knows me better than my mom

my role

UX Research, Visuals, UI Design

duration

35 days

tools

Figma, Adobe Suite, Online tools

browsing the world, I found this problem

background

Home automation paves the way to a new class of technology that, supposedly, will make our life easier.

the problem space

Unfortunately standards seem not established yet and apps didn’t find a UX paradigm good enough to avoid the Dumb effect

Dumb effect: when your non tecky friend sarcastically highlights that you’ve spent 100 seconds to turn the light on through your phone, while the light switch is at your arm’s reach and it would have taken 1 second to turn the light on “the good old-fashioned way”. Then you feel dumb.

my solution

Designing an app with a high degree of personalization that learns the user habits and uses the context to speed-up every interaction.
This design speeds up devices control thanks to the visual consolidation of the memory (I go straight to the button without looking for it) and will create a better feeling of connection between the user and his/her automated home

so I've tried to solve it with some Design Thinking

this was the plan

so first I asked people

connection with people

Research goals

  • Find out if Home automation engages families
  • Find a niche in competitor’s apps that is worth improving

Research questions​

  • Will Home Automation be big as it seems?
  • How can we improve existing apps to avoid the Dumb effect?
  • Are Home Automation Apps useful when we are NOT home?

Methodology

For my research I’ve used 3 qualitative methods:
  • Individual interview
  • Contextual Interview
  • Task Analysis

Among the people I know, I’ve made a thorough selection of those who had certain characteristics, like age group, tech savviness, family type, house type, work type and an estimation of how many hours they spend inside or outside their houses.

I decided to select people and not to do any survey or guerrilla research because living in a small town it would have been hard to find people with enough tech awareness to be relevant for a project on Home Automation.

After that I asked for their availability for an interview, then I defined the questions and prepared a spreadsheet with all the questions, in order to be able to collect the data in one place

Participants

I’ve interviewed 35 people

  • Age range: 21 – 75
  • Tech awareness: ranged from tech illiterate to tech-savvy
  • Gender: 50% male, 45% female, 5% non-binary
  • Occupation status: 70% employed, 20% retired, 10% unemployed
  • Children: 63% of them had at least one kid
  • People with disabilities: 1 participant had a visual impairment

I needed some data to reason on

outlining users

Data collection

Data were collected taking notes on paper for each participant and then gathered on a digital spreadsheet to have a comprehensive view of the data.

It was surprising how much information we can extract from talking with people. Information that are usually covered under a mountain of wrong assumptions we make.

Empathy maps

I’ve tried to empathize with participants to understand their specific feelings about Home automation and their interaction with the devices.

Each person has his/her own relationship with the house and I wanted to deliver a product that would improve this relationship and make users feel like they have the house under control in their own personal way

Previous
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User persona

After all the data gathered from the interviews were collected, organized and analyzed, some common traits emerged.

Then I had fun designing a nice layout for the data presentation

Kids make the difference

User Journey

Having kids changes the perspective of every person. A woman with kids has different feelings and a completely different set of priorities in her day, so she also asks different things to her automated house
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Next

User Flow

The shorter is the user flow
the faster is the interaction
the lightest is the Dumb effect

Working to the User Flow helped me to focus more on the outcome I was aiming to  

competitive analysis

Let’s find a niche to sneak into the market

Each competitor benefits from its “Private universe”. They doesn’t try to charm customers with clever functions or a good User Experience, but they take advantage from the interconnected universe of devices and services they already have. Customers usually enter into the Home Automation through the universe they are already in. 

The only competitor who doesn’t have a private universe to rely on is Home Assistant that unfortunately has a huge entry barrier. To use the platform profitably, you need to be quite an expert in IT matters, I’d say you almost need to be a developer.

