Energizing Utilities

Paying your energy utility is not the most glamorous task on the ‘To Do’ list. For one particular energy utility in Illinois, this task may even be a pain point for its customers. Transitioning customers into a new process of viewing and paying bills, however, proved more difficult than anticipated. To encourage customers to start using the new and shiny energy utility app, my teammate Paige and I designed a rewards program with the energy utility.

This program enables customers to collect tokens for performing desirable behaviors, like timely bill payments and energy saving. Their collection is ranked against friends and family and throughout healthy energy saving habits are reinforced.

The Challenge

We started out with the challenge of extending the basic functionality of the utility app to encourage usage, heighten understanding, and communicate healthy energy saving attitudes. In initial exercises to ideate possible solutions we mapped the values of the company to the goals of the user. With an initial pass at these ideas, we also mapped them against an innovation/impact grid to quickly see what ideas could be both successful and enduring.

In this way we landed on a rewards program inspired by the “cookie” culture at this energy utility company.  This utility company had a long history of serving customers in the the area. One of their more quirky traditions publishing an annual ‘Cookie Book’ populated with the cookie recipes of their customers. These books are individually themed and passed out during an annual event in the holiday season. This part of the company’s culture was not only long-standing but also enjoyed by a strong following of customers.

This ‘cookie culture’ became the perfect opportunity to encourage user adoption.


Our primary challenge with this idea of ‘rewards’ was the constraint that no monetary reward could be offered.  However, we were able to leverage the ‘cookie culture’ to gamify the experience. Rather than monetary rewards, used ‘cookie token’ representation of progress in the app and proposed opportunity for representation in the annual cookie book.

Through research we identified important aspects of successful gamified interactions: meaningful competition, novelty, and visible progress. Although many rewards programs, such as the Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts apps, uses quantity to reflect progress to reward. However, we leveraged the tokens as novelty badges to reward progress, and maintain a level of surprise throughout the app. one proposition we made was to award the Cheese Head Cookie after the Green Bay Packers win a big game.


The program had three main functions: visualize user progress, rank against other users and educate on smart energy usage. These functions reflect the goals that the utility has for its users: engaging with the app through collecting tokens and ranking, encouraging energy savings. When presented to the client, the idea was met with great enthusiasm! The leveraging of the ‘cookie culture’ sparked new ideas of adoption strategies and brand growth opportunities.

Design Approach