Background: Nature recently published a paper on a new technology for windows. In a nutshell: glass has been prepared that selectively absorbs visible and near-infrared light when an electrochemical voltage is applied. This opens the way to ‘smart’ windows that block heat on demand, with or without optical transparency.

Given that residential and commercial buildings account for about 40 percent of energy use and 30 percent of energy-related carbon emissions in the US, this is quite a breakthrough.

Read Composite for smarter windows  (Note: Nature subscription required for this one)

Design challenge: Our goal was to create a graphic that simply and elegantly showed the three limiting optical states of a new smart coating: (a) full transparency, (b) selectively near-infrared (NIR) blocking, and © darkened against both visible and NIR light transmission (as labelled in the final graphic, above).

The cover design (also above) showed the three states in one window, but for the graphic we wanted to be more explanatory while still conveying the simplicity of the concept.

A key challenge was to show the layers within the glass, to visually explain how applying a charge to this setup affects the nanocrystals and therefore the optical transparency of the glass matrix. It was drawn in an orthographic projection, with the layered structure of the glass drawn as blowouts using the same projection. This allowed all of the elements to sit nicely within the same visual space.

I experimented by showing more structure around the windows (such as in a brick wall) and by showing more of an external ‘scene’, but found that simple floating windows with a stylized depiction of sky and natural light was all that was needed.

-Nik Spencer