Homagic - Home 'Smart' Home

The Challenge

Designed a whole-home automation app using the Goal-Directed Design Process

Role

  • User Experience Designer
  • User Researcher
  • User Interface Designer
  • Visual & Interaction Designer

Skills & Tools

  • User survey and Contextual Inquiries
  • Sketch for Visual and UI Design
  • InVision for Prototyping

User Research

The main objective of this research was to explore how users are integrating smart home technologies into their current residences and what they envision next.

I focused on homeowners and families: what they want and need, how they prefer to get it, and what they expect in a smart home system for it to work for them. To identify interviewees, i first conducted a short survey in my neighborhood, to analyze current practice and trends related to home automation. As the concept of home automation is still not well-defined nowadays, a brief description was given at the beginning to introduce the topic.

Survey Insights

  • Most homeowners are excited about a smart home’s promise to make things safer, smarter and more efficient.

  • Research indicates that homeowners want to avoid the frustrations commonly experienced due to the ‘standalone device' model.

    • 70% overwhelmed by the number of different smart home products on the market.
    • Few think that smart home products are too complicated to understand and set up.
  • Despite advances in technology, consumers still face many daily issues as they continue to seek out comprehensive solutions.

    • 80% percent expect that different devices in the home should work together automatically.
    • Most of them would prefer a single app or a voice controlled assistant to control all devices.
    • Nearly half would be happier with the smart technology if reliable customer support was available.
  • Staying comfortable is equally important as energy savings when it comes to a smart thermostat.

  • Knowing that the home is safe & secured against a wide range of threats is the most important.

    • 70% percent want an app that notifies them when something is wrong and enables control of the system from anywhere.
    • 60% percent want their smart home security system to cooperate with other smart products in the home.

After the survey, I identified and approached 3 individuals for scheduled interview sessions to get a deeper understanding of their perspectives and preferences about the topic. The questions were about the consumer’s opinion, idea, current situation, preferences, costs, willingness and conditions to adopt the Home automation in their lives.

Enthusiastic Techie

Age : 27

Single, lives with a roommate

Devices : alexa, samsung smart home to connect devices like TV, washers & fridge. Uses the wink app to integrate these devices.

Determined to install and configure the smart home devices himself

Wants : Loves to entertain so wants to connect and personalize entertainment, lighting & other devices

Frustrations : “Attempting an interconnected system to make devices talk to each other, has been daunting”

Practical Homemaker

Age : mid-forties

Married with two children

Devices : Water-softener system controlled by ecowater app. ADT pulse home security. Looking to install a smart thermostat soon.

Has efficiency and sustainability at the top of her mind. She appreciates the beautiful and intuitive design – but she really loves seeing the energy savings on her monthly electricity bill.

Wants : Guidance for optimal energy consumption with alerts for security and energy monitoring when using smart devices.

Frustrations : “Everything is fragmented. I don’t know where to start! How much is it all going to cost?”

Early Adopter

Age : 34

New mom

Devices : home powered by solar panels, nest learning thermostat, wifi plugs, each with a separate remote.

Her child’s safety and whereabouts is her utmost concern. Her son constantly demands her full attention

Wants : More solutions like nest that is not only intuitive but also is cost-effective due to growing expenses.

Frustrations : “Being a new mom, I don’t have a lot of hands…operating multiples devices is painstaking”


Findings and Outcomes

  • Research showed a significant user interest in the connected-home but also revealed reluctance for adopting a complete smart home. Recurring themes surfaced during the interviews, which addressed multiple barriers to adoption.
  • The users seem to struggle with lack of device integration, setup complexity, unknown system costs, sustainability concerns, and user control. With the exception of security systems, smart home products were described as “nice-to-haves” rather than “must haves”. As a result, people have mostly started to begin with stand-alone smart devices based on their individual needs, gradually connecting them piece-by-piece with existing household items.
  • Individual smart products and wearable devices have been helpful in introducing elements of a smart home but the key to mainstream adoption is one platform that works symbiotically with other manufacturers and seamlessly integrates all the lone devices into one complete home ecosystem.

Opportunity

Comprehensive Single Platform Experience

While many people appreciate their smart home devices for their intended learning features, they don’t rely solely on its “smartness”. They also want to keep all the control at their fingertips, which is why mobile & voice assisted convenience is absolutely essential.


Modelling Personas

The following key personas helped capture the essence of the target audience, their behaviors, goals and frustrations uncovered during the research phase.


Defining the Problem

Recurring user needs that surfaced during the Modelling phase :

  1. Connected home products that are compatible with a single application/service - all the personas
  2. Creating shortcuts for favorite settings to avoid repeating multiple steps - Betty and Gary
  3. Ability to save different individual preferences as multiple modes and profiles - Murphy family
  4. Energy consumption tracking to manage billing cycles - Gary

Users want to run their home like a single symbiotic ecosystem.

How might we design an app that is flexible and scalable enough to integrate with all if the home devices to help users create the perfect home environment (even away from home) suited to their activity, context and personality

Based on the problem the following themes surfaced during a brainstorm and affinity mapping session

Themes

Opportunities

  1. Consolidated Control

    Promote a positive association with the smart products the users already have.

  2. Installation & Integration Support

    Building a supportive community where users can discuss and exchange ideas, share experiences and challenges, and find practical solutions

  3. Simplicity & Sustainability

    Exploring possibilities of increased efficiency and cost savings in a meaningful way

  4. Customized Experience

    Tweaking the system to adapt to varied needs of different homes and the people it houses.


Building Context Scenarios

Persona : Murphys

Keeping Family Safe

Situation : Mr. Murphy is leaving for a business conference for a week and is worried about the safety of his family while he is away.

