Over a few short years, IoT-enabled devices have entered the homes of millions. The growth of the connected home market is predicted to grow exponentially with security, energy efficiency, and entertainment as key adoption drivers. However, with every new wave of technology comes undiscovered needs and frustrations.
The fragmentation of the smart home landscape makes it increasingly challenging for users to control their homes with one integrated solution. My team was tasked with creating an interface for a fictitious platform that allows users to control all of their smart home devices through a single interface.
Before getting in front of users, we took a deeper look into the competitive landscape to identify a product fit for our concept app. There were two distinct categories that surfaced from our research:
While we were able to find an ideal fit for our concept app within the competitive landscape, we didn’t know much about the user. We had over 50 survey respondents and conducted six user interviews. The participants fell within the 22-50 year old demographic and were spread across the technology adoption lifecycle. Casting a wide net helped us discover emerging trends around security and efficiency.
These insights helped me develop two user personas. Rebecca, our primary user, is a working mother frustrated by the amount of devices and applications she has to manage. Cameron, our secondary user, is a tech-savvy professional who enjoys finding new gadgets that can save him time around the house.
We wanted to zero in on the frustrations of our primary persona while addressing the time-saving goals of our secondary persona. Plotting Rebecca’s emotional landscape during a home management crisis pointed to a core set of frustrations.
The frustrations from her journey map were able to shed light on the larger problem at hand:
Busy professionals want simple technology to manage their homes in order to feel secure and be efficient.
We defined the following design principles to help prioritize and guide our design decisions moving forward:
Weave distinct products with patterned interactions and aesthetic unity.
Present the user with content in a clear and intuitive way with minimal new learning.
Cater to the routines of the user in a way that helps them feel productive and in control.
Drawing up quick prototypes allowed us to get a better feeling for the features we should explore. After sketching our individual concepts and conducting our first round of user testing, three main features emerged.
User testing for creating a home mode
Modes: Fully automate multiple devices for different occasions with the touch of a button. Users enjoyed being able to customize modes for when they are away, home, or on vacation.
Notifications: Alert users about key moments when they’re away from home (i.e. motion detected at front door). Users placed an emphasis on security notifications.
Augmented Reality: Directly manipulate controls in the home through a live camera feed (i.e opening and closing your garage door by touching your garage in a camera feed). Although most users appreciated the novelty of AR, 80% of users were unsure of its utility.
Moving forward with these three features, we conducted a second round of user testing after building our individual mid-fidelity prototypes.
My prototype led to a high task completion rate for modes and notifications but tested poorly for AR. While most found AR visually appealing, the majority still preferred the physical punching of a code on their home security systems or manually locking their doors. The concerns of security were twofold—people didn’t trust the technology as a tool for home security and were concerned with their phones being hacked. One of our testing subjects captured this belief system when stating:
“I’d show my friends this cool feature, but would never bank my kid’s safety on it.”
Testing mid-fidelity prototypes helped us quickly eliminate features that weren’t testing well and fully execute on ones with more potential. Due to the rising concerns with AR, we decided to remove it from our final designs. As we continued our iterative process, we wanted to begin prioritizing a visual direction for our mobile interface.
We landed on “CASA” for the name of the app as it carried an approachable and welcoming feel. The tagline “Your home away from home” set the tone for our users to feel in control no matter where they are. When creating our individual style tiles, we started by looking at popular brands in the market. Products varied from minimal, light interfaces like Apple HomeKit to darker interfaces with bold colors like RTI and Nest. It was more important for us to follow consistency as a design principle than to build an entirely new “smart home” brand. To bring home the idea of a central hub for all smart home devices, my style tile relied on a limited, yet engaging color palette.
After a final round of testing, we found that my UI direction resonated the most with users. They appreciated the consistency and familiarity to other mobile applications, and enjoyed the softer, friendlier colors.
After addressing some of the concerns and errors from our second round of testing, 100% of users were able to create a new mode without issue.
Users wanted to do more without spending too much time clicking around in the app. I added a function to adjust the thermostat and home mode directly on the dashboard.
Two users owned 10+ smart home devices and voiced a need to customize all devices. While individually selecting 10 devices is not unreasonable, we realized users will likely own more devices as the market grows. We introduced a “Select All” button to help the design scale.
Less than 20% of users were able to edit or delete an existing mode. Although swiping left is a more common mobile pattern, we wanted to stay true to our transparent design principle and minimize new learning as much as possible. I switched to the iOS design pattern for editing alarms resulting in 100% of users editing/deleting modes successfully.
Providing context along the way can prevent the user from getting lost in the event they are using the app in a distracting environment. I added a guiding line of text at the top of every screen within the mode task flow to inform the user of the mode they are editing.
My biggest takeaway from this project stems from the adage: you are not your user. Each member of my team owned at least one smart home device. It was a daily challenge to stray away from ideas we thought would make our personal lives easier. Sometimes our findings and opinions overlapped, but revisiting our research at every step led to a product driven by empathy and curiosity.
This being said, if given more time, my team would have liked to explore a few things: