Intermingling With a Home That Eventually Automates Itself
PSFK interviews Jeff Bartenbach, the Head of User Experience at Wink, a connected home company that sells a range of unified utilities, and that values meaning over swiftness
The Internet of Things is growing in awareness and implementation, with more ‘smart somethings’ introduced to the market each day. According to a statistic by Cisco Systems, 2008 saw more devices connected to the Internet than people, and by 2020 the amount of devices will reach 50 billion. At center for these interconnected utilities are the hubs providing the infrastructure for their ecosystem needed to thrive. In simpler terms, these hubs will put all of your devices into conversation, enabling your fridge to send your phone a push notification informing you that you’ve run out of milk.
We were lucky enough to get in touch with Jeff Bartenbach, the Head of User Experience over at Wink—a smarthome company that sells a range of utilities all unified by the Wink app—for the inside scoop on the UX design obstacles his team ran into in having to integrate hundreds of smart devices from scores of brands together in a thoughtful way.
Since the IoT space is a relatively fresh topic that doesn’t have much widespread awareness, we opened the conversation with an intuitive question: hubs all seem incredibly similar—what makes them different and how is one better or worse than the next?
Bartenbach explains that from a technical standpoint, hubs aren’t all too dissimilar. Where they differ is in their execution—how users come to interact with their smarthomes, the enabled control they have over their devices and how well the smart products intermingle.
“From the beginning, we knew we had to very clearly bridge the gap between physical products and virtual interactions. You can be at work and turn off your lights or lock the front door from miles away, without any associated physical visual. Our goal through design is to create cognitive reference points so people can clearly associate what they’re doing in the app with what’s happening at home,” says Bartenbach.
Wink is unique in that it employs a product-centric approach, with the service itself laboring in the background to make sure the pieces fit together. That said, helping people control their homes, be it from the outside or within and actually feel comfortable doing so is just the first step for the app and hub, as Wink quickly learns your preferences and quickens the process of making them happen.
If you like dim lighting toward bed time, a colder room for curling under your blanket, locking your door when out of the house and avoiding setting your sprinklers to water the plants during rainy days, these contextualizations will soon become your default settings.
“We very purposefully made products front and center in the Wink app,” explains Bartenbach. “We realized that if our users understand how their products work with Wink, it becomes easier for them to automate those products. If they understand how they are automating their home, they’ll be much more comfortable with their home eventually automating itself. And that’s where we see the smarthome evolving.”
Wink hopes to hasten this process of learning how to connect, then use, then automate your home, which is how it got its name. Parlaying the ethos of an ‘at-a-glance’ exchange, the team needed to make sure that each touch point isn’t just swift, but meaningful. To do so, Wink crafted built-in shortcut buttons and widgets to account for these interactions, while still recalling the need for crafting perceptive models (the aforementioned ‘cognitive reference points’) so users won’t feel lost or intimidated.
Ultimately, putting hundreds of devices in conversation together is no easy feat, particularly when many of them haven’t even come out yet. Especially given the fact that these devices are all intended for different purposes and operate on one of seven different frequencies as a result.
“We’re constantly exploring new ways of interacting with your smart home. For instance, we’ve found that people are responding well to voice control,” says Bartenbach, probably referencing Wink’s integration with Amazon Echo.
Given our obsession with cutting-edge technology here at PSFK, we had to ask if Wink planned to expand toward wearables, and perhaps even augmented reality. Turns out a smartwatch app already exists, and the company is experimenting with alternative ways of enriching the experience (though we don’t have any definitive leads as of yet).
The eventual goal for these synced technologies is to have control over them, but not need to make use of our control after the third or fourth time.
“We want people to use Wink more, and the app less.”
The Internet of Things is approaching at lightning speed, and with it, smart cars, smart offices, and smarthomes. The latter option will be dominated by companies like Wink, who will give new technologies the ability to speak and listen, effectively catering to our every need.