My First Plug-In
As architects become more knowledgeable about sustainable building design, they are becoming familiar with metrics such as Energy Use Intensity (EUI). EUI measures the energy a building consumes relative to its size and can be used to compare the energy use of different buildings. Users of our Conceptual Energy Analysis tools in Revit and Project Vasari are using EUI to compare simulation runs. Users often comment that an overwhelming number of results are returned by our analysis tools and they ask, "What do they all mean; why can't I just see this one EUI number really big?". They want a simplification of the complex data that we currently return which would highlight one particular piece of the data to make it easier to compare different designs.
I am an architect and user experience designer and have been working on the Conceptual Energy Analysis tools in Revit and Vasari for the past few years. Through this process, I, like many of our users, have learned a great deal about building science and energy use simulation and analysis. Interpreting analysis results is an exciting area for our field because there are many new user experience paradigms to explore. In addition to learning about building science, I have also wanted to learn more development skills so I could build and experiment more quickly with my own UI prototypes. I thought that building a simple app to display the EUI number really big might be a good beginner's development project. The new Autodesk My First Plug-In Training and a class I took on Expression Blend gave me the skills to get started.
As I worked on the project I learned how much I don't know about coding and why people get degrees in computer science! I was able to build a basic UI in Expression Blend, but the back end was still difficult for me. Luckily, we had really sharp interns over the summer who were able to help fill in the gaps to get my little app up and running. It was fun to be able to make tweaks to the UI myself and get results from simulation runs in this simplified UI.
Once the app was complete we handed it over to the energy analysis experts on our team to see if they might want to consider this prototype for use in our products. They brought to our attention some important points we had not considered. They felt that showing this one number in isolation, while seemingly simple and convenient, could lead users to incorrect conclusions. Just looking at EUI can be misleading. Actions like removing perimeter zoning from a building lowers the EUI, however this is actually harmful because it underestimates simulated energy use. EUI doesn't always paint the whole picture either: EUI can go down, but energy costs can actually go up if the mix of electricity (more expensive) and fuel (less expensive) changes. Our colleagues explained how important it is to understand the interplay of the results rather than just looking at a simple EUI number. We learned that while many users may want to see a simple number, they are better served by looking at a more comprehensive set of simulation returns.
While we ultimately decided not to include the app in this incarnation, in the future, I hope to build on the new prototyping and simulation analysis knowledge that this experience taught me. Then I’ll be able to redesign the app to include a wider set of simulation data that satisfies the user’s desire for better guidance from the data without sacrificing good building science.