Getting the Right Touchy, Feely Home Control

The wrong colors, layout and command sequences can make a home control system difficult to use, so make sure your interface feels right to you

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Home control is all about simplicity. You press a button and a million things happen. If you can’t find that button, though, it’s pointless to even have a system in your house. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the interface (i.e. remote control, touchpanel or keypad) you use to command the lights, thermostats, A/V gear and other devices is well designed by your custom electronics professional.

It’s a difficult endeavor, both for manufacturers who build the interfaces and for the pros who design them. There are a lot of elements to consider: the layout of the buttons; the size, shape and color of those buttons; and the sequence of actions required to launch commands to electronic devices around the house. It would be easy if everyone marched to the same drum, and in many ways, we do. There are certain human factors that apply to everyone: we read from left to right, view lists from top to bottom and associate danger with the color red, for example.

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Beyond these reference points, however, there’s little commonality between users, and this is where the design of a user interface gets tricky. Should your collection of music titles be listed on the right side of the screen or the left? Would you like all of your home control commands presented on a floorplan rather than on separate “room” pages? Would you like access to your entire channel guide or just your favorite stations?

User preferences are bound to be all over the board. What you like will undoubtedly be different than your custom electronics (CE) pro’s previous customers. In fact, your preferences may be drastically different even from those of your spouse and kids.
Obviously, the more your CE pro knows about you and your family, the better prepared he’ll be to design an interface that’s intuitive and suits the needs of everyone who uses it. Think beyond those who live at your house, like the babysitter, your mother and guests who stay at your house occasionally. They’ll need to know how to work the remote, touchpanel or keypad, too.

Here are a few key factors that can help your CE pro determine the best design for your home control interface.

What kind of user are you? A one-time user, a daily user or a power user? This will determine how many buttons are presented on the screen at one time. For a one-time user, like a babysitter, the interface could be designed to display only buttons for turning on and off the lights and televisions. A daily user’s interface, by comparison, might include a list of special lighting scenes that can be engaged and provide access to the security system and heating and cooling system. A power user is able to use the interface to tweak surround-sound modes and fine-tune the settings of the lights. The same interface can be designed to cater to all three types users.

What are your favorites? It’s unlikely that everyone in your household likes the same type of music, movies and TV shows. Having your CE pro design a favorites page for each member of the family can save time and energy for everyone. Your page might include ESPN and ABC; your kids’ page, just Disney, Nick and Discovery.

What’s your routine? You might hit the Stairmaster when you come home. Your kids, on the other hand, head straight to the fridge and the TV. Obviously, the same Welcome Home command is not going to work for everyone. Having a “kid’s home” button and a “Dad’s home” button might be a good workaround.

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