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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Visualizing information to improve building performance: a study of expert users


The overarching goal of this research is to identify the optimal methods for visualizing building performance information in commercial buildings. In the most recent phase of this work, we conducted surveys and “contextual inquiries” of industry professionals who are experts in energy monitoring and analysis, in order to understand their information practices, needs and preferences.

We learned that the access to reliable energy and performance data varies considerably between firms and individuals, and that current tools have numerous shortcomings. For many building managers and design professionals, the serious analysis of visualizing building information for analysis, benchmarking and diagnostics, remains a time intensive, do-it-yourself undertaking. Many people we interviewed, including those with access to state-of-the-art building information systems, still rely on data exported from building management systems, and manipulated in spreadsheet programs. We also observed a preference for more end-use and historical energy data, and a nearly unanimous desire for better methods of communicating with building occupants.

Finally, we offer a few suggestions for methods to display building information which we will develop and test with human subjects in a future phase of this research. From our observations, industry professionals would be well served by software tools that conform to a convention described in human-computer interaction literature as “overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand.”

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