Problem : Recent thefts happening in the neighborhood has him worried that his home might be next.

Goal : Mr. Murphy wants a way to to keep his family safe and secure especially when he is not with them.

Desired Outcome : The app allows Mr. Murphy to control all the security devices installed within the house, the motion sensors, cameras and floodlights. This helps Mr. Murphy monitor any irregular motion outside or inside the house, and the access security video feed remotely from his smart phone.

Persona : Betty

Perfect Homecoming

Situation : Betty has had a long day at work. She returns home late one cold evening.

Problem : She fumbles with the door lock keypad since it's dark, meanwhile trying to manage her heavy bag. Betty also struggles to find the light switches once inside the house. She is tired and this only frustrates her further.

Goal : She just wants to have some hot coffee, make herself warm and relax for sometime.

Desired Outcome : The app allows Betty to sync her devices like the door lock, the ecobee thermostat and the philips hue bulbs for her to be able to control all of them remotely. Betty can now set the room temperature to a desired level minutes before she gets home. She can switch on lights when she is at the driveway and also unlock the door right from her phone to avoid struggling with her bags in the dark.

Persona : Gary

Forgot to turn lights off

Situation : Gary is on the freeway driving towards the airport when he realizes that he has left the lights in the bedroom running.

Problem : Gary is very cost conscious and this makes him worried about the electricity bill since he will be home only the following week. If he returns home now he will miss his flight.

Goal : Gary wants to set the home to an away mode where the lights are out, the thermostat is adjusted to a power saving mode and the security system is armed.

Desired Outcome : The app not only notifies Gary about the lights that the left turned on, but also allows him to switch them off with a click. It also allows Gary to set an away mode on his phone that syncs all devices to a certain setting desired by Gary. Now Gary can turn the mode ON and the devices will be set to the saved preferences.


Design Requirements

  1. Simplicity

    The tool must be easy to learn and simple to use.

  2. Adaptability

    Experienced users should be able to quickly modify settings to make the most out of the app.

  3. Routines

    Smart homes are highly event-driven. This results in different behavior of a set of devices with respect to the system’s state (e.g., at home/home away).

  4. Mode Schedules

    The ability to impose timing constraints on the system is crucial.

  5. Synchronization

    higher valued services like weather forecast sync for adjusting temperature control.


Framework and Refinement

User Goals

  • Conveniently control home devices remotely
  • Adjust settings to provide maximum comfort
  • Feel safe and secure
  • Enjoy a better quality of life

Core Values

'Homagic' makes your home

  • simpler as it lets you control all your smart devices with one app instead of many
  • better as it empowers you and your house
  • smarter as it helps your devices to adapt to you and your habits

Form & Personality

The app ‘Homagic’ is like a personal minion that takes care of everything around the house from A-Z.

  • App for both mobile & tablet platforms
  • Supports multiple users to accommodate family members, friends & guest profiles

Key Features

  • Groups :organizes your devices into rooms for faster and simpler access.
  • Routines : triggers specific behaviors of your devices to create different routines like homecoming, dinner or movie night.
  • Modes : schedules modes that make your home ready for situations like travel, sleep, away or stay. You can set the rules once knowing that Homagic will take care of it.

Prototyping, User Testing & Feedback

Interaction Flows

Onboarding

Set up home, devices, rooms & members

I set out to illustrate user flows for a context scenario developed for one of the personas. Since there are many ways to explore the user interaction flows with the app, I first identified a single situation with key interaction touch points where the user might use this app the most.

Persona Betty is returning home after a long day's work

Key interaction touch points :

  • On her way home, the apps make the home ready for her arrival using preset Routines
  • Once she is home, the app allows her to change the home security & light settings for settling in using Modes.
  • As soon as Betty is settled the app gives an update on the day through a consolidated Dashboard with quick response links.

Assumption : Betty has already completed the onboarding, set her home profile, routines and modes.

Flow 1

User is on his way home from work. The app detects this and suggests if the user wants to start the homecoming routine to get the home ready to welcome the user with a perfect setting and coffee


Task for Test

Unlock the app, go to routine settings and edit the coffee flavor to cappuccino.

Flow 2

User is home. The app detects this and suggests if the user to change the mode from Away to Stay in order to switch off the security, temperature and indoor light settings.

Task for Test

Go mode Stay, change aroma settings to Almond and apply changes to activate mode

These key path scenarios helped me to understand how a user interacts with the app to perform tasks he/she wants to complete.

After I fleshed out the key path scenarios as hi-fidelity comps, Itested them with users. I went back to my interviewees to do the testing andconsolidated all the testing session insights into a feedback capture grid highlighting positives, negatives, questions and opportunities


Looking Ahead

Self Review and Key Learnings

  • The user testing revealed interesting opinions & raised valid questions that point towards where the app can be improved for the next phase of the project.
  • The app delivers most of its user goals in the form of key scenarios developed however the next steps would be to integrate these to form a cohesive solution for whole home access.
  • Through the course of the project, I have realized that most of the users, though reluctant about adopting the smart home technology, were very keen and excited to try the app that would bring whole home automation to their household. It's only lack of awareness and access to this system that keeps them from adapting to this paradigm.

Next Steps

  1. Work on the onboarding experience where the user can set up home, rooms, devices etc.
  2. Connect the 3 scenarios into one single app. Fills in the blanks for menus, settings, user profiles etc.
  3. Introduce a chat center for the family members to collaborate.
  4. Integrated voice command for certain scenarios like in-car interactions.
  5. Test iteration with a different set of users to get more feedback.


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