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I set out to create an Internet of Things that automates and maintains environmental conditions in the home, all to create a better work life balance for teleworkers.

Here's a teaser of the final solution ↓
With the pandemic pushing work into the home, our users struggle to maintain boundaries between their work and home lives. People find solace in momentary transitionary periods between tasks.

However, These moments are currently being wasted with mundane tasks to prepare for their next task.
— Received 35+ responses from participants aged 16 to 50.
— This survey gave me a broad sample on what current living situations people were in, as well as how enjoyable these settings were.
This survey revealed a common frustration in setting up ones home to accommodate diverse tasks.
— Reached out to selected survey respondents of various home structure.
— Utilized directed storytelling to facilitate more in-depth conversations and stories about experiences in the home.
Uncovered a near universal desire to compartmentalize one's day into separate areas. This action helps individuals create a boundary between work and home life.
— Interviews were transcribed and then used in qualitative coding and thematic analysis in tandem to synthesize insights.
— Interview participants were given a cultural probe to better understand their home.
— A quick mapping activity was used to visualize the daily routines of our participants within their homes, and show their favorite objects and spaces.
— A photo study was done to explore the various spaces within a home as well as potential areas of opportunity.
— A diary was also used to record any strong emotions towards the home.
— Intending to create a feasible solution, I explored both current and emerging solutions aimed at streamlining or improving home and office life.
— These solutions were built on automation, pattern recognition, and maintaining environmental conditions. I wanted to include these functionalities, as it addressed the pain point of setting up a home.
— Main inspirations came from Phillips Hue, Nissan Self Driving Chairs, and SingleCue, as they focus on improving upon universal, everyday objects.
What did I learn from the research phase?
— There is a distinct difference in needs for the varied aspects of a routine. People used very different furniture, smart devices, even appliances depending on if they were working, relaxing, or socializing.
— The actions taken during the workday often don't overlap with those during relaxation and socialization. However, all of these actions need to be able to coexist within a space.
— A flexible space that allows for work and play, while maintaining a distinct separation between both mindsets.
— To address the frustration of setting up for a task, there should be low-effort, seamless transitions in between.
People want to have very clear distinctions between tasks. This is a requirement of the solution.
— There is a feeling that an individual has no control over the blurred work-life boundaries.
People were concerned about home automation in the case that there was no oversight over the IoT.
— The research indicated a common Man vs. Machine fear.
— An automated system that saves time, but still allows for user agency to control and monitor tasks.
— User's should be able to see what decisions the IoT makes, why those decisions were made, and how it accomplishes those decisions. This will calm the intial hesitation the user holds towards the IoT.
— Participants stressed being able to have control over the solution, and having transparency in the solution.
— Adjacent to desires for a balanced space, users were clear that there are moments in their routine that aren't planned.
— Currently when these unordinary events occur, it is up to the individual to rapidly modify their space to address the change.
— To mitigate the response to unexpected situations, the solution should be able to recognize variables and counteract them. This should not be the responsibility of the user.
— The solution should learn how to be more efficient over time, while also being able to respond to situations that were out of their normal routine.
Turns out, as people work from home, maintaining healthy boundaries becomes increasingly difficult.

How might I assist renters in creating a healthy work-life balance by utilizing and manipulating one’s existing space?
— This solution takes advantage of our senses to separate tasks.
— Choose a mode (work, relax, social, etc.) and see the lights, sounds, and temperature of your home change.
— Utilizing existing technologies in the home made this direction renter friendly.
— By understanding your specific needs, this solution adapts to your needs and physically rearranges your home into a more optimal layout using motorized wheels.
— Physically manipulating a space entails either purchasing new furniture and items, or physically updating existing furniture.
— While the physical solution addressed creating distinct settings, it didn't align with the needs of our persona, a renter.
— The sensory solution was renter-friendly, and could utilize existing technologies in the home.
— Moving forward, I pushed the team to focus on the sensory direction.
Controlling sensory conditions meant using light, sound, and climate to create recognizable environments.
— After studying the user's routines derived from the cultural probe, I began to identify where home automation could be used to save time. Turning on lights, closing blinds, running AC were all common tasks that could easily be controlled via smart home technologies.
Based on the stories and potential solutions discussed with users, I drafted storyboards for each use case that imagined what the automation of environments could look like.
— Interviews revealed that users didn't want to spend time adjusting their space. Users preferred leaving that process to be facilitated by our solution.
— This meant that the system needs to maintain homeostasis until the environment is changed. However, this needs to be visible within the IoT to address the desire for autonomy.
— Sensors collect data, and the hub then commands smart devices to counteract environmental changes. These commands will be visible on the main IoT device.
— The prototyping process started with generative ideation that was winnowed down to refined concepts.
— Once the user flow was understood, I began to iterate on UI elements and physical form. UI was drafted and prototyped within Figma before being tested with participants.
— Once the UI was positively received by participants, I utilized cardboard to make 3D forms that were also tested. These tests were repeated with 3D printed models that got increasingly refined over time.
Here is the final deliverable, OTTO.
Sensors gather data from the environment and send it to the hub, the central processor of the IoT.
— Sensors sense and collect environmental data. Sensors can be placed anywhere within the user’s space, giving the user autonomy to decide which parts of their home are monitored.
— To ensure data collection is accurate and transparent, LED indicators inform users what conditions the sensor is currently monitoring.
— To avoid inaccurate data (due to heaters, windows, etc.), users can adhere sensors near their activities areas and select what variables the interface senses.
The Hub is the logic processor of OTTO, and decides which devices need to be active to maintain homeostasis.
— The Hub processes environmental data captured by the user's sensors. This is followed by sending commands to the smart products based on user input or environmental input.
— Automating this process resolves the user needs of balance and adaptability.
— Autonomy is addressed by having the Hub display what actions it takes within its UI.
The Controller allows the user to create and switch between modes.
— The Controller is a universal dial that centralizes smart home control to one interface and allows users to fine-tune their surroundings.
To emphasize users autonomy, the Hub does not make any changes other than corrective measures until the user inputs a change into the Controller.
— Ease of use is a priority in OTTO, and all interactions are easily one-handed and intuitive.
— Otto is built on gradual change and trial and error. When creating a mode, users start with a general set of parameters.
— Over time, users can fine-tune more niche details of each mode.
— OTTO was one of my first end-to-end projects, and I learned a lot in the process. Overall, I feel I was better able to grasp the importance of how functionality can influence the form of a design.

I learned how to keep an open, unbiased mind. Early in the prototyping process, I was attached early ideas. I realized I needed to take a few steps back and understand that while the original form was good to look at, it would be more beneficial for a different use case.

— I still believe that being playful and idealistic early on is a good way to generate ideas, but OTTO was extremely beneficial in teaching me to scale down and focus on usability.