One of the major challenges we observed in a smart home is that people do not know what they are toggling. This is typical in smart homes that stick to one brand for homogeneity, or when you have not personally installed devices and they are named by someone else.
Can we come up with a centralized way we can see what device you are working with, where it is located, what it is, and what it is named?
Knowing what you are dealing with is the key to solving this problem. From research, we found that people do not really care about the names of smart home devices, as long as they can uniquely recognize where what is.
The 'where' is important - by knowing the location of the device, users can accurately pinpoint, and even assign preferred names or aliases to their smart home equipment.
Type Sponsored, Team project Role Research, Wireframing, UI consulting, Device procurement and integration Duration 4 months (Jan 2017 - Apr 2017) Tools Surveys, Design sprints, Pen-and-paper, Sketch, InVision Objectives User research, Demonstrating use case, UI suggestion, Proof-of-concept
My primary motivation for choosing this project was to explore in-place user interfaces. My experience at the Aware Home had taught me that once a sensor joins your smart home, it is pretty much lost in the sea of devices. God help you if you name your devices 'test' and leave it be, because when their battery runs out, you'll need to check every single appliance in the house to see if it is still alive.
We also anticipate a future where Smart Home service providers like Comcast and Cox will install the devices for you, or your new apartment already comes with sensors and actuators installed. In these cases, you don't really know what "Turn on bedroom light" really does, when you have multiple bedrooms with multiple sources of lights in them. Alexa would just respond with "I'm not sure how to help you with that", or "There are multiple devices that share that name, which one did you want?"
The project also was in line with the ongoing research at the Aware Home for location-aware appliances. We drew some constraints and made some assumptions from some of the location aware equipment available in the home, trying to design an interface that will tie in with the system at large, working across different devices in different locations using different protocols.
We conducted a brief survey to understand what users feel about the installation, configuration and interaction processes in their past experience with smart homes. After disseminating this survey on several smart home forums, we received about 103 responses.
Our key insights from the survey were:
To better understand the process (mainly, the surprises and frustrations) people undergo while setting up their shiny brand-new IoT gadget, we tried think-aloud task analysis.
We created a list of tasks our participant would have to perform - right from unboxing to physical installation to downloading and configuring the app. At the end of task analyses were questions about the task, as well as the general cognitive load questionnaire based on NASA TLX.
Our insights from task analysis were:
Along the lines of concerns our users expressed, we decided to dig deeper into a few apps to validate some of their claims. We looked at the task flow, iconography, labels, interactions and so on.
Even though I consider myself fairly comfortable with installing and using smart homes, this deeper dive helped me understand the difficulty in switching these apps and using them one after another.
We summarized what we had learned from the task analysis and case studies into a document, and for a good measure, added some idea that could help us getting around it.
After that was clearly outlined, the team started sketching design alternatives to best solve the problems at hand.
Feel free to play around with this InVision interactive prototype.
This location-aware system has the potential to impact the smart home industry greatly. Even by simply normalizing the UI and providing visual cues as to what object you are interacting with, it is possible to vastly improve the user experience dealing with smart homes.
The addition of an one-stop device configuration and management, and power monitoring capabilities, of course, are a big plus.