[Book] Drawing Energy

Drawing Energy: Exploring perceptions of the invisible
Authors: Flora Bowden, Dan Lockton, Rama Gheerawo and Clare Brass. Editor: Rama Gheerawo.
Royal College of Art, London, 2015
Free download – Free printed copy


Drawing Energy describes a drawing-based research project undertaken by the Royal College of Art as part of SusLabNWE (2012-15). The project explored people’s perceptions of energy, by asking them to write, draw or illustrate their thoughts and reactions to the question ‘What does energy look like?’ Over 180 members of the public took part in the process. This site accompanies the book, published in July 2015.

The larger SuslabNWE study saw 11 partners from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK come together to understand and investigate energy use in the home. At the Royal College of Art in the UK, we looked at bringing together two ideals and practices around inclusive design and sustainability. Both often have different starting points and deal with different scales. Inclusive design usually focuses on people’s needs and capabilities at the domestic scale, while sustainability embraces complexity and systems thinking, addressing systemic change.

Drawing Energy negotiates a space between the two, bringing together people’s aspirations and perspectives with the context of socio-political mandates and changing infrastructure or technologies. The study also moves beyond the idea of purely functional research (such as numerically measuring energy use) to depict the less tangible area of how people relate to energy in a visual, literal or metaphorical way – it takes us from data ‘performance’ through to human ‘perception’. The work represented in this collection builds on a history of using drawing as a tool for research and as a way to enable people to express their ideas and imagination fully.

The authors

Flora Bowden is a Research Associate for SustainRCA at the Royal College of Art and from 2013-2015 was a researcher on the SusLabNWE project. She is interested in exploring social and environmental issues in art and design. Through SusLabNWE she has focused on the use of drawing to understand people’s perceptions of intangible environmental conditions.

Dr Dan Lockton is a designer and researcher interested in behaviour change and public understanding of everyday systems. At the Royal College of Art, he is Visiting Research Tutor in Innovation Design Engineering, and from 2013-15 was a Senior Research Associate in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, working on the SusLabNWE project.

Rama Gheerawo is Deputy Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and the RCA Reader in Inclusive Design. With nearly two decades in the design industry, his interest is in people-centred and socially inclusive design. He leads the Centre’s Age & Ability Research Lab, which creates design that improves the lives of people of all ages and abilities. Rama was Royal College of Art Principal Investigator for the SuslabNWE project.

Clare Brass set up and is Head of SustainRCA. She is Senior Design Tutor in Innovation Design Engineering and a mentor for the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Schmidt-Macarthur Fellowship programme. She has led a number of commercial and academic design research projects with a particular focus on food, energy and water. Clare was the Royal College of Art’s Co-Investigator for the SusLabNWE project.