Home Automation App
Home automation, or smart home, is a service, which allows intelligent electronic control of the lighting, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, media, and even security systems in a house through a mobile broadband or wifi connection. The idea is to offer a new level of ease and convenience to our lifestyle.
When two developers, Ashwin Deshpande and Prasanna Ballal approached me to act as a design collaborator for their start-up idea, I was immediately interested!
This is my design journey in creating a mobile app experience.
The information in this case study is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of automatatechnologies
This project took place between October 2015 and March 2016. What started off as just a branding service, evolved into a user experience strategy & design opportunity for an android app.
Automation service involves both hardware and software development and installation. Being part of a small team, I was responsible for tasks like information architecture, visual design, interaction ideation for interfaces, developing brand strategy, along with designing collaterals like stickers for hardware, flyers, and other promotional material.
From the beginning it was clear that the user’s interaction with Automata and the extent of control she will exert over it, would influence the usability of the system. Hence, the principle challenge in front of me was to develop a design language, which is in harmony with the automation system; a strategy that engages users of all generations.
UNDERSTANDING THE PRODUCT
My lack of domain knowledge meant that I needed to understand the functioning of automation systems thoroughly and quickly. I studied various aspects of automation, for instance, why internet as a means of controlling a home as against the GSM network or speech recognition, how it has to be an easy-to-install system, and many others.
Having pool of questions, I spent time in studying research documents and technical support information, along with understanding the all technical know-how from the developers about their product.
Comparison Report of all the Systems. Ref. Research Journal of Computer Applications (0975 -8887)
SMART PHONE FOR A SMART HOME
Our initial meetings revolved around understanding the basic functionalities which made me understand the why, how, and when the users will connect with the mobile application during their interaction with entire home automation system.
ORGANISATIONAL GOALS AND USER GOALS
I understood that android smart phones are the most popular choice for this system and are a handy tool for controlling home automation systems. They also have a wide variety of tools allowing easy app development.
Armed with the knowledge of the basic functioning of the system, I started exploring ways of developing a strategy to provide the best user app experience. In the process, I embarked upon bottom-up design as the experience design strategy, which focuses on the user rather than the system in its approach.
Stephen Anderson’s UX Hierarchy of Needs was a great resource on which to base our strategy.
It was important to discover the needs of our diverse user base, which included enthusiastic adolescents to tech savvy adults to reluctant grandparents. The principle direction was to truly understand the people to gain meaningful insights into their dispositions, and to inspire and inform a final design that would have an impact.
WHAT HOME AUTOMATION MEANS TO YOU?
My journey brought me to realize what home automation exactly meant to its diverse users. Various insights were drawn dividing the users into 4 basic categories.
Their key characteristics, motivations, pain points, and affiliations were taken into consideration.
Following are the proto personas I created for the user research.
IMPORTANT OBSERVATIONS INCLUDED :
The high energy needed by home appliances (like white goods, audio/video devices, and communication equipments) and air-con systems (heating and cooling), makes our homes essential to reducing for the impact of energy consumption.
The inability to access and control the appliances from remote locations is one of the major reasons for energy loss.
This also meant that the elderly and disabled people only faced added restrictions in controlling their appliances.
With fewer levels in the user interface, the system becomes simpler.
Adding customizations would improve overall experience of the app.
The interface should be user-friendly, i.e., users should be able to learn and adopt it quickly.
“The system acting as an assistive technology for the old and the disabled opened an additional new dimension to our discovery”
The research was analysed to set the goals, define the features, and decide the scope of the project.
User friendly interface: If the system is difficult to understand, the usability will be directly affected.
Security and authentication: Only authorized users can login to the system (locally or remotely) in order to manage, control, & monitor the appliances. If the system detects intruders it should immediately alert the system owner and lock login capability.
System Scalability: Scalability is the ability of a system, network, or process, to handle growing amount of work in a capable manner or its ability to be enlarged to accommodate that growth. For example, the app should be able to handle upgrade/downgrade of automation systems, adding/removing of hardware modules easily and systematically.
Module addition: Ease of adding a new module to the house, and therefore to the system and the app, will play an important role in taking the systems forward commercially.
Energy consumption by different home appliances
COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS : IS INCLUDING ENERGY CONSERVATION AS PART OF THE STRATEGY A GOOD IDEA?
Although our brief was to develop better functionality than our competitors, we realized that engaging in a feature parity war was neither strategic, nor had the best interests of the app’s users at heart.
To differentiate ourselves in an already mature and competitive market, we needed to define a desirable role for the app and how it would meet the needs of the users. We were excited by the opportunity to create something more meaningful.
DEFINING THE SCOPE
The above customer and market research phase helped us steer better toward our vision.
The strategy underpinning a UX project is defined in this stage; the brand, the guiding principles, and the long-term vision of an organisation are articulated here. What the developers are hoping to achieve with the project, how its success should be measured, and what priority it should have in the grand scheme of things, was determined.
NARROWING THE FOCUS
Keep it simple yet engaging for the young and old alike.
The design models needed to focus on the simplicity and intuitiveness of the flow and interaction. The interaction had to be simple enough to locate and carry out the tasks easily, yet avoid being too simple or without any engaging features, which are essential in experience-based products.
Keeping the home smart and the app simple.
For our audience based in India, we needed to develop a solution that worked effectively even on low-bandwidth connections, as well as older browser technologies. We embraced these constraints from the outset and opted to strive for a compatible yet accessible solution.
Designing the branding & guiding principles
SETTING THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Going beyond the basics — functionality, reliability, and usability — and designing for humans, not machines, remained the key objective. The key principle was to understand how to express the brand’s personality to impress our audience through emotional design.
Starting with Branding
As described, the project had begun as just a branding solution. I arrived at the shapes and colors with the prime focus on their adaptability to various devices. The logo needed to be simple, yet distinctive from the pool of app symbols already created for automation businesses.
Showing the start button in a stylised ‘a’ worked very well, and was effective for both print and digital media.
Low-fidelity wireframes and sketches
Due to time constraints, I started with rapid iterations to understand the flow.
- The app design was kept simple. It was made functional by implementing the design structure provided in the information architecture by me. Features like temperature, media integration, user favorites, etc. were kept for the future updates.
- The branding, packaging stickers, and publicity material, was executed effectively.
- Automata was integrated with home security solutions mainly for home owners in the Pune region in India. The next stage was to extend this system to automate a large scale environment, such as offices and factories.