Commercialized smart automation typically emphasizes function over form, yet consumer sentiment sometimes marches to the beat of a different drum. Smart devices are essential elements of the home, and adoption is expected to accelerate into 2022. Currently, there are 8 connected devices per person in the U.S. — that figure will jump to 13.6 by 2022. Consumers are leading this charge by embracing smart entertainment, security, networking, and assistants.
Many new households are filled to the brim with technology, and despite their merits, modern devices aren’t exactly haute home décor. These are functionality-focused accessories, though companies are making an effort to improve their aesthetics. With this, designers are facing a fundamental challenge: creating devices that do more while standing out less. Homeowners must also find creative ways to install these devices.
Not Your Grandfather’s Devices
Envision an advanced coffee maker for a moment — one with a modern, connected replacement that dispenses coffee with only a tap to your smartphone. This appliance is likely sporting a trendy new color scheme — a direct result of evolving consumer tastes.
Typically, customers demand accessories that are visually compatible with their home interiors. Gadgets are on a proverbial diet, becoming slimmer and sleeker with each iteration, so it’s essential that smart home accessories do the same to garner widespread approval. In today’s world, we are immersed in a technological era driven by cosmetic appeal, and antiquated-looking devices are dead on arrival.
Form Factors and Customer Installation
As technology advances, hardware companies have gradually transitioned away from physical controls. The smart automation industry is now taking design cues from smartphone manufacturers by adding touchscreens to their products to replace unsightly buttons in favor of simplicity.
Luckily, this also makes it easier for engineers to reduce each product’s physical footprint. The smaller devices will blend in seamlessly without being cumbersome. However, that’s not to say tangible controls are inherently bad; relying on them does impede innovation to an extent, however.
Regardless of production strides made, homeowners may choose to mount their smart accessories prominently or craftily conceal them. Those with limited interior flexibility will likely opt for smart devices with subtle characteristics. Buyers might also hide inelegant devices, should installation locations be abundant. These automated accessories are set and forget, and Wi-Fi controls have mitigated the need for direct interaction.
The Ergonomics Behind Good Design
The shift to digital does come with growing pains for some, though its timing is impeccable. The modern smartphone launched in 2007 and ignited a design revolution, now over a decade in the making. Consumers have grown accustomed to touch controls as they have permeated their daily routines. This has reduced the learning curve for the average user, making devices more accessible from day one.
Accordingly, designers can emulate physical presses using hardware components. This simple user feedback enhancement has made modern devices friendlier to use. The same principles hold true when users control smart accessories from personal devices.
A device’s usability boils down to more than just hardware, so engineers must closely integrate each accessory’s hardware and software experiences into a cohesive package. This means controls should be easy to locate, read, and manipulate. Companion mobile apps should measure up as well. Compatibility with Android and iOS via frameworks like HomeKit and Chromecast have unlocked stellar experiences.
How Can Designers Respond to these Demands?
Sound hardware design begins and ends with detailed schematics. While engineers deferred to hand drawings once upon a time, precise design now occurs within digital applications. Today’s technology is comprised of numerous intricate components, both internally and externally.
This increased complexity has thankfully been accompanied by the rise of programs like Fusion 360. This application and those like them simplify rendering, designing, and conceptualizing. Design needs vary, but each program has viability throughout the product lifecycle. Collaboration and versioning are essential when experimenting, giving software like Fusion 360 a defined role.
The design process, even for something like a smart thermostat, includes ample trial and error. Powerful applications are slashing this prototyping time. Now, products hit the market faster, are aesthetically pleasing, and have top-notch usability baked in.