Rachel Earley

Designing future homes: we’ve got it all wrong

A human-first approach to designing homes of the future.

The homes of our future are all about technology, right? Connected home spaces that predict our needs and seamlessly act to support them. Unfortunately, the reality isn’t so delightful. Progress towards that type of future is being severely stunted as we find ourselves stalled with a collection of standalone, unconnected products that don’t work together. Too many home technology companies start out with the goal of designing a dazzling piece of domestic gadgetry, when what they should be doing is starting out with people.

It’s not simply about identifying the needs and values people have at home. We must work to understand the nuances of the meanings around those needs and combine them with a deeper understanding of people’s complex relationship with technology — both now and as they move through the phases of their lives

The future home is about attitude, not technology

We surveyed 6,050 people in 13 countries, and observed 40 people in their homes. When we asked them to tell us which words they would use to describe home, the top three responses were “comfort”, “safety” and “control” — but their definitions of and attitudes to these words differed dramatically. That being the case, we need to re-evaluate how we design connected products and connected spaces so that we deliver comfort, safety and control for all definitions.

50% of respondents now spend more time at home than they did five years ago.

With the proliferation of on-demand television, fitness apps and delivery services, people have fewer reasons to leave their homes than ever before. Rather than aiming to deliver efficiency with smart-home technology, our focus now should be on finding a place of relevance in people’s increasingly home-based lives.

To do this, companies need to start with human insight to understand people’s needs as a complete picture. Instead of asking how their product or service can work in isolation, they should look at how it will flow seamlessly into people’s lives, working with their existing routines to offer new levels of comfort, safety and control.

Our research has revealed eight mindsets that describe the attitudes, desires and fears of groups of people in various stages of their lives.

Work out the tensions

As part of our mindset development, we evaluated people’s perceptions of technology at home and saw a number of tensions emerge from our data. While people find technology makes life easier, some fear it also makes them lazy. Where some people believe technology connects them more to the outside world, they can simultaneously experience isolation. Many find it fun to interact with technology, but worry that this very quality could also make it addictive.

We must be mindful of those tensions and include them as an important ingredient when designing future smart products, to make sure they’ll be embraced by a broad range of people.

Trust: forget it at your peril

A connected product or connected space is useless if people don’t feel they can trust it — and different people demand different standards are met in order to earn their trust.

Companies need to understand what makes people’s home sacred to their users, and be absolutely transparent about how they plan to use their customers’ data to deliver a tangible, relevant, and immediate benefit.

The next generation of smart-home products should speak directly to the attitudes of people, and should behave more like a partnership with them than something of which they might be suspicious.

At 26%, people in 65+ age bracket are least fearful of technology

Demographics are dead

It simply does not work to segment people according to simplistic data like age, gender, location and marital status anymore. We need to understand much more intricate detail about the way people live their lives and make their decisions.

Traditional research methods have developed to become infinitely more revealing about the subtleties of human behaviour, and the resulting data is invaluable when designing connected spaces and products.

People are complex and so is the technology we’re developing. Using basic data will never be enough to facilitate a sustainable and rewarding relationship between the two.

This was first published on Design Voices, our Medium publication, and is the first of a pair of articles. 

To read a summary of our report click here

To download the full report, click here.

Rachel Earley

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