Designing Intuitive Interfaces To Help Conserve Shared Resources

Designing Intuitive Interfaces To Help Conserve Shared Resources

Three interesting projects explore how to make the impact of allocating reserves more intuitive, by tying consequences to other living things.

Kyle Studstill
  • 22 september 2010

As we track developments in human-centered design and innovative design thinking, we’ve begun to notice the use of tying interactions to their impact on other living beings. Recognizing that smart interaction design is about speaking to human limitations, these projects take into account that when drawing from a shared resource, we often don’t see any feedback or impact from our actions on the world. Much like the in game theory classic The Tragedy of the Commons, as long as individuals are removed from the end result of their consumption of shared resources, they see it as a rational move to continue consuming – until no one has anything.

Three interesting projects below make the impact of using a limited resource more intuitive, by giving direct feedback to the individual on how their usage is affecting living things.

Poor Little Goldfish Sink, Lan Yu

Poor Little Goldfish sink.jpg

The Poor Little Goldfish sink drains water from a fish’s living environment, to limit the amount of water used when an individual washes their hands or brushes their teeth; after each use, a pump refills the tank slowly.

Natural Fuse, Haque Design + Research

Natural Fuse.jpg

Natural Fuse is an ecosystem of plants as energy sources. Each station in the system generates just enough electricity to match the CO2 removed from the environment through its plant’s natural carbon-capturing processes. This energy can be used to power small appliances, but only so long as the total energy output of the system is lower than its total carbon offset. Instead of an “on/off” switch, each appliance has a “selfish/selfless” button; by setting your appliance to “selfish,” your device can be powered longer, but will eventually kill other user’s plants in the system – impacting not only other individuals but also the total amount of energy available to you.

The Buttons, Nitpak Samsen


The Buttons is a concept control mechanism that requires all members to consent to the use of a shared resource before it is activated. In this case the concept applies to the use of a small appliance, but the idea can apply to any resource such that that the impact on all shareholders is more tangibly available to individual users.

Lan Yu

Haque Design + Research

Nitpak Samsen


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