like a mandatory ‘top-down’ programme where staff were told what to do without reference to their wishes.

Sustainable design covers a range of ways to consider the sustainability impact of a project. In a pilot like ours, the direct impacts were small but, as we were designing with the potential for massive scale, we carefully considered the materials and processes that would be required for massive deployment, and treated these considerations as integral to the design.

Although these could be changed for a larger deployment, we considered the production processes for print and web. We used 100% recycled paper and vegetable inks where possible, and served the CarbonCulture digital platform from a 100% renewable-powered server farm. This was less about direct impacts and more about market transformation.

Interdisciplinary design is useful in many projects, where it produces better innovation outcomes at lower risk. Within the core team we had designers, researchers, engineers and technologists. We also worked with social media, gamification, behavioural economics, engineering and policy experts, and collaborated with experts across government and industry. We used these expertise in workshops to bring DECC staff into the design process, framing simple success metrics and providing input data, and enabling them to fully participate in the design process at key moments.

Evidence-based design is the practice of collecting and evaluating data as early as possible to influence the direction of development, once a basic design has been created. Where a user-centred design process builds on qualitative data and insights from conversations and user-testing, evidence-based design seeks to test the empirical success of a design solution to allow systematic improvement over time. We built the platform to collect data that will enable evidence-based design to drive the continuous improvement of the tools in future iterations.

To set goals for the project in advance of the initial research stages, we set central success metrics for the project. The central metrics were about user engagement, where we set out to gain awareness among 40% of the total population of 1000, attract 10% of this population to voluntarily sign up to the programme, and to achieve repeat engagement in 4%. These targets were extremely ambitious for a pilot of this type, and the project eventually produced results that out-performed them substantially, with 40% voluntary sign up and 17% repeat engagement. As the voluntary sign up results actually reached our target for awareness, we can safely state that the overall awareness also exceeded our targets.

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