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Personalisation in the home – creating target user experiences (UX)

As the home becomes increasingly connected, and we see the integration of more and more devices, “humble” is no longer a word can associate with our abodes. Instead, smart, is perhaps becoming a more appropriate term to describe the average living quarters.

Any combination of connected products, be it lights, fridges, kettles, TVs, security systems, are now the norm in most households, with many of the traditional home systems offerings -  such as electric metres and heating - now coming smart and connected, as standard.

In order for these connected devices to integrate seamlessly, the user experience (UX) and how it is delivered, is key to making a great first impression with users of these devices, especially in the home so that the technology can enable smarter, easier lives.

But when we think of the experience of connected products in the home, we tend to focus on the most visible and tangible elements, such as their industrial design and their respective user interfaces (UIs), usually found in linked mobile and web apps, or on the devices themselves. While these elements play an important role in the end user’s experience of the product, they make up just a small part of the overall picture.

For instance, you could create a perfect-looking UI alongside a beautiful piece of hardware, and users could still have a poor experience of the product as a whole if the UX isn’t up to scratch. Because there are many more aspects to consider than just the design when creating UX, a major part is about the creation of targeted and relevant experiences for users, ensuring content delivered through this UX is as personalised as possible for the users.

Targeted experiences with consumer data

One major way that the UX of connected smart home products can be made more intuitive is through the use of consumer data in its design, such as by adding user location, voice recognition and contextual technologies.

By developing more sophisticated, more intelligent services with innovative ‘content-and service-access-mechanisms’ built in, such as voice control, this will enable smoother and simpler ways to gain access to the content that is available.

As Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, Senior Director of Product Marketing at NAGRA, puts it: “It is not the consumer who is more intelligent; it is the system’s intelligence that is making it a better user experience for all level of viewers.”

Take AirBnB’s app, for example. Finding a home away from home in this app illustrates perfectly how this accommodation company prioritise personalisation in UX. Users with upcoming stays are greeted with relevant information based on their data, such as offers on guidebooks for the city they are due to visit, and a “just for the weekend” carousel, which recommends locations that are within driving distance of their current location.

In the home itself, this level of personalisation is increasingly important for the accuracy of voice activated personal assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, which have recently become ubiquitous in mass markets. Here, activity suggestions that the user might like, such as places to eat, or a gym class they could take, are all based on past user habits, which the platform has learned through users’ location history.

And according to some reports, users actually desire this level of personalisation. Clearbridge Mobile recently reported that 75 percent of consumers prefer that retailers use personal information to improve their experience, meaning generally, brands have permission from users to integrate personalised content into the mobile experience. And this can only improve as datasets grow.

But the challenge for brands building UX now is to use the myriad of data they have on their customers to its full potential. This means taking an integrated approach to content and commerce technology to collect, share, and target customers appropriately, without it feeling…a little creepy. It’s easy for a computer to step the fine line between personalisation and knowing a bit too much about you.

Contextual intelligence is therefore key. This allows brands to know how, when, and where their customers are consuming product and web content, so they’re are able to engage with them based on their preferences, their past interactions and transactions. Contextual intelligence also allows a brand to collect an individual’s data at scale from hundreds of sources in order to understand each customer’s unique needs, and allow them to tailor their offerings for users, making them feel unique.

The focus shouldn’t be on the company, but on the customer.

Discover the future of Smart Home UX and hear from major brands at UX Next, October 30-31, Crowne Plaza Palo Alto, California.

Greater personalisation using AI

To achieve optimum personalisation in UX, designers can take advantage of more complex AI-driven design tools, which help them to sift through design options more quickly in order to complete processes faster. Consider a case where designers can create a storyboard and then feed it to an algorithm. The algorithm can then apply constraints to the storyboard to come up with several template options. Doing so takes care of the grunt work, leaving UX designers to make more creative decisions, while also benefitting the target user, by creating more powerful UX that takes care of the finer details.

However, this isn’t as far as AI goes in UX. It is also being used by designers to create interfaces that mould themselves to suit a user's specific needs. This learning is achieved through a complex set of rules and algorithms that record a user’s behaviour as they interact with the product. The pages they look at, the topics they show an interest in, the products they buy, the films they watch, the locations they log in to - they all gradually build up an evolving profile of that user that can be used to deliver a superior experience.

Many examples of advanced UX personalisation in the home are already in place. Home entertainment apps Spotify and Netflix use AI to predict playlists or movies suggestions that the user will enjoy as a result of previous behaviour. Then there’s the smart thermostat, Nest, which pays close attention to usage patterns. If a home owner leaves for work every day at 6am, and turns the thermostat off, and then back on again when they return home, Nest will learn to control the heating environment automatically in respect of previous behaviours. This personalisation is perfect in this context, especially when you consider the possibility of rushing out to work one day and forgetting to turn the heating off.

UX future for traditional brands

Tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple are accelerating consumer expectations and what is technologically possible thanks to their advanced UX offerings, from voice-controlled home automation to machine-powered image recognition. You can gain entry to your house with facial recognition, and simply switch your lights on by saying one word.

But what does this future look like for traditional brands, that didn’t evolve in a connected world?

Right now, interfaces are mass produced as one-size-fits-all. Most apps or web pages look almost identical for everyone, with the exception of screen size adjustments and targeted ads. This also rings true for menus and search results. But in the future, those everyday resources, even something as simple as the phone directory, will offer personalised user experiences, with designs and results that differ depending on unique user needs and requirements.

Take the Yelp app, for example. Right now, when searching for nearby places to hold a birthday party, you’re likely to get a list of local restaurants and bars. But does this truly answer your question, or simply redirect your attention to a set of limited options? You’re not going to see the business listing for that event space 15 minutes away that you visited years ago and really liked, because the interface wasn’t able to cross reference it with your user history. But in the future, as smart algorithms that learn about you and adapt to your needs are rolled out, this could all change.

At the moment, the choices our devices present are very limited, but in the future, UX will help users access the options that they truly want. Paths defined by designers could potentially recognise signs and identify opportunities to provide choices that align with a user’s needs. This will allow interfaces to adapt to people’s lifestyles and habits, and become more fluid and conversational, but also more useful and seamless. Feeling less like an “experience” and more just part of everyday life.

By Lee Bell,

With over five years’ experience in the technology industry covering the latest innovations in gadgets, computer chips, internet security, telecoms, and start-ups, Lee Bell works as a freelance journalist in London’s buzzing tech scene. He writes news, features and reviews for a host of consumer titles including The Daily Mirror, The Metro, Wired UK, Computer Shopper, IT Pro and Gizmodo.

Lee’s main interests lay in the innovations space, focusing on the latest advances in consumer tech, social media, apps, virtual reality, the internet of Things (IoT), and more recently, space and science.

You can catch Lee tweeting as @llebeel

Discover the future of Smart Home UX and hear from major brands at UX Next, October 30-31, Crowne Plaza Palo Alto, California.

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