UX Best Practices: Home Automation Ecosystem Design
Abstract: One of the newest and strongest trends of Internet of Things is Home Automation. New technologies will bring new ways to interact — and new UX challenges.
Imagine the lights outside your home turn on automatically at 6:00pm. Or being able to start your car minutes before you even get in during a cold morning. The future will be amazing!
That has been around for years! You may think of these examples are not what we nowadays refer to as Home Automation. Where are the smartphones? The lights that change intensity with the day? The thermostat that turns off when it notices I leave? Programmable lights and remote controllers are indeed one of the earliest examples of Home Automation; what is new goes beyond hardware and software: it’s the possibility of creating an ecosystem.
An ecosystem means its components or members are interconnected in a complex network of relations. They all share and compete for resources and information, and they depend on each other. They form a hierarchy and a chain. Like natural ecosystems, each member plays a role in the big picture. Programmable lights and remote controllers are not part of an ecosystem because they do not interact with each other or with anything else. Your garage door, as automatic and remote-controlled as it may be today, doesn’t know that if you turn on your car in the morning, it should open.
The revolution we are experiencing right now is that appliances and devices in our homes that were once isolated, blind, deaf and mute, are suddenly able to talk to each other and share what they do and know. We are closer than ever to a Jetson-like life. This revolution of an ecosystem of smart devices that interact for our benefit is called Internet of Things.
IoT – Internet of Things
When we dreamed of a life like the Jetsons, we thought of having flying cars, housekeeping robots, instant meals, etc. However, we never thought about the intangible system that supports and sustain their lifestyle. As mentioned before, the true power of IoT, and what makes it a revolution is not in the hardware but what cannot be seen: the ecosystem. If we could see electromagnetic waves such as WiFi, bluetooth, radio, and others, I assure you we would pay less attention to the physical objects – our home, workplace, car, and streets would look as if they were covered by thick spiderwebs of rapidly moving and changing waves. I think it would be overwhelming, so I’m glad we can’t see them.
WiFi, cellular, bluetooth, infrared, radio, and other waves are constantly weaving relationships between our smart devices.
The other invisible power of IoT is much less obvious: User Experience. If you are reading this, you might be part of a team that is building software solutions. You will have an impact on the outcome of a product or service that will attempt to improve people’s lives. In the case of IoT, you will have to play a god-like role where you will have to design not just the “creature” (the device) and its brain (the software), but the entire ecosystem and how will it best serve an even greater god than you: the user.
The challenge of UX design in IoT is that we are not in control anymore.
We no longer design a closed, simple system where only our creature lives and everything is perfect. We now have to account for hundreds or thousands of other creatures, living, thriving, collaborating and competing for the user-god’s attention. Excellent UX design will ultimately mark the difference between those that survive and those that go extinct, regardless of their cutting-edge technology or their cool-looking hardware.
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UI/UX Designer at Dev IQ, Men-at-Work fan, and 3D printing guru