Seeing how smart home control was not usable enough and was mostly designed for tech-savvy men I decided to spend my master thesis on developing a novel interface at the great design studio Pilotfish in Amsterdam. This project taught me a lot about user research, user studies, and development of a tactile interface with Arduino and resin 3D printing.

The amount of connected devices in our homes are increasing each year but integration between systems are lacking; most interactions still done through apps. One big trend is the wish to reduce screen time as smartphone use impedes mental well-being, especially for young girls. Additionally, each smartphone pickup to control the home can set o*f a chain reaction of phone use. Also, statistics say that smart products are mainly bought and used by men, leaving smart homes not designed for the needs of women.

To combat the current smart home situation where most of the interaction is based on apps, a tangible device was developed. Addressing gender-bias issues by developing for women, this project shaped a smart home interaction concept that is more appropriate for todays trends and developments - making the smart home experience better and more inclusive.

Initially, insights were gathered through research on the smart home context, followed by surveys and user studies with women. Using the Vision in Design method, a vision was set to guide the project: Interacting with a smart home should be easy, quick, and delightful; just like the experience of actual smart products are.

By evaluating common interfaces for controlling lights, audio, streaming, and comfort-related products like thermostats in the smart home, a novel interaction design was developed to allow for easy and quick control of heterogeneous connected devices. A digital interface was designed, prototyped, and tested with experts and users, achieving a System Usability Score of 78. The interface was then enhanced with physical buttons, a knob, and dynamic displays to provide a more tactile and delightful interaction experience than the common smartphone apps present today. Lastly, an Arduino prototype was built and tested with users, giving the concept a positive outlook for future development.

Still being in development, the details on its functionality can not be disclosed at this time.

Sally, your smart home ally, makes it easy for new or experienced users to control all smart home systems at the tip of their fingers. Its simplicity, familiarity and self-explanatory nature brings confidence to users, creating a bond of trust between the smart home and its inhabitants. Instead of dreading tedious and distracting smartphone use, the tactile remote makes controlling the smart home quick and enjoyable; the pleasant feel of every interaction enhancing the users experience of the smart home.

The following image shows the product and its dynamic use; blank when not used (upper left), light control (upper right), and streaming control (middle right). Close ups showing the combined directional pad and knob (bottom left), and the dynamic and tactile button grid (bottom right).
The smaller high-fidelity prototype and the larger functional prototype (left). The functional prototype being tested by a user (top right). The high-fidelity prototype being evaluated by another user (bottom right).
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