How to Design Interfaces for Smart Appliances

When it comes to smart appliances, the user experience (UX) will be different from mobile devices. For connected appliances, the Internet of Things (IoT) should enable connected lives that don’t have to depend on multiple touch screens.

Smart appliances are your common household items like refrigerators and microwave ovens. The only difference will be the fact that they’re connected to the internet. As a result, these won’t be cheap devices that are only expected to last a short period of time.

IoT appliances need to be able to justify the price point, last a long time (like a decade for a refrigerator), and the technology needs to be future-proofed (to be able to run third-party apps for a long period of time).
This means, just adding a touch screen to appliances won’t suffice. Further, tablets with touch screens are only designed to work for a shorter period of time, so there needs to be a solution that will last the whole life cycle of the appliance.

What will add real value to smart appliances will be connectivity (Bluetooth, NFC, or WiFi). So there’s a real opportunity here to enhance the UX by taking advantage of connectivity and make the most of the screens that are already there to provide control and insights. These insights have to be something that enhances the user’s life, not only does it have to present valuable data, it has to also provide real value to the end user.

  1. Design for Appliance Centric UX

    There’s always a temptation to add touch screens to home appliances that provide UX that’s similar to mobile devices. But the UX is going to be different, so it’s always best to exercise caution.
    For example, if you’re designing an interface for a refrigerator, don’t add a social media stream to the screen.
    I mean, how does a platform like Twitter add any value to an appliance?

    The smart refrigerator and other such appliances shouldn’t be designed just to have a place in the IoT ecosystem. Instead, they should be built with a small number of functionality and features that take advantage of the core use of the appliance (and not something unrelated).

  2. Facilitate Smart Automation

    Smart appliances can utilize their context-aware sensors to learn a lot about us, our daily routines, and our space.  Sensors can detect the following:
    - Faces
    - Motion
    - Temperature
    As a result, connected appliances can be built with clearly defined rules to react to the situation and make “smart” choices in real-time. This means that smart automation can increase efficiency and lessen the burden on the user. Further, by following our behavioral patterns, these devices can learn about us and make a more accurate assumption.

  3. Analyze Data and Turn it into Insights

    Smart appliances will collect a wealth of data, but this information will be worthless unless it’s analyzed and presented to the user in a manner that is easy to understand. At the end of the day, it’s insights that will enable the change of behavior and enhance one’s lifestyle.

    Further, individual insights can also be compared to the rest of the community. All the data that’s collected can be presented as infographics to compare individual and community data. This information can enable users to get a better understanding of their daily lives and make changes if necessary. To be successful in this segment, brands need to build smart appliances that enable users to make better life choices based on insights.

  4. Design for the Appliance, but Don’t Exclude the Larger Ecosystem

    Although you should focus your designs on the individual appliance, you shouldn’t forget about the larger ecosystem that the appliance will be part of. This makes it imperative to understand how the appliance will fit into the ecosystem.

    So, to enable the individual to make better decisions about their lives, the ecosystem should allow them to manage their life as well as the household. This is why adding touch screens may not be the best idea as it can easily get lost in a house full of screens.

    If each appliance in your home has its own unique user interface (UI), then there’s a good chance of communication breakdown and IoT chaos. As a result, to help machine-to-machine interaction run smoothly, designers need to figure out a way to enhance integration with the existing digital ecosystem.

    With appliance communication integration and machine learning, the scale of insights that’ll be available to the end user can be significantly higher. This can be similar to wearables such as Fitbit that don’t have screens, but track, measure, and share data with a compatible mobile app.

  5. Enable Remote Access and Companion Experiences

    To make the most of a large digital ecosystem, companion experiences should be developed by enabling remote access from mobile devices. As a result, the user can access these insights and controls from anywhere in the world by controlling and monitoring the appliance remotely. This will free the user from a physical location and help them to not only manage their households and lives but also keep energy costs down.

For each appliance to provide a good UX, engineers and UX designers need to collaborate from conception. UX shouldn’t be an afterthought. As a result, for smart appliances to be successful commercially, the focus needs to shift from gimmicks to functionality. This means that the core functions should be built into it to be smart instead of adding a smart layer (later on) on top with unnecessary services.

By delivering more insight and control, smart appliances should deliver greater satisfaction by improving individual lives.

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IT Storyteller and Copywriter
Andrew's current undertaking is big data analytics and AI as well as digital design and branding. He is a contributor to various publications with the focus on emerging technology and digital marketing.