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The ECOFAMILIES project - how to promote energy-aware behaviors at home

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The ECOFAMILIES project has proposed to prototype and experiment an innovative technological solution to promote energy-aware behaviors at home, through a participatory design approach. A web-based user interface has been developed. It provides a set of customized contents, ranging from basic information to proposal of actions aiming at reducing energy consumption.

Why ?

Nowadays, the large majority of households have a very limited knowledge of their energy consumption in their accommodation. This is mainly due to the fact that energy does not show by itself, but through devices and products. Often the only way to monitor our energy consumption is watching at the energy meter. Thus, we usually have no idea of the consequences of our behavior and our choices on our energy consumption. Energy bill is an accounting only tool, and is not usable for a real consumption monitoring and management, firstly because it is provided in a deferred timing (most of the time as estimates), and also because the information is presented in a way that it is not really possible to easily understand the factors which influence consumption. Conditions are therefore not met for enabling consumers to take control of their own energy consumption.

The ECOFAMILIES project has been initiated in this context, and aims at limiting energy expenses in dwellings thanks to a monitoring interface allowing users to keep track of their own energy usage. ECOFAMILIES service goal is to provide users, at the right time and with the right form, with appropriate information allowing them to identify energy consuming processes and to take educated decisions to reduce their consumption.

How ?

ECOFAMILIES project partners have recruited around twenty volunteer families living in the French Alpes Maritimes area, to attend an iterative series of design workshops. The workshops have been privileged moments of exchange for these families to orient the specification of the solution so that it best matches with their needs. The workshops were organized in the Nice Meridia Premium building and in Nice Côte d’Azur environment Laboratory, in March, May and June 2012. An additional final workshop took place on October 16th, 2012 at CSTB Sophia Antipolis facilities, to expose to the families the final work resulting from their proposals, and the documentary film realized during the workshops, acting as the co-design process wrap up, but also as a way of pursuing the discussions with the families.

Main results

The workshops contributed to better understand the needs of the families, thereby guiding the design and the content of the solution. Some of the main axes having directed the designers work are listed hereafter:

  • Current tools (traditional energy meters, bills, etc.) are not satisfactory for an actual energy monitoring.
  • Advanced design objects (such as are well received for this concern, but are seen inadequate with respect to information and interaction capabilities.
  • Tools integrating a dedicated physical device are quite negatively evaluated, or receive a rather mitigated feedback at the best. Most of the families already own various digital devices at home (computers, netbooks, smartphones, tablets,...) ; they prefer a tool that they can access through those devices, instead of having to buy new ones.
  • The information must be rendered in a clear and accessible form in terms of understanding.
  • Needs converge towards a Web based application, accessible from various platforms (smartphone, tablet, computer,...), both indoors and outdoors.
  • To have a tool that adapts to each accommodation (thus easily programmable, configurable and customizable by the user) is a strong need for participants.
  • The tool must be simple, both in terms of usage and visual aspect.
  • Notification seems to be one of the basic needs, as it emerged from all the workshops. For the participants, a notification and/or alert is there to put the accent on a detected (or likely to happen) energy consumption problem. This alert must be accessible even if the occupant is outside its home.

A prototype has been elaborated based on the workshops results.

All pictures of the ECOFAMILIES prototype user interface are available on FlickR:

EXPERIENTIA designers have worked mainly on a Web based user interface accessible from a computer, while anticipating its adaptation to other kinds of devices (tablet, Smartphone, etc.). The design and the content have been carefully worked out by the designers for implementing at the best the needs of participants, and they have been elaborated based on the summaries and analysis compiled by the project partners after each workshop. The tool includes a tracking of energy flows (heating, electricity, water) in the dwelling, proposes advice based on settings defined by the inhabitants, and displays alerts and notifications tailored to their needs.

The designers have also proposed a brokering service to compare the different offers from energy suppliers, anticipating the opening of energy markets to competition.

The interface is highly customizable and configurable thanks to a “widgets” based design, which allows each user to easily choose what he/she wants to see displayed, especially on the home page. This approach offers interesting perspectives to the tool in terms of scalability, as it permits the development and integration of future “Widgets” according to new consumer needs.

In addition, the designers have developed complementary add-ons which offer a simple and intuitive access to the alerts and notifications produced by the tool, which will encourage the user to connect to the interface. The design team has planned to integrate such messages as sleep mode displays, or as widgets or notifications directly integrated into the operating system. Such options can be implemented the same way on smartphones (using the "notification panel" of an iPhone or any Android phone).

A subset of these interfaces has been connected to ambient sensors and communicating energy meters in a CSTB laboratory, with the objective to provide an operational tool.

A documentary film has been produced during the project by Natacha Cyrulnik and the « Compagnie des Embruns ». This movie offers a testimonial of the participatory design process and shows the families implication all along the project.


Project partners

CSTB - Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (project leader) is the French scientific and technical centre for building. It has four key activities:  research, expertise, evaluation and knowledge dissemination. CSTB is gathering, developing and sharing scientific and technical knowledge with the construction players in order to serve the citizens through the quality and safety guaranteeof buildings and their environment. 



ICT Usage Lab is the first Living Lab in France to be accredited by the ENoLL network in 2006. Its goal is to help actors in the chain of technological innovation in the French PACA region to design and develop new products and services based on Information and Communication Sciences and Technologies.  ICT Usage Lab partners share their material, technological and methodological resources to support innovative and opened experiments focusing on the users and usages of new technologies, using among other the Focuslab platform (Contrat Plan Etat Region PACA). The multi-disciplinary team AxIS from INRIA Sophia Antipolis Méditerranée is the representative of ICT Usage Lab in the Ecofamilies project context.

I3M (Information, Milieux, Médias, Médiation) laboratory gathers researchers from the Information and Communication Sciences university’s of Nice Sophia Antipolis (UNS) and Toulon-Var South (USTV). The scientific project of I3M laboratory is based on a reinterpretation and an update of the concept of socio-technical information and communication device (DISTIC). DISTICs support interaction processes between individuals (producers, consumers, users, citizens), who are also socialized and an heterogeneous set of techniques. I3M researchers are questioning, in their entirety and complexity, the transformations of the global organisation of the society, the mutations of representations and social practices in the media, culture, organisations, and the role of social dynamics for appropriation of DISTICs.

Nice Côte d'Azur metropolis was launched on January 1st, 2012, becoming the first operational metropolis in France. With 46 districts as members and 545,000 habitants, the metropolis exercises the following skills on its territory: economic, social and cultural development and planning, metropolitan area development, local housing policy, urban policy, community services management, environment protection and valorisation, policy of life, school transport,  departmental roads and economic promotion of the territory at the international scale.

For more information

You are kindly invited to contact the project team by sending an email to

ECOFAMILIES project has been co-funded by French PACA region, and the European Union through the ERDF fund, in the PACA Labs framework. This project has also benefited from equipment loan from the Focuslab platform (CPER PACA Telius).

Acronym of the case


Lessons learnt

A white paper of good practices for participatory design of energy awareness user interfaces is currently being elaborated, based on the learning from the work conducted with end users all along the project.

Award labels

Available link languages

Start date - End date

Tuesday, 1 November, 2011 to Saturday, 1 December, 2012

Source of funding

Funding description

PACA Labs project (French Region PACA & European Regional Development Fund)