Competitors' value proposition

Google Home
Google
Well integrated with the Apple OS ecosystem. Desktop, Tables, TV, Phones, Wearables
Homekit
Apple
Well integrated with the Apple OS ecosystem. Desktop, Tables, TV, Phones, Wearables
Alexa
Amazon
This platform has the widest compatibility among the IoT manufacturers.
SmartThings
Samsung
Samsung SmartThings is developing a Windows App to be able to control your devices from your PC
Home Assistant
Open Source

Extremely versatile and customizable. Thanks to the programming language it lets you access to more controls of our devices

All the analyzed competitors lack customization, except for Home Assistant which is extremely customizable but also inaccessible for all people without a strong IT background

there was something that prevented users from getting engaged

pain points

After the research data has been processed, we’re now able to converge and identify what our users need to be more engaged into Home Automation and to get more from their automated home.

1

Too many apps

I have many devices from different manufacturers and I have to install one app for every company

Antonio

2

Not customizable

It’s still hard to reach the control I need when I need it. I have my own habits and I’d like to customize more the app

Davide

3

When I’m out

When I’m out I need to reach other controls than those I need when I’m home

Roberta

2

UI for my kids

My family members benefit from the same devices in my house, but they would like to have a different UI based on their needs

Denise

actionable challenges

I finally managed to have a well defined idea on what to build. The design must focus on customization and adaptation and the app must become a central HUB for all the devices in the house

Personalization

Priority 1

Design a UX concept that is highly customizable and highly adaptable to the user type and the user habits
2
3
4

Be a central HUB

Priority 2

The app must function as a hub, covering all the devices and all the situations in which the user can be
1

I started drafting a few solutions

wireframing

Sketching ideas

I’ve tried to come out with solutions very different between them, but with a common goal, the speed of use.

Thanks to the prediction of user’s habits and the automatic context switching, Homio will be able to give users what they need at the right time

Digital prototype

once the wireframe was digitized, I made a small prototype to start a Usability testing to prove the concept

and now it may be a good idea to give the design a round of test

usability study

a moderated usability test was made on 5 users that used the digital prototype, while observed by the moderator (me).

The test showed few minor inconsistencies and 3 major problems that needed to be addressed

Theme 1

The path back to the home screen needs to be improved

Theme 2

The lower bar is not useful and sometimes confusing

Theme 3

Observations with no use

Theme 4

Contrast needs improvements on other pages

here is how I’ve addressed the problems found

moving on

moving from low-fi to mid-fi I had the opportunity to introduce and test some Gestalt principles, typography and color theory

mid-fidelity mockup

Accessibility check

After that, another round of test was made to check if the design was compliant with A11y standards.

Colors contrast and fonts have been scanned with few online tools and kept under control with some Figma Plugin.

Then the last test was performed with a real user with visual impairment

and now I’m finally ready to focus on designing a beautiful UI

hi-fidelity mockup​

Introducing the Context aware dashboard

another iteration of interviews made me realize that many users would love to have a dashboard that gives them quick access to different controls depending on the context they are in.

People have different priorities when they are at home, at work or they are travelling.

So I explored users priorities to define which type of device they prefer to have a quick access to on different contexts or times of the day.

and the final result was quite satisfying

Home Dashboard

Work Dashboard

Travelling Dashboard

Then I produced some documentation for other team members

style guide

I’ve selected a triad of colors to represents the three categories of devices in the Automated Home.

  • Automation
  • Control
  • Security

Each category represent one of the three main user priorities.

Using the Similarity principle (through colors) for controls of the same category, will lighten the cognitive load of identifying the control we are looking for and this will speed-up the use of the app

Phase Header

Montserrat Alternates

Bold

40 pt

Small title

Montserrat

Bold

20 pt

Storytelling

Montserrat Alternates

Bold

20 pt

Regular text

Montserrat

Regular

14 pt

Takeaways

This project reinforced my awareness of the entire Design Thinking process. Particularly regarding how important iterations are in the different stages of design.

In this project, I was able to identify several issues at various stages of the design process that would have gone unnoticed without a round of user testing.

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