A research project to find out if Calm Technology based feedback can alter user behavior


Feb 2016 - Apr 2016


UX Researcher


Domain Research

User Research

Participant Recruitment

Data Analysis




Laptops and Smartphones

Google Sheets


We had just discovered the concept of Calm Technology and found it pretty fascinating. To give an idea about what it is, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:


Calm technology is a type of information technology where the interaction between the technology and its user is designed to occur in the user's periphery rather than constantly at the center of attention


Our aim was to test the effects of Calm Technology based feedback on our participants. The area we chose to implement these principles was electricity consumption feedback. Traditional methods of electricity feedback are less frequent - once a month, and is in the form of a usage graph, units, or bill amount. Our study compares Calm Tech feedback, versus the traditional feedback to get an idea of its effects.


The research question we wanted to explore was :

How does calm technology impact electricity conservation habits of individuals for collective usage?

We wanted to explore the changes to user attitudes to identify the impact calm technology has on user behavior towards electricity conservation. Our hypothesis was that consumer's attitude towards energy usage will change for the better when their usage data is provided to them through Calm, informative art when compared to information provided through the traditional feedback method. Our goal was to test this hypothesis. 

Method & Process

 We followed a Between Subjects approach in our experiment - diving our participants in two groups. One group recevied feedback in the form of an image background on their device. The second group recevied an email with their (hypothetical) energy usage information plotted as a bar graph. 

Process Steps:

1) User recruitment: We sent out emails to people we knew, and others we had contacted on Social Media. Over 40 people responded and expressed interest in participanting.


2) Pre-screening surveys: Pre-screening surveys were sent out to prospective participants to determine if they are eligible for our study. Our experiment relies on different technologies like Dropbox and IFTTT, which sync automatically to the participants' devices. We had set criteria for the participants of Calm Group - i.e, they should be intermediate - advanced users of technology and gadgets. Based on the these surveys, we assigned 15 people to the Calm Group, and another 15 to the Traditional Group.


3) Conduct the study: We conducted the experiment for two weeks. Participants from both groups would receive a survey every 4 days. These surveys included both Qualitative and Lickert scale based questions. 


4) Semi structured interviews: After the completion of the 2 week period, we interviewed 8 participants from both the groups combined, to gather more subjective data.


5) Data analysis and conclusions: We analysed data based on the recurring surveys, a final survey, and semi-structured interviews. Graphs and conlcusions are present later in this page. 

Calm Feedback

For providing Calm Technology based feedback, we setup a system that changes the participants' computer and smartphone wallpapers remotely. Based on energy usage, we would change wallpapers on their devices. Here are the images we used based on energy efficiency.


 This image represents 101-200 units less than the average energy usage. The participants started off with this image.

This image represents 1- 100 units less than the average energy usage.

This image represents 1-100 units more than the average energy usage.

This image represents 101-200 units more than the average energy usage.

Traditional Feedback

The Traditional Group received energy usage feedbak in the form of a bar graph, sent via email once every 3 days. The email also included a small note about the change in their energy usage. A few samples of the email are shown below.

Data Analysis

We analysed the data from the data from 3 surveys. A total 37 reponses were considered for the final data analysis. 

The responses were provided on a 1 - 5 scale. To fully understand the results, here are a list of 9 questions that we asked in the surveys:

 1. How aware were you of your energy usage before beginning this study?

2. How conservative was your electricity consumption over the last two days?

3. How easy is it for you to conserve electricity?

4. How important is it to conserve electricity?

5. How effective was the energy usage data we provided you?

6. How visually pleasing is the energy usage data we provided you?

7. How disruptive to your daily tasks is the energy usage data we provided you?

8. How easy was it to be aware of your average usage energy usage over the last two days?

9. How motivated are you to adopt more energy-efficient appliances based on the energy usage data we have provided you?


The graphs below show the average score for each question. The different colors represent different surveys.

Plot for the Traditional Group


A comparison of averages for each question among calm and traditional groups. The questions for both groups are places next to each other. Question 1 responses from all 3 surveys for the calm groups follows Question 1 responses for all 3 surveys for the traditional group. As seen the calm group is generally shown to have higher averages.


Results from surveys and interviews can be divided into a few broad categories. 



Based on the responses of question 9 over the three surveys, calm group participants were observed to be more motivated to purchase energy efficient appliances.



According to our interviews, the calm group was more aware of their energy usage than the traditional group, suggesting that the flower was effective in improving the user’s awareness as to their energy usage.

 According to one user,

“I’ve been more conscious of [my energy usage] over the past 2 weeks.”



The calm technology group was observed to have higher levels of motivation on average compared to the traditional group. Users stated that they were motivated to retain the image of the flourishing flower.

 Here are two users quotes related to this:

“I felt guilty when the flower died or became small.”


“[The flower image] inspired me to change my ways, I wanted the flower to grow back up.”


Some more user quotes...


“I want the leaves on the flower to tell me what the issue is, like which appliances are using lots of electricity, so I know what to turn off.”


“The flower image was good, it gave me feedback without disrupting the workflow.”