How Smart Design Made a Home-Energy Device Simple Enough for Your Grandma to Use

It’s not easy to design a home-energy monitoring device that people actually want to use–and pay for. Enter EnergyHub, a consumer-facing energy management company.



It’s not easy to design a home energy monitoring device that people actually want to use and pay for. As evidenced by Tendril’s recent decision to nix its IDEO-designed dashboard, not even slick devices that look like they came straight from the Apple store will necessarily make it to market (the $200 price tag was deemed too expensive). Enter EnergyHub, a consumer-facing energy management company that thinks it has a solution to the energy monitoring device quandary.


The company has been selling the EnergyHub dashboard (now known as Home Base), a touchscreen dashboard that combines temperature control and home-energy management, since 2009. The device connects to power strips, sockets, thermostats, and smart meters when available to provide users information about and control over their energy use.

Now, with the help of Smart Design, EnergyHub has designed an updated Home Base dashboard that it thinks will appeal to a broader set of users. The old dashboard is pictured below, while the new one is above.


“After a year of experience in utility trials and with testers, we had a sense of what we liked and what we didn’t like. It was time to put a professional level of polish on it,” says EnergyHub CEO and co-founder Seth Frader-Thompson. So EnergyHub turned to Smart Design, a company that has worked with everyone from OXO and Nike to HP and Microsoft.


“It was important to do something a little less utilitarian and more distinctive. We had seen people placing the dashboard in the kitchen or by the front door of the house,” explains Tucker Fort, Director of Industrial Design at Smart Design. “We wanted to come up with a shape and set of materials and finishes that fit well in
those two settings.” Smart Design also noticed that people wanted to pick up the dashboard, so the company changed the shape–it’s now more bowl-like–to be appropriate for that kind of use.

While the EnergyHub is most attractive to technological early adopters at this stage, that doesn’t mean other, less tech-savvy members of the household won’t want to use it. That’s why Smart Design and EnergyHub opted to add three new buttons: “Home,” “Away” and “Goodnight.” The buttons are linked to thermostat heating and cooling functions, and can quickly turn individual appliances on and off.

But the question remains: Will people want to pay $200 (the approximate cost) for this kind of device if they already own an iPad, laptop, and smart phone? Wouldn’t they rather control home energy use from those other devices? “Energy is complicated for people to understand. As people start to think
about these new platforms, having a physical product can help with
adoption,” says Frader-Thompson. “The profile of an early adopter for energy management isn’t the profile of someone
who would buy an Android tablet. The system is popular among middle-aged users because they’re
interested in tinkering with their homes, they’re price-conscious.”

The new Home Base is set to go into public-private beta in homes selected by EnergyHub’s utility customers after this week’s SXSW conference.


Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.