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Ideal Thermostat – Iteration #4: Simplifying the Design

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 | Posted by meghan.corbett

Last week’s iteration of my ideal thermostat interface included an overhaul in the way I thought about scheduling. In my previous iterations, I had always considered the schedule as a menu you could enter. Last week I made scheduling a mode you could toggle between; manual mode or schedule mode. The idea behind this was that you could switch over to manual mode if you didn’t want the system to change on it’s own or switch to schedule mode if you wanted to input a schedule that the thermostat would follow. This design decision eliminated the need for a hold button or a vacation mode since manual mode could accomplish the same goals.

While the new manual mode was well accepted by users during another round of think-aloud user testing, the functionality I had envisioned for the schedule mode proved to be overly complicated. After talking it over with Matt, I decided that the ability to skip ahead in the schedule was an unnecessary feature, which made my job to design a bit easier.

Now let’s delve into this week’s iterationview the full PDF of annotated wireframes here.

As with the previous iteration, the temperature is displayed front and center. I have made one significant change to the layout though. I eliminated the option to turn off the fan, because as Matt so helpfully pointed out, you cannot heat or cool your home if the fan is off. The fan is the method through which the heating or cooling is achieved. This conversation highlighted a gap in understanding I had about the way a thermostat functions and showed me that I need to do more preliminary research before I design. Luckily, this change was an easy one to make.

I also reconsidered the functionality of the dashed circle that appeared around an icon when selected. Instead of using it as a visual indicator that the system understood the user’s command, it now indicates when the heating or cooling is currently running. The fan uses the same visual indicator since as I mentioned, you cannot heat or cool without the fan.

Thermostat Off Screen

My conversation with Matt also made me realize that there was no need for a physical toggle to turn of the thermostat since turning the airflow off would disable the fan as well. To make the icon more clear, I decided to use the word “OFF”.

To fix the issues I had with users not knowing the schedule can scroll, I reconfigured it so the screen cuts through some of the content.

So how did the user testing go this time?

For this round of user testing, I approached unsuspecting victims at Dominican Joe’s off South Congress. I learned a few things this round:

  1. A user mentioned should be some indication that the temperature will “hold” in manual mode because it seemed unclear. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure if I agree but I will consider whether it should be part of a first time user experience introduction.
  2. Now that there are only two fan options, it is not as apparent what the difference is between the fan being on or automatic. I need to make this difference clear or get rid of one of the two.

I am feeling really good about the progress I have made with this interface. Yes, there are still some issues, but overall, I feel like I am getting better responses and encountering fewer issues during user testing. I’m sure developing more tasks will bring up a whole new set of issues, but I am more confident that I can handle them by trusting this iterative process.

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