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Giving My New House An Education
Dan Ward

Dan Ward

Dan is Co-Founder and President of Detroit Labs. Through the belief that technology is successful when it empowers people, Dan advises clients through ideation, concept, and experience design. His unique ability to blend user experience, technology, and strategy has helped clients from General Motors, Kia, and Volkswagen to Domino’s Pizza, Jimmy John’s, and Kimberly-Clark. Dan serves as a go-to resource for media across the country, including The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the L.A. Times, providing insight into tech trends and issues impacting consumers and businesses alike in the technology space.

I moved into a new house a few months ago, and during that process, I decided that this was a great time to really dig into connected home options. As it turns out, I learned as much about the installation process as the thought behind making these products.

To quote Dr. Malcolm in “Jurassic Park,” “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” After the trials and successes of my move to connected home, I realized that many of the products were thought of as, “I know how to create this sensor, so I’m going to create it!” and less as, “Do I actually need this? What value does this sensor offer?”

There is a disconnect between the average user and the developers of many smart home products. Think about it this way: if you can tell me something is awesome and walk me through that – like that I’ll wake up in the morning and my lights will turn on and my coffee machine will start – I can close my eyes and imagine that being convenient. But there are very few smart home providers selling and/or building their products like that.

The Journey Begins

When my family decided to move, I figured I had a blank slate. The house was built in 1948 but is completely new to us. Most importantly, we didn’t have habits built into the house yet. I didn’t go to a single room every time I came home, I didn’t turn on this light or that light.

Trying to retrofit smart home into a life that you’re already accustomed to, with routines built into your day – knowing where your light switch is, knowing which light you want to turn on first, knowing what temperature you want your thermostat at – changing these behaviors can be a huge barrier to adoption. The hurdle is much higher than if you’re going into a new home where you have to create all new habits. The smart home hurdle in a new home is just much lower. This was the perfect moment to explore what the smart home world had to offer.

Ultimately, why did I want to do this? I looked at smart home as a mixture of cool and convenience. I wanted the cool of being able to control things from my phone, but I also wanted the convenience of the lights coming on automatically in the morning so I didn’t have to fumble around looking for a switch in the dark.

Winning my wife over was easy; I just had to promise that everything I put into the house would work in analog as well as digital. That need is what kills smart home’s potential success a lot of the time. I’m the person who walks around the house with my phone in my pocket, because I need to be reached. My wife is not, so something that can only be controlled from a phone is not a good solution for us.

At the end of the day, I wanted to create a smart home that works and also gets out of your way. By this, I really mean not needing to relearn the basic human interactions that we engage in subconsciously. I ended up going with smart switches for my first project because everyone knows how to turn a switch on, whether or not they have an app on their phone that can do the heavy lifting for them. My dream of lights that turn on and off without getting out of bed would become a reality while simultaneously keeping my family happy, no matter what our habits.

The Human User Experience

The smart home industry is growing through the roof – and there is nothing but confusion around it. So much of that is due to a lack of clarity around user experience. User experience takes form in many different ways. Some think it’s design, but I come at it from more of a “why are you building this product and what does this product do for me?” standpoint. That’s my focus on a daily basis in my job, so it’s natural for me to focus on things in off-time in the same way. I approached smart home in my own home looking at it through that lens, and not the lens of, say, technology or security.

Smart home is no longer stuck in a dark corner of the internet, the province of a dedicated group tinkerers. You can go into Best Buy or Home Depot right now and smart home products are on the shelves. I wanted to see for myself if these products are ready from a basic, human aspect – not only how tech-savvy do you need to be to install them, but how savvy do you need to be to use them?

In this series, I’ll share my journey as I answer this basic question and attempt to shine a light on the value that connected home adds to houses old and new. How can it make our lives better without making us completely crazy? Come find out with me.