Los Angeles, Summer 2016
how might we expand pcs energy's product offerings into the mobile space?
PCS Energy is the fastest growing, locally owned and operated solar company in Los Angeles. The company focuses on three main fields: affordable solar energy, LED lighting that drastically reduces energy consumption, and EV charging for clean transportation.
PCS Energy was my freelance client, and I led end-to-end product design as well as branding efforts to increase its offerings and introduce a mobile experience.
Though PCS had already in place a robust desktop web app (dashboard experience) that allowed customers to track their solar energy in different locations, the company lacked a mobile alternative with similar functionality. I led this transition, communicating key stats like expected energy ratio, instantaneous power, and a historical graph of kilowatts per hour generated in the mobile design.
The User and Market
PCS Energy's core user demographic is older in age and tends to be unfamiliar with most new technologies, either categorized as the late majority or laggards in the product adoption curve.
Users are typically financially wealthier, have little experience with mobile apps (more familiar with desktop), and hold a number of real estate properties with solar panels installed. As a result, the main experience of the app was designed to be highly legible with big numbers and bold, contrasting graphics and simple in functionality (only to consume data by location). Having this user in mind was helpful in guiding the designs.
The solar energy business is highly competitive, and while price plays a significant role in guiding customer decisions in the past, recent studies from the SEIA, or Solar Energy Industry Association, has indicated that price has significantly dropped with the growth of the industry.
Therefore, with price having little effect in a utilities market, having a robust mobile experience allows PCS to truly stand out from its competition.
The main challenge for PCS mobile was to filter out what types of information was appropriate in a mobile view. I used the current desktop dashboard as reference, which was outdated by today's visual standards. The interface was clunky, and many of the visual elements exceeded more than 5 years. In addition, navigation was almost non-existent and functionality was limited to quickly viewing key statistics. Once the user logged in, because there was so much screen real-estate, the user had little to interact with or filter through.
Picking what types of information and in what form to convey it were the most challenging aspects for PCS mobile. Like with many apps, the desktop experience provided a holistic, overall picture, showcasing an abundance of information. The web app has it all. The mobile experience had to channel the same energy, but in the form of quick, light interactions, something more consumable and for on-the-go.
I also had to become familiar with solar energy basics, such as instantaneous power (how much the panel is generating right now) and PV system (photovoltaic system).
As a result, the main goal in creating a mobile dashboard experience for PCS Energy was to allow customers to quickly and lightly access their solar information. For this reason, the UX flow that I designed was extremely simple, with functionality mainly centered around consumption. Not much is there to do in the app, and other functionality is limited to filtering through different locations, contacting customer support, and logging out. The app is not designed for onboarding or for new customers, but instead for those already signed up with PCS.
The visual design of this mobile project also captures the essence of "clean energy" by using the color blue, while communicating a motif of the sun with the radial icon in the login and loading screen. I also used big, bold drop shadows to create a break between key sections, large numbers for the "PV Size" section to indicate importance, and 3D icons for the weather to contrast the flatness of the rest of the interface.
I went through many different versions of color, at first starting with green to convey clean, "eco-friendly" energy, as well as a warmer hue of pink and red to convey energy and the sun. I eventually landed on a blue palette to color the app, one to match its original navy branding, and two, to communicate a sense of ease and serenity that blue tends to communicate.
All in all, this PCS Energy project sharpened my skills in data visualization and in filtering what types of information to communicate. It also helped me communicate my design decisions to my client and hone in on my project management skills as I had to meet strict deadlines.