Why Smart Homes ?

Panasonic India approached us with a unique yet familiar problem of integrating their applications in a smart home, the goal being an application that acts as a smart home ecosystem, each home appliance comes with its own unique set of challenges and so we were tasked with creating the structure, design foundations as well as the overall design for the first set of devices to be launched for the app. The project was managed jointly by Panasonic India developers and designers from Analogy.

Breaking away from the Waterfall

Traditional structures like the waterfall method would not have worked and would end up being a long and ongoing project. Therefore, we restructured our methodologies to fit into a focussed approach.

Design Direction and Research. Here, the design team took a lead role, focusing on ground research and conceptualization. Ideas that emerged here ranged from wild to exploratory and to grounded by reality. This phase one was very crucial as it allowed the conversation to be much more than MVP requirements. It allowed the incubation of the concept from different perspectives on the overall global picture of what the product could be. This is where we initiated our first workshop with the Panasonic team, each and every direction was deliberated at-length with product managers, developers, and CMOs and CTOs to gain insights, understand the limitations, and look at them as novel approaches to tackle problems that existed in this domain. In parallel, the team started assisting the research team at Panasonic with these insights to structure and validate the design approach.

Understanding cultural context

Research insights gathered in the first phase lead us to focus on three important aspects Control, Automation, and Service. Controlling the devices was the highest priority and the primary reason why a user would download and install the application, the fallback if the application did not work would only result in the consumer to use the application as a service and diagnostics application. 

Our main focus here was to make the controls seamless and intuitive to the wider Indian audience. This resulted in breaking down familiar objects and converting them into modern UI applications the keeping them compact as well as functional and intuitive. 

We then categorized each user into three distinctive user groups, the power user, active user and passive user. Through our research, we found that most of the users belonged to the passive group. Keeping that in mind, we decided to primarily focus on this subset keeping core functionalities upfront and make complex functions more simple, easy to navigate, and user-friendly through smart shortcuts and preset actions. 

Understanding the User

Building a new set of interactions that are familiar to the user

Converting complex appliance controls required us to understand the nuances of physical devices and the various remotes and knobs that were used in operating the appliance. The product design team played a curial role in deconstructing these objects and picking out familiar accents and structures that resembled those appliance controls. Each one of these objects needed a deeper understanding of form and, the role it plays in bringing alive the intuitive nature that we learned from using physical objects, the product team could depict these effortlessly and the result was widgets that resembled the silhouette of the appliance, densely packed with the features. 

Iterating and Exploring UI Surrealism

We spent a lot of time trying to get the right balance between modern minimalism and neo morphism, the drawback for both were flat and boring UI and old and complicated interactions. We started by testing out a few concepts on window shutters,  to execute and we could also test out multiple gestures, buttons, and sliders on this mechanism. We set out a range, breaking away from traditional design tools and incorporating the use of 3d tools such as Cinema4d to get the desired realism that we were looking for. We focussed on the essentials by incorporating multi-layer gestures. 

Solving for Scale and Modularity

A key challenge that we faced while designing this ecosystem was that each device would be onboarded onto the platform at different stages and the more advanced functions were to included much later on in the development cycles, the challenge here was to make an app look complete and use as much as real estate possible with the current devices and features while remaining flexible to accommodate multiple devices and updates on features. We planned to take a modular UX approach, focusing on scalability.

This modular approach had three core components

  • Widgets
  • Rooms
  • Horizontal & Vertical Stacking

Widgets provided a simple way to provide essential features right up on the home screens making the app feel complete while rooms acted as an organizational structure to handle complexity in the long run, We used Horizontal & Vertical Stacking to distance down the various devices and applicants by type and number. This helped the app to “Grow” longer in case anyone added multiple devices and still looked appealing on the first launch of the application. 

Conclusion and Learnings

Developing a smart home ecosystem required us to think 10 steps ahead on how each feature or integration would fit into the overall picture. The building of an overall framework and structure from the start helps understand and design the concept better and goes a long way into developing it further. 

Fonts and font icons were new to us and the various drawbacks and tricks needed could easily be solved with better design system guidelines. 

Building a cross-platform application required certain decisions such as style blurs and shadows and is advisable to be made aware in the early stages of design, If you consistency, you should be aware of the limitations on the platforms you will be designing for. 

“ Having Industrial Designers, UX designers and design engineers working at the same time brought out a very different aspect to the project. A lot of debates and arguments were settled with a visual and not with just plain assertions or examples. The project was a success as we were able to bring in cross disciplinary teams to validate different perspectives as we always do. We do like to dish out a lot of analogies in design debates.” — VT RAO, Creative Director, Analogy.

The project was awarded the prestigious ” RED DOT DESIGN AWARD” in 2020 for Interface Design. We are thankful to our clients for providing this opportunity to make a difference as well as the global design community for recognizing the value of design.