SXSW Session Preview: So You Want to Design Smart Homes

We interview Yi-Ying and Rally about their SXSWi submission about smart homes!

The end to the SXSW panel picker process is right around the corner (Sept. 5 - don’t forget to vote!) so we wanted to ensure you had a peek at the smart submission from our Director of Design Rally Pagulayan and User Experience Designer Yi-Ying Lin before time was up.

For anyone who watched the Disney Channel original movie Smart House or The Jetsons, the idea of a home that can cook, clean and know your every need has been on a wish list since the 1960’s. But, it’s only within the last few years that the realistic concept of a smart or connected home has started to take shape. But, just like in the movie where the home malfunctions and leaves the homeowners unsatisfied, too many smart home designs today aren’t cutting it.

While smart homes and connected devices that are well developed can be the next frontier, we must first know what well developed really means. So, without further adieu, we present an interview with Yi-Ying and Rally about what a smart home needs and how their SXSW session will help you create the next big thing.

Why should people care about smart homes at all?

Smart homes are coming whether we’re ready for it or not. The activity around this topic has exploded exponentially in the past 2-3 years, so it’s something both companies and consumers need to start thinking about. The problem, however, is there is a lot of opportunities to develop this technology really ineffectively. Too many companies, big and small, who are trying to enter this market aren’t thinking about the user’s whole world. They’re trying to “invent” a space and develop a product that plugs into a user’s life, but without really understanding what’s going to fit.

How should companies be thinking about smart home designs?

Similar to most designs that can really benefit from UX, smart home designers need to think about how a user is going to interact with the product. What’s different with the home is that people interact with and think about the home as one unit - rather than a collection of individual products. For example, Honeywell who has started making “smart” thermostats that help regulate temperature and save energy, is going to try and innovate around the thermostat. They don’t care about your washer and dryer - but they should, maybe a user wants the thermostat to turn the heat down while the dryer is on to save energy.

In the home, people aren’t interacting with one component like they are in other areas of life. We need to look at the big picture, but too many people aren’t invested in that.

If your session makes it to SXSW, what can attendees expect to hear?

We want to have a conversation about how the smart home should be thought about. We’re seeing so many unnecessary developments, like refrigerators where you can do social networking. Who’s posting to Facebook from their refrigerator?

However, what would be most useful is thinking about how internet access on a fridge might help. For example, if we could design and integrate a fridge with a mobile app that could tell you when you were out of milk or needed more butter, while you’re at the store, that would helpful.

As designers, we need to think about where users are actually going to get the most benefit out of something. How does food get into the fridge? When do people really think about their relationship with their fridge and good? Is there a way that we can help make this process better? When it comes to the refrigerator, the reality is we actually think about it most when we’re not in the home.

We’re actually in the middle of a project (led by Yi-Ying) where we’re studying how these smart technologies can better interact with their food at home. At SXSW, we’ll be able to share the results of the study. This will help people see that understanding the context of the home and the appliance, service or product they’re hoping to design can affect real change, rather than become an annoyance.

Why is SXSW the best place for this conversation?

SXSW is where all the cutting edge conversations are happening, and smart home technology is the definition cutting edge. It’s also a venue that brings together many personalities - the designers, the developers, the entrepreneurs and this is a topic for all of them. They’re all moving 100 miles an hour and we want to encourage them to take a step back and really think about the questions they need to be asking themselves.

Can’t wait to attend this session and learn more about designing a smart home? Then vote for Rally and Yi-Ying’s session here.

Don’t forget to checkout the rest of the sessions EchoUser has submitted for the SXSW panel picker.

You can find a short description of all of them here.