Designing the experience — a UX case study

Most times as UI / UX designers we’re designing apps for users to interact with and use. Those designs are all about where buttons are placed, how information is categorized, and how people interpret a screen.

With the Wynd Halo + Home Purifier, we designed an experience. From the air you breathe, to when the lights turn on, to how your home reacts to everyone sleeping at night or leaving the home. We focused on what people do at home and how subtle tweaks can enhance their health and wellness at home without them ever having to lift a finger.

Instead of buttons and information, we designed how different devices react to your environment within your context. Simply turning up a purifier to the max because the air is suddenly bad when you are cooking takes your attention off your task and shifts your purifier — which you probably shouldn’t be paying attention to.

Context is everything. While designing the Wynd Halo and Home Purifier experience there were three main pillars of our design process: context, invisibility, and automaticity. If we designed the experience correctly, you should never even notice the Halo and Home Purifier working in the background to unobtrusively ensure the environment is perfect for you.

Wynd Halo contains 10 sensors all tuned to detect changes in your home environment. We specifically chose two categories of sensors: health and the environment.

By integrating with smart devices such as Nest, WeMo, Alexa smart plugs, and more, Wynd Halo can trigger your devices to turn on or off to based on its sensor readings. Between the sensors and the integrations, the Halo can automatically ensure you’re environment is perfect.

But that is only half of the story. Simply having sensors that can tell something when to turn on and off, but what is truly useful is designing for real people and how users actually live their lives.

If it gets cold at night, turning on the heat is the obvious answer. But the obvious answer to a problem does not take humanity into account. if you set your home temperature to 68° and it becomes 67° at 2 am do you really want your heater to turn on waking up whoever is closest to the furnace — if anyone is close to the furnace? Probably not. It might be better to let the house cool down to 65 degrees by 7 am and turn on the house furnace then when people are waking up. Or, if you have a radiator heater plugged into your smart plug it would know to turn that on in your room since there is no noise to disturb your sleep.

Understanding the environment and the people in it is vital to making the right decision for your users.

But it doesn’t just stop at sleep and temperature, these rules and designs extend to every part of Halo’s interaction with the environment.

When you’re doing work, the Halo ensures that sounds are kept to baseline white noise so you’re not disturbed by the heater or air conditioning suddenly erupting to life. Of course, the furnace and A/C does not make a loud noise in every place in every home, so the Halo learns. Using artificial intelligence (our industries favorite buzzword) the Halo listens for changes in sound after it triggers something to turn on then tracks how loud that sound is for reference while a sound-sensitive mode is in use. We designed this sound watching feature after realizing some people slept or had kids sleeping near the furnace. That meant little kids, especially babies would be more disturbed by the sound of the heat or window A/C unit turning on and start crying more. It turns out there are different sounds all over the house and having a Halo next to the user allows us to map how loud those sounds are in each location so we can determine when to or even if we should make a potentially disturbing noise to fix a problem in the environment.

Another important insight we had was around the Wynd Home Purifier. Sleeping with a few air purifiers we realized they had a tendency to overreact to any fluctuations in the air to a startling degree. Everyone in the house could be lounging around and then for seemingly no reason the purifier would decide to go full blast and shock everyone out of their relaxed stupor.

If the goal of technology is to be invisible this shocking change is the opposite of that. With the Home Purifier we decided all changes should be painstakingly gradual taking 5 minutes to go to max speed when in the living room and 10 minutes to spin up to, not max speed, but 40 dB in sleep mode since sound is the vital component there, not necessarily how clean your air is in 30 minutes.

Part of designing the experience is also tailoring the hardware with user goals. To do this we actually made the most powerful smart air purifier under $500. It is capable of cleaning 1,200 square feet of space in 30 minutes, which if you know anything about air purifiers is an insanely large amount of air purification. But that ludicrously powerful purifier is intentional since it allows us to clean a smaller space such as your bedroom or living room whisper quietly but also very quickly. Sure turning it up to max at 60 dB, the sound of a conversation, is occasionally fun, but in actual use keeping the purifier at a whisper while still effectively doing its job keeps it out of sight and out of mind — invisible for all intents and purposes.

In addition to understanding the environment via the sensors and making thoughtful commands based on those sensor values, there has to be a chain of command between the different Wynd Halo devices. Which Wynd Halo has the right to increase the temperature in the home? Which Halo can turn on the purifier in which room?

To solve this hierarchical problem we first split your home up into rooms. A room would be the living room for instance where you might have a lamp connected to a wifi plug or a smart purifier, or a dumb dehumidifier plugged into a smart plug. Since all of these are in the same room as each other, the living room Wynd Halo knows which devices are in the same room as it and therefore knows to use those devices as its local triggers to fix issues in that room. If you want your living room lights on at sundown and want to ensure there is always clean air in the room it will automatically do that for you via its automatic optimization.

At night time, however, when you’re sleeping in your room and the temperature in the living room drops below your set threshold it doesn’t matter. Because at night when the device in your bedroom is set to sleep mode that is more important and is higher in the hierarchy. This hierarchy is important because of what we’re calling Global Variables — these are the triggers that affect multiple rooms in your home such as the thermostat.

There are 5 optimizations and, depending on what you’re up to, each one can take control of those global variables.

At the top of the hierarchy is the baby optimization during the night time from 8 pm to 8 am default since users want their baby happy first. Happy baby happy parents ( and non-zombie parents)

Next in the hierarchy is sleep optimization. This turns on automatically in your bedroom during your rest times say 10 pm to 6 am.

During the rest of the day, the productivity optimization beats out exercise who beats out the lowest member on the totem pole: auto mode.

Productivity mode is for quiet while exercise is mode is all about cycling the air in the room and lowering the temperature no matter the noise. Those two are almost polar opposites.

When designing for the experience, just like in any UI design, there is a lot of hypothesizing and testing. And for a lot of the defaults we chose, we found they just don’t work for everyone. In productivity mode, a lot of people actually do like to have some white noise while they work and research actually backs this up. But some people like complete silence while others prefer to blare music. People have unique preferences and while designing an experience can help you make a decent default it is important to yield to your user’s personal preferences whenever possible.

Accompanying the Wynd Halo is an app that enables users to set up their home’s rooms and integrate with other products such as Nest and WeMo smart plugs. In addition to the integrations, the user can customize the individual optimizations to customize their experiences.

Unlike designing for screens where one design can fit 99% of users, designing for experiences there often is no single default that works for everyone. Just in the 10 users interviewed and tested with we had 4 different preferences for productivity and 9 different preferences for sleep ( some like it colder, some like it warmer, some like white noise, some don’t, some like to save power while they sleep, some don’t care, some like the lights to turn on when they need to wake up , some prefer to leave the blinds open to wake themselves up, etc.) basically everything that could be different was different between our users meaning that the experience absolutely must be customizable, so make sure to always include customization options when designing for larger experiences that inform and change how users live their lives.

Wynd Halo + Home Purifier are live on Kickstarter till 5 pm PST this Saturday. It’s already raised $800,000 to become the most successful air purification product. Check it out here.

Product Manager and designer writing about ideas. Living and working in SF. See more of my projects at www.alexcreates.me