In early October, a group of 50 utility innovators gathered at the E Source headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, for the E Design 2020: NextGen Workshop. This intense two-and-a-half-day design-thinking event featured residential ethnographic market research as the foundation. The end result? Each participant left with at least one new residential offering concept to test with customers.

As part of the E Source E Design 2020 initiative, E Source and partner Egg Strategy performed ethnographic research—designed to dig deep into real people’s attitudes, beliefs, values, drivers, and actions toward energy—with more than 60 residential utility customers across North America. These “extreme” or “passionate” users, as they’re called in design thinking, provided rich insights into the topics of solar, low income, connected homes, energy efficiency, rate design, electric vehicles, and value-added services.

E Source used that new ethnographic research to teach participants how to practice design thinking. Through a rigorous series of exercises, participants absorbed the research and studied customers’ real problems from numerous angles, constantly asking “why?” in order to build deep empathy. On the second day of the workshop, participants began building new residential offerings in the seven topical focus areas. For example, one participant engineered a radical energy bill redesign that shifts the focus from revenue to customer value. Another created “anti-gas stations” that are electric vehicle charging stations and community hubs. Still another designed the carbon-tracking reward-based CarbonFitBit.

“It was transformative to see the realization in the room that the energy experience is emotional for customers,” says Adam Maxwell, senior director of Strategy and New Products at E Source. “Building deep empathy toward real people inspires us to develop programs and services that are far ‘stickier’ than the utility programs we’re accustomed to. You simply can’t get insights like these with traditional quantitative and qualitative research.”

When asked to sum up the workshop experience, attendees said:

  • “Think about what is preferable instead of what is possible.”
  • “Recognize that facts are sometimes not as important as feelings and personal values when making decisions.”
  • “Asking ‘why?’ is a very powerful tool. Use it and use it often.”

During the next phase of the project, E Source will help participants implement the residential offerings they developed during the workshop. Through E Design 2020, the NextGen Workshop, and subsequent collaborative work among participants, E Source and market-leading utilities are creating the utility customer portfolio of the future. In 2018, E Source is looking forward to expanding its E Design 2020 initiative beyond the residential sector by using the design-thinking approach for the small and midsize business segment.

About E Source

For 30 years, E Source has been providing market research, data, and consulting services to more than 300 utilities and their partners. This guidance helps our customers advance their efficiency programs, enhance customer relationships, and use energy more efficiently.

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Kym Wootton, Vice President of Marketing, E Source
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Vice President, Operations

Kym Wootton oversees operations at E Source, which includes marketing, project management, IT, facilities, content management, and business...