Taigo Energy SMAR

Interactive data visualization dashboard which monitors Solar PV system performance
Client
Taigo Energy
Timeline
Feb - May 2020
My Role
UX Design
Tools
Sketch, Marvel

Project Overview

I served as the sole UX Designer and collaborated with Product, Engineering, Marketing, and Support teams.
Due to NDA's, names have been changed.

Taigo Energy is a successful established international company based in northern California which provides products, technologies, software and services to installers, distributors, and Original Equipment Manufacturers within the photovoltaic industry. The SMAR site is a complex web app which allows users to monitor the performance of their PV systems. It is free to download and use, with more advanced features included as part of a premium SaaS model.

When I was brought onboard, a large multi-million dollar partnership with an Inverter manufacturer was on the line. The dashboard needed to be redesigned quickly and deadlines were tight.

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My task was to redesign the dashboard with an improved user experience and refreshed UI.
Project Index
Research
Understanding the users
UI Refresh
Implementation
Measuring success

Background

What is MLPE?

MLPE stands for Module Level Power Electronics. These modules hook into solar panels and allow monitoring of system performance and troubleshooting of issues. A simple flow diagram of how a PV system works can be scene below.

Research

Taigo Energy is a company located upstream in the Module Level Power Electronics industry (MLPE). They typically sell to distributors, OEM's, and PV installers. In the case of homeowners, products can be purchased from a local distributor.  The MLPE space has some competitors, each with their own monitoring software. After performing some comp analysis, it's easy to see some features they have in common.

  • Competitors feature an "energy flow" chart which shows users the flow of power throughout their system
  • Competitors include a graph which compares energy production, consumption, and net energy which is sold to or bought from the grid
  • All competitors include a widget which explains energy production in equivalents such as CO2, trees, etc
  • The current Taigo dashboard has no borders and no neutral color as a background for visual separation of the widgets, and places an overly large visual emphasis on the weather and map widgets
  • Looking at the analytics, users primarily visit this page. Roughly 50% of users exit after visiting this overview dashboard page only

Understanding the users

Who uses this app?

Although the app is free for anyone to download, it is mainly used by residential owners and PV installers. After talking with product and tech support as well as observing proud PV system owners post their daily generation stats online, it helped me realize what metrics matter to these users. PV installers want to troubleshoot and check performance of solar modules easily, and system owners need to check their PV generation for proof of ROI on their solar investment.

"It's really nice to see consumption and grid data information". - PV system owner
Displaying AC data

Until recently the Taigo SMART webapp could only display DC data from the solar modules (panels). However with partnerships with inverter manufacturers and the addition of net metering or "shark meters", the display of AC data is now possible and seems to be of greater importance to the user.

"DC data doesn't matter much to me since AC is what the home uses. If AC data looks low, I can take a look at the DC side of things to see if voltage or current looks lower than it should be". - PV system owner
Challenging assumptions

Due to the highly technical nature of the dashboard, it would be easy to assume that the PV installers were well versed in electrical engineering concepts and terminology. However after talking to the technical support team about what kind of calls they usually receive, I was surprised to learn that many calls came from non-tech savvy PV installers. Many PV installers come from a background in roofing and may take a relatively short term course on PV installation which ranges from a few days to several months. This helped me realize the importance of displaying complex concepts in an understandable manner for all users regardless of background.

"I actually got started in the field by just applying to start out as a technician, with no construction background whatsoever. Many of our employees came from temp staffing agencies as well- work on site with a temp agency and get hired on with the actual EPC after that". - PV installer

UI Refresh

Aligning stakeholder objectives

Although the various departments had different visions for the new dashboard in terms of features, everyone could agree that the UI looked outdated and needed to be refreshed. After creating a mood board and having a few stakeholder meetings with concepts I created, we decided on a refreshed theme.

Although the lighter #33AA29 color is the brand color, using the darker #00573B color for the dashboard comes with a number of advantages, It provides good contrast against a white background for text style buttons, works better for backgrounds, and can be used more liberally across the UI in comparison to the strong #33AA29 color.

New features

Various departments had different ideas for what features they wanted to include on the redesign. Using techniques such as affinity mapping and competitor analysis combined with user feedback, we were able to include a few new core features to improve the user experience.
I'll highlight a few here:

Implementation

Working with Engineering

I am very lucky to have a talented team of in-house developers on board for implementation of the redesign. We are using Bootstrap 4.5 for implementation currently but are slowly transitioning to Vue.JS. At the request of engineering and to make things easier to implement, I based designs for all breakpoints on a 12 column grid. Using Gitlab and Teams for project management and collaboration, I continue to work with engineering on a daily basis on tickets and backlog grooming.

Measuring Success

Although not a main source of income, the company also monetizes the app through a premium version as part of a SaaS model, one of the ways we will measure the success of this redesign is through number of premium signups as well as user feedback.

Although the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic may affect metrics in the short term, I will continue to monitor the results and will update this page.

Reflections

The Taigo SMAR app is a powerful application which helps move humanity towards a sustainable future. Focusing on human-centered design, it's important to translate complex concepts in an understandable way and prioritize usability in the functions the users really need.

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Joel Lipton 2020