Design For Good – feat. Pete Underwood

We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead. As part of this, we caught up with Pete Underwood, UX Design Lead at Piclo to learn about his work and how Piclo is using user centred design to decarbonise the grid.

The purpose of our ‘Design For Good’ content series is to shine a light on how creative innovation can be a driver for positive change. We feature those that are making it happen, those with grand potential. Businesses and individuals that are shaking up their sector and finding ways to do things better, for social or environmental good.

Sam @ ADLIB: First of all could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your career journey so far and the work you do as UX Design Lead at Piclo?

Pete: In 2008 I had an opportunity to change my career. After a bit of soul searching I decided I wanted to be a user centred designer, as I wanted a role that was focussed on solving problems for people. Unfortunately, all the related jobs at the time needed degree-qualified candidates so I went back to university and studied an MSc in ergonomics. I ended up staying on and doing a PhD but I always wanted to work in industry so I moved into physical and then digital product/service design as a consultant. Over the last several years I’ve become increasingly concerned about the climate and ecological crisis and wanted to use my design skills and experience to help tackle this. I also wanted to take on an in-house role so I could have a greater influence over the product I was designing. I get to do both of these things in my current role, which is why it’s so great to work at Piclo!

In terms of my work at Piclo, as the UX Design Lead, I work as part of a Production Leadership team, which creates and optimises the production team’s processes and helps improve the skills and happiness of team members. Specifically, I support the designers in our production team and provide design expertise, where necessary, across the business.

Sam @ ADLIB: What is Piclo’s mission?

Pete: Piclo’s mission is to decarbonise the grid. Moving the world to a decarbonised energy system is one of the most important things we have to do in order to tackle climate breakdown. It’s not an easy transition but it’s essential. For someone like me who wants to use their design skills to solve this challenge, Piclo’s mission is perfect.

Sam @ ADLIB: What does the product do and who uses it?

Pete: We develop software solutions that make our energy networks smarter, flexible and more sustainable. Our flagship product, Piclo Flex, is the leading independent marketplace for energy flexibility services. It enables distribution system operators (the organisations responsible for balancing energy supply and demand) to source energy from flexible service providers (e.g. organisations who manage electric vehicle portfolios) during times of high demand or low supply.

Sam @ ADLIB: How is user centricity core to creating a more flexible and sustainable energy system?

Pete: While there is a lot of complicated technology in the energy system, it fundamentally relies on people to make it work. Therefore, user centred design plays a critical role in making sure that the energy system functions now, as well as helping it transition to a more flexible and sustainable operational model.

Piclo puts a lot of time and effort into making Piclo Flex as user-centric as it can be, e.g. through conducting customer research and usability testing, so that the people who use our product to buy or sell energy can do so easily.

Sam @ ADLIB: What are 3 of the bigger lessons you’ve learnt tackling this problem?

  1. Designing a new type of energy marketplace which operates in multiple countries is hard work! There is a lot of regulatory, commercial, organisational and technical complexity to consider when designing user experiences. However, for people like me who love solving difficult problems, it’s a great challenge to have.

2. Piclo are at the leading edge of designing the flexibility market so we are often solving problems that no one else has tackled before. This means that I’ve learnt to be comfortable with uncertainty, coming up with novel solutions and working at both macro and micro levels of design.

3. On a personal level, I’ve had to adapt who I am as a designer, e.g. in terms of design methods I use and I how I collaborate, in order to be the most effective designer I can be for my team and for Piclo. This has required a lot of self-reflection and I’ve learnt a lot about myself in doing so.

Sam @ ADLIB: Is there any advice you’d like to share with other designers wanting to solve problems in the energy sector?

Pete: Please get involved! The more designers we have working on solving problems, the quicker we’ll get solutions. If you’re looking for a role which will make a real difference to people and the planet, then you don’t need to look any further.

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Head of Design Recruitment

User Experience & Design Recruitment

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Sam Firth