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Human-Centered Design and Smart Homes

Human-Centered Design and Smart Homes

“Homes are not smart, people are smart.”In the end, it will be the inhabitants of houses that give
their verdict whether or not their homes behave in an appropriate and meaningful way; they will
decide whether or not the predicate “smart” should be attached to the behavior of their home. This
insight has led designers of intelligent systems, products, and related services to actively involve end
users in all stages of their design process. User-centered design methods have been developed over
time, influenced by general theories and ideas within the design discipline on the creation of value
both from people’s and business perspective. Brand and Rocchi (2011) describe the change from a
focus on product ownership (industrial economy) toward the current focus on user experiences
enabled by product-service systems (experience economy) and the trends toward self-actualization
(knowledge economy) and meaningful living (transformation economy). In this chapter, we focus
on designing for the home experience.
Over the last decades, “traditional” homelife has been under heavy attack of ever faster develop-
ing information and communication technologies (ICT). In particular, the digitization of media and

the possibilities to connect people and devices with powerful embedded ICT capabilities through the
Internet have changed the home environment. Whereas the digitization of physical media, in first
instance, was used to make media like music, pictures, movies, games, newspapers, and books
available outside the home on an anytime-anywhere basis, we now see the digitization backfire at
home; physical instantiations of media or media collections disappear, and new physical interaction
devices like smartphones and tablets enter the home domain to enable experiencing the digital
media. The same is happening for “analog” communication. A more recent trend concerns the
generation of (personalized) media streams by all kinds of sensors embedded in stationary, portable,
and wearable devices in- and outside the home.
It is clear that these recent and ongoing developments are changing and will continue to change
homelife for better or for worse. According to Turkle (2011), these developments negatively affect
the emotional qualities of life. People’s accommodation to changes in perceived sociopsychological
constructs like privacy, community, intimacy, and solitude, as explained by Turkle, might impact
homelife in particular, as these constructs are core to many home-based user experiences (Eggen
et al. 2003a). On the positive side, the advancement of technology has opened up opportunities for
designers to create product-service systems that enhance existing and support new home experi-
ences. In this chapter, we take the second perspective and describe three big challenges that modern
designers (need to) face when designing or studying smart home environments.
It is important to note that, at the moment of this writing, there is no single definition of what a
user experience is. Recently, however, a group of more than 30 leading user experience (UX) experts
made an inventory of the UX phenomenon and how it is approached in current design practice (Roto
et al. 2011). This overview provides valuable insights that can inform the design for home
experiences. The experts point out that the true challenge of UX design is to focus on a number of
important dimensions that go beyond the “traditional” principles of human-centered design (HCD)
for interactive systems (ISO 9241–210 2010). The basic principles of HCD entail the central and
participative role the user should take in an iterative design process as well as the identification of
user-specific factors to guide and assess the design. Whereas traditionally there has been a strong
focus on functionality and usability factors, “new UX factors relate to affect, interpretation, and
meaning (Roto et al. 2011).” To identify which factors define a worthwhile user experience is one of
the big challenges for the designer of interactive systems. This challenge will be addressed in the
next section as “Challenge 1.” But also, how to assess designs on the basis of selected UX factors
that, for example, relate to social, emotional, and/or aesthetic issues remains a challenge, as,
currently, there exists no single overall measure for UX. A related challenge concerns the creation
of effective representations of UX concepts and designs to communicate with end users and other
stakeholders in the design process. The last two challenges will be combined in “Challenge 2” that
addresses the more general question how to design for user experience. Within the special multiuser
setting of the home, where highly personal and intimate experiences have to seamlessly fit the daily
rhythms, patterns, and routines of family life, we introduce and discuss a third and final challenge:
How to design for user experiences that can be seamlessly integrated in everyday life?


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