Marc Pallot, senior research associate and lecturer at Arts et Métiers Paris Tech, defines a living lab as “a user-centered, open innovation ecosystem integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a business/citizens/government partnership.” In collaboration with Delos, HKS presented a living lab study at the 2018 Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) in Montreal, Canada. This one-day workshop brought 11 research teams with diverse research expertise. The seven takeaways below offer insights on the functions and benefits of supporting living labs. All workshop proceedings are online and available to the public.
- A living lab approach can reduce gaps between user expectations and design intent. Living lab studies do not end after the design phase or post-occupancy evaluation (POE). Rather, it is a series of mini innovations and assessments that continue to build knowledge for following iterations.
- (Micro) big data. Data from living labs is typically location-bound. Even though the number of users might be small, the amount of data can be large. By repeating measures over time, user experience in real settings can be understood. Additionally, data with the same metrics can be pooled from multiple settings, which can increase statistical power without discarding contextual information.
- Living labs can take individual preferences into account. Environmental preferences, working and learning styles, tasks and behavior, personality traits, etc. can vary widely. Our own study identified discrepancies between estimated and actual thermal sensations from environmental sensors readings, users’ activity levels, clothing and survey responses. Understanding variances can impact cognitive functions, environmental satisfaction and well-being for a diverse userbase.
- It is not easy to understand everyone’s individual experience in their environment. Self-reported measures (e.g., surveys and interviews) may not uncover the impact of a built environment on multiple stakeholders. Living lab studies at the workshop presented various metrics from behavior observations, motion analysis, sensor data, interviews, surveys, users’ engagement with technologies and archival data. For example, UT Austin’s study focuses on users’ environmental control to understand their preferences. A UK study includes Twitter posts among their metrics.
- Technology, technology, technology. Various technologies are used in living lab studies ranging from Bluetooth bracelets for location detection, face/gait recognition to track individuals, depth cameras to understand motions, sensors that monitor environmental conditions and smartphone apps that collect user feedback. VR/AR/MR also have potential for fast assessments before design implementation. Integrating multiple datasets is critical in the future.
- Interdisciplinary collaboration. Most of the studies presented at the living labs workshop were led by human-computer interaction scientists and engineers, and some had larger collaborations with other disciplines like architecture and sociology. HKS was the only architecture firm. However, involving architects and designers in living lab processes can lead to higher-quality built environments.
- Living labs have the potential to be applied to not only offices, but also various indoor/ outdoor settings. Although the presented studies used indoor settings—real or simulated—living labs have the potential to enhance outdoor environmental design too. Chicago’s Array of Things is an example of urban applications.