Human-Building Interaction (HBI): Design Thinking and Energy Efficiency

The reasons and ways occupants use the buildings and the devices inside can reveal the assumptions, habits, and constraints that govern how we live and work in our buildings. Understanding the barriers and learning opportunities can lead to effective new strategies and designs. HBI takes a systems-thinking approach to promote occupant actions and building performance that achieve greater energy conservation and efficiency.

HBI employs the design thinking process to guide the innovation process and produce effective solutions. The five steps of design thinking are: 

  1. empathize with the users, 
  2. define the problem, 
  3. ideate solutions, 
  4. prototype possibilities, and 
  5. test with the users to create informed and effective solutions. 

Based on an understanding of the user and the context in which they interact the building, HBI takes into account the important factors that drive their actions - motivation, ability, and triggers - to inform the design of effective and impactful energy saving solutions.

A great example of the HBI approach can be found in the creation of the Nest learning thermostat. While building a super-energy efficient house, Tony Fadell, a former Senior Vice President at Apple, was frustrated with how difficult thermostats were to operate and how ugly they looked. Working with Matt Rogers, a former colleague at Apple, they took a user-centered approach to innovate a new way for people to interact with their thermostat. Following glowing reviews in the popular press and after turning smart thermostats into a consumer electronics category, Google purchased Nest for $3.2 billion in January 2014.

The need for the HBI process will grow as we look ahead to how we live and work in buildings in the future. Smart technologies, social media, and automation are creating a new type of consumer that is tech savvy, connected, and demanding of individualized and custom experiences. Understanding these trends and anticipating the changing landscape of how we interact with buildings is crucial to creating innovative energy efficient products and facilitating and maintaining energy saving practices and services.

Full paper (PDF):
Human-Building Interaction White Paper