Empathic indicators

  • At: Peloton Camp 2011, energy hackathon
  • By: Tuomo Tammenpää (concept & prototype)
  • For: Demos Helsinki
  • In: November 2011

Emps, empathic indicators is a design concept for motivational energy saving objects. Monitoring household energy use have become common along inexpensive electricity meters. However the representation of the consumption data is far from being meaningful let alone encouraging long-term behavioural change. Studies show that just a numerical indicator of current consumption value are quickly ignored. Why could not energy indicators be fun, rewarding and empathic?

This question led in designing the first prototype of Emps. Using a sympathetic character and facial expressions indicating energy use, more personal relationship is formed between a person and the object. The attachment is superficial, but is still an attachment. If the character looks sad due to excessive use of energy, feeling of empathy is awakened. When the character emotes happiness due to the sparing use of energy, there is joy.

… no, it would not be _on_ the stove, sorry about that.

The first prototype emotes in two manners. He shows tongue and frowns eyes on peak consumption and pulls the tongue in and looks up when energy us is low. This can be triggered from real-time data as instant gratification or calculate over the average use.

Household energy use is a complex cumulation of various peak consumptions and the base consumption. Comparing data is difficult due to the differences on family size, habits and heating or cooling solutions. Real time data is needed for instant feedback / gratification. This first prototype was targeted for just that, studying the possibilities of emotions in real-time (peak) consumption events.


Emphatic indicators concept was initially pitched in and selected as one of the projects in Demos Helsinki Peloton energy hackathon in 2011. It was brainstormed and developed during 48 hours with a team of thinkers and makers towards broader context. After the hakcathon it was simplified back to a speculative desing prototype illustrated above.