About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Who are we innovating for?

We all have different motivators and barriers in our adoption of new technologies. Following a series of interviews with actual and potential adopters of heat pumps, we've developed three personas that represent householders who might get low-carbon heating soon. These personas help us define areas of additional research and interventions while ensuring that users remain at the centre of the process

As we build an understanding of the process of people adopting heat pumps, it is important to consider the goals, circumstances and challenges that individuals may encounter in the process. Our research revealed recurring themes across users, which allowed us to group users based on common characteristics. These groups formed the basis of our personas.

Personas are a popular device in design and innovation. They are used to illustrate archetypal users and help to ensure the development of products and services that are focused on specific needs and desires. We’re using these personas to gain better insight into users’ individual circumstances, to better understand barriers and to build empathy with potential adopters of low-carbon heating. The personas also help us to share our findings in an accessible way.

Being as specific as possible about individual goals will allow us to better tailor our innovations. The personas are hypotheses, an assemblage of research conducted by various members of the sustainable future team. They are built on findings from observational research and interviews with heat pump engineers, adopters and prospective users. We will continue to stress test these personas, updating them as confidence grows.

Visually representing common characteristics

Reflecting on the interviews conducted with actual and potential heat pump adopters, the sustainable futures team identified characteristics that are common to the types of people who appear in the early stages of the innovation adoption curve. Adopters are people who take up a novel idea or action and thus kickstart the diffusion process and the adoption curve is a device, often portrayed as a bell shape, that demonstrates how people, as part of a wider social system, adopt new ideas. It has five established adopter categories, as can be seen below within the bell shape.

The innovation adoption curve demonstrates different groups of consumer adopters, against the market share (adapted from Rogers' diffusion of innovations)

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To further define the adopter categories on the graph above we developed a set of characteristics specific to those considering a heat pump purchase. These characteristics have been identified as a result of our fieldwork interviews, and also draw upon the team's wider domain knowledge and lived experience. They aid our understanding by providing a clear picture of how the personas’ situations differ.The characteristics we identified are centred on fieldwork findings but also draw upon our team's wider sector knowledge and lived experience. They aid our understanding by providing a clear picture of how the personas’ situations differ. We grouped and summarised our results under five headings;

  • environmental conscientiousness — how motivated the user is to act by the environmental impact
  • thought leadership – the level at which they are a trusted source of information for their social circle
  • acceptance of risk – the degree of risk that the householder is willing to accept when making decisions
  • financial independence – how financially independent the user is and how much available capital they may have
  • astute consumption – how motivated the householder is by making savvy choices. Astute householders weigh up costs and benefits to make decisions they stick with in the long term

Goals and barriers to adoption

Using personas can help us to highlight goals and barriers uncovered through the research into the user journey of actually obtaining a heat pump. These vary in terms of specificity and scale. A goal could be ‘to reduce monthly energy bills’. Whereas a barrier may be ‘conflicting and confusing information’.

A narrative is built by combining the characteristics with the barriers and drivers. Contextual information helps us to build in empathy. The results were a set of three personas to frame our work.

Traits of three heat pump personas

The key traits of our three heat pump personas

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The three personas

Persona 1 – The savvy, climate-conscious early adopter. They are willing to overcome major challenges to have a heat pump fitted. They are likely to already have low-carbon technology in their home, maybe solar panels or an electric vehicle.

Persona 2 – Risk-averse, long term thinking homeowners. They look to make the prudent choice in terms of the long-term value. They have the means to fund an install and are keeping a close eye on monthly bills. They're considering an electric vehicle and believe their home heating should also be “switching to electric”.

Persona 3 – the frustrated and confused. Aware that there are changes ahead, they are frustrated at the lack of clear messaging as to which path to take. Their tolerance to risk is much lower than personas 1 & 2 and are much less financially independent.

Conclusion and next steps

The use of personas in design research is widespread. Within the mission, they will focus the innovation process and ensure we put users at the heart of any interventions we propose. As we move into the next stage of our project, we’re using these personas to identify opportunities and guide the development of solutions. For example, a problem identified by the mission is finding the right information on how to install a heat pump. Our personas will have different requirements to overcome this barrier.

Persona 1 (the savvy, climate-conscious early adopter) will want technical information, to be reassured of the technology and appear to be well-read on the topic and its benefits. By contrast, persona 3 (the frustrated and confused user) will demand information on the heating experience that’s personalised to their home and is not overly worried about the technical workings of a heat pump. They will seek information that reassures them that a heat pump is affordable to install, maintain and run. As a result, our work as a mission team could be to generate innovation that ensures those quite different informational needs are met.

These personas will be valuable in defining our areas to investigate and develop ensuring that the user remains at the centre of our work. They’re intended to be iterative, so we'll be continually updating them as we become more aware of the challenges individuals face in adopting heat pumps.

The personas are also freely available, and we welcome their adaptation and use by others working in the domain. If they’ve been useful to you, please do email the sustainable future team and let us know.


Andy Marsden

Andy Marsden

Andy Marsden

Designer, Design & Technology

Andy is a designer for the sustainable future mission.

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