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The Ideal Thermostat Iteration 6: An Effervescent Interface

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 | Posted by Chelsea Hostetter

Well, folks, after six weeks of following the many versions of the Ideal thermostat interface, I have come to the final iteration of the thermostat. If you have followed my iterations so far, you will have known that I was exploring edge cases in my fifth iteration.

So, what’s changed in the final iteration?

After all of the usability testing, making sure that users were thought of in the interface, and testing it with multiple groups, I now had an interface that worked—but while think-aloud user testing is great for determining what works and what doesn’t in the interface, it doesn’t address the emotion of the interface. What emotions do I want my users to feel when they’re using my system?

Well, if our designs are extensions of ourselves as designers, I wanted my thermostat to be bright and bubbly. I think of thermostats as something utilitarian, and so to add a bit of bounce to the visual design brought the emotion of an effervescent interface to life. You can follow along in the full PDF version of Iteration 6 here.

In iteration 5, the heat/cool functionality was displayed with a modular button—something that users could toggle on and off similar to the way they did with the fan. That, however, felt like too mechanical of an interaction, so I brought back some of the bubble functionality from iteration 1:

When the user taps on the “H/C” icon located on the bottom of the screen, a heat/cool button submenu expands out from the H/C icon. When the user taps on what they want, say, heat…

…the bubbles collapse back into one bubble that displays either “Heat,” “Cool,” or “H/C” with a snoozing bubble for off.  If a user tries to cool the system in cold weather (because if you turn the A/C on in cold weather, it might break), instead of a general message popping up to prevent the user from cooling, the cool icon will shake and give you a message:

The idea of a button talking to you, or the thermostat “snoozing” when it is off gives the interface a bubbly, happy personality.

The scheduling has not been changed much from the previous iterations, except for one piece of functionality—adding a current time so that the user can orient herself around what time it is currently.

The idea behind this is that if a user is navigating the timeline, there should always be a button to return them back to their current time. If the user presses the blue clock button, they will be spun back through the timeline to where the blue dot is.

These changes may seem small, but they make all the difference in giving life and personality in an interface. Apple has built an entire iOS on a friendly system—in that same way, I want my thermostat interface to be fun, inviting, and charming.

Looking Back: Concept Models
For this final post, I’d like to look quickly back at what I had envisioned the Ideal Thermostat to look like via concept modeling (i.e. displaying the buttons/interactions of a system) before I even started working on the system:

This was my plan for the interface even before I started working on it. Now, let’s compare with the concept model of my final version (you can view the full PDF here):

You can quickly see that while the overall concept remained the same, some functionality was added—the schedule was more thought through, the heat and cool functionality is linked to a separate nodule that pops up on the home screen, and wireless setup is thought through completely.

When comparing these two concept models side-by-side, I remember that when I first made the concept model for iteration one, I was concerned that my concept model was incorrect for the way that a thermostat functioned. Previous to my six-week experience in this class, I had rarely used scheduling on my thermostat, if at all, and I was concerned that because I had no experience with scheduling that somehow I was going to come up with a worse model.

As my instructor said, “Chelsea, sometimes not knowing about something allows you to design something better without the constraints of someone who knows too much.” And I believe he was right—my scheduling was one of the things that was most commented on by users as being understandable and easy to use, and I attribute part of that to the fact that I had a clean slate when thinking about the concept of scheduling.

I think that the Ideal Thermostat has not only allowed me to think critically about what I want in a design, it has provided me ways of vetting my concepts with others and building upon it. It has also provided me a window into the full iterative and creative process, from the excitement of taking on a new project to the slow trudge of testing my interface for the twentieth time, to the relief and sadness one feels to say that a design is “done.”

My intent after this post is to build a Flash prototype of the thermostat—so perhaps this won’t be the last you hear of my concept! Look forward to that, and may your holidays be bright, your thermostat be set to heat, and your A/C unit to not break in the chilly winter.

Creative Commons License
Ideal Thermostat Interface by Chelsea Hostetter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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