After arriving at DESIGNATION, we were assigned a mock project where the goal was to create a platform centralizing control of a user's smart home technology. This was challenging because smart home technology is a fragmented, emerging industry and a broad domain to understand. However, I was excited because I spent the last year working closely with the owner of an A/V and home automation company. Prior to coming to DESIGNATION I was on my hands and knees running and stripping wire, cutting sheetrock, and lugging boxes of home automation technology around construction sites. I was excited to have an understanding of the consumer side of the industry, and I felt like I could point my team in the right direction.
Before we jumped into user research, we conducted extensive domain research and a detailed competitive analysis of smart home platforms and popular home automation technology. We understood that it was important to investigate the domain and find a differentiation point against competitors on the market. We found out:
- Less than 1% of homes are fully automated, but the industry is growing rapidly and will rise to $35 billion by the year 2020 (Allied Market Research).
- There are a few major aggregated smart home platforms including Apple Home Kit, Control 4, and Samsung Smart Things.
- The available platforms are limited to a handful of compatible technologies, have major usability issues, and have outdated UI design.
After looking at the competitive landscape, we had an idea of where we wanted to focus our research, and we carefully crafted a research plan. We wanted to feel confident moving forward with the project, so we fleshed out our research questions, methods, audience, and time frame.
The goal of our research questions was to be as user centered as possible. To do this we started with broad questions and moved into more specific questions and details about how users interact with smart home technology. Key questions included:
- Who uses smart home technology?
- How are users learning about and engaging with smart home technology?
- What are the goal and motivations behind investing in smart home technology?
- What devices and platforms are people using and how do they feel about them?
After the research plan was created, we set out to gain a deeper understanding of smart home technology users. We wanted to find out detailed information about people buying and using smart home technology, and I knew just who to call! I set up two SME interviews with my former boss Wendy and coworker Rickey.
The SME interviews ended up being one of the most important portals for gathering information about users and how they engage with smart home technology. We were surprised at the answers to some of our research questions. We found out:
In between SME interviews, we conducted interviews with users of smart home technology to gain an understanding of their current pain points and motivations. After recording and transcribing the interviews, we mapped the data. Key takeaways included:
- Safety and saving money were top goals among users
- Users enjoyed the feeling of being in control
- Frustrated navigating between applications
- Setting up technology was challenging
The interviews with both users and SMEs laid the groundwork for synthesizing and drawing insights from our data.
Based on common pain points, motivations, and goals of users, we constructed a persona and a journey map reflecting the behavior and mental space of a smart home technology user.
The first persona we created was “Jen,” the tech-savvy mom. She reflected the users who generally had one or two smart home devices and whose goals and motivations were geared towards saving money and a having a sense of security. We looked at additional personas, including early adopters, but they didn’t fit the user base as well as Jen.
Personas were the best fit to represent our data because they directly answered the question “who are we designing for?” And because our domain was so broad, the persona helped narrow down the personality type and behavior patterns of our typical smart home technology user.
As we looked at Jen’s user story, we realized it was difficult to summarize, and we needed a journey map to show her frustrations as a user switching between applications.
After synthesising the data and developing an understanding of our user base, we determined a problem statement: the tech-savvy homeowner needs a simple way to streamline control of their smart home devices to save time, money, and energy.
We built upon our problem statement with principles that guided our design and reflected our users’ overall goals and motivations:
The design principles laid the ground work for building Homehub into an engaging and intuitive mobile application.
We decided to go with a mobile application because users wanted to access their smart home technology on the go. After a branding exercise where we came up with a variety or name combinations, we decided to go with the name Homehub.
After sketching out concepts, we jumped right into creating an Axure prototype. This was my second time using Axure, and after attending an Axure workshop that week, I felt more confident approaching the software and prototyping process.
Based on our research, we had particular features in mind to move forward in the design process:
After building out the Axure prototypes, we set out to find usability testers. This was an exciting aspect of the project because it was my first time seeking out strangers to test. At the time I was living out of a hostel, so I proposed to my team that we find usability testers there; it was easier to strike up a conversation with the many wifi users in the common area.
In my prototype, I toyed around with the idea of “zones.” I drew inspiration from SONOS and designed the app to allow users to set their routines based on the area of the house they were currently in. Throughout testing, users were consistently confused about what zones were and how they worked. It was interesting testing out an idea that differentiated my prototype from my teammate’s prototypes, but because users weren’t understanding the concept, I dropped the idea of zones. Key takeaways from concept testing:
Based on user feedback, we found that users prefered our teammate Kate’s prototype, and we built out the screens on a converged mid fidelity prototype. Check out our prototype here.
Following our mid-fidelity prototypes, the next step was to create a visual analysis of smart home technology on the market. We wanted to draw inspiration and complement our design principle of elegance. Our goal was convey a sense of calm and trustworthiness while simultaneously reflecting a friendly, modern vibe.
After developing a style for our design, we moved into high-fidelity mockups and prototypes. I had previous experience using Sketch and wanted to refine my proficiency in the software.
During the UI phase of this project, I had the pleasure of working closely with Kate Doornbos. Kate is a fiercely talented UI designer and working closely with her sharpened my UI design skills and gave me an eye for subtleties in color, alignment, and typography. You can check out her website here.
After building hi-fidelity mockups, we uploaded our screens into Invision, created clickable prototypes, and put them in front of users. Our goal was to usability test and find out which UI style resonated with users.
From mid- fidelity prototypes, where only 40% of users were able to complete a task, 75% of users were able to complete a task during hi fidelity testing.
Users overwhelmingly agreed that Kate’s prototype was clean, touchable, and the most intuitive. After testing, we made a few adjustments to the prototype and presented our project in front of a panel of UX and UI designers and our fellow designers. This was nerve racking because I had little experience presenting in front of large groups, but I practiced extensively before presenting and it went really well. I surprised myself. It prepared me for presenting the following weeks working with real clients. Check out our final prototype here.
Because this was a bootcamp we had a limited amount of time for each design sprint, but if it were possible I think it would've been interesting to deepen our research and explore other methods such as mental modeling and contextual inquiry. Further it would of been interesting to toy around with the idea that the best interface is no interface and work within the space of voice control.
Since this was my first UX/UI project, I learned a lot. I developed my skills as an interviewer and learned how to make users feel comfortable during usability tests. My goal was to strengthen my skill of talking to different types of people and I found that I really enjoyed it. I learned how to wireframe and use Axure, and I sharpened my UI skills. Also, this was the first of many presentations during my time at DESIGNATION, but I learned how to speak confidently and receive critique in front of experts in the field.