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What Makes Smart Design? We ask our Award-Winning Designers

In a world where products are increasingly connected to the internet, it's easy for manufacturers to assume having “smart” technology automatically means people will flock to stores for your products. Too often, companies think consumers will put up with a painful experience for the privilege of using the latest gadget.


People want &endash; and deserve &endash; a product that's technologically advanced and intuitive to use. Savvy tech companies are finding ways to make that happen. Honeywell is one of them.

On July 3, 2017, Honeywell won the coveted Red Dot design awards for four of our newest products. We asked our designers for their perspective of what makes great design for smart products.

Q: Honeywell's been honored with Red Dot Awards for four products. Why do you think they stood out?

Doug Beaudet, Vice President, Global Experience Design at Honeywell Building Technologies: The short answer, the Honeywell User Experience. We call it HUE. It means putting the entire customer experience first, designing things in a simple, usable, beautiful way. Our mission is to apply Design Thinking principles and human-centered design practices to all new product development. We make it easier for customers &endash; distributors, installers, users, maintainers &endash; to do more with Honeywell products, software and services.

Q: That sounds like something that's easier said than done…

Beaudet: You're right, smart design doesn't just happen. It's more than just a sleek look. It takes thoughtful research to understand what people need and then design around those needs to create an appealing experience. It's about delivering value in a meaningful way, and that takes Design Thinking. Making something that is technologically feasible, business viable and customer desirable requires collaboration across disciplines.

Q: What exactly is “human-centered design?”

Beaudet: HUE leverages a human-centered design approach and combines our strengths in products and software. There are three-steps:

1. Understand: We talk directly with people about their needs and we research how they're using products in their lives so we understand what matters most to them.

2. Design: Using the customer observations and insights, we explore initial concepts and identify new opportunities.

3. Evaluate: We “road test” our prototypes with real users and assess the product's desirability and usability.

We used this approach for one of our Red Dot winners. In China, people are living with very high levels of air pollution. They have to deal with it as best they can outside, but when they're at home, people want their families to breathe clean air. It's a basic need &endash; we want our families to be safe, comfortable and healthy. Our Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) system lets homeowners control their home's environment quality, temperature and humidity from the convenience of their mobile phone. The machine itself is thinner than other products, its air vents are seamlessly integrated as a design feature, and it can be installed wherever people want to put it, on a horizontal surface or mounted on a wall. The IAQ offers intuitive, convenient functionality and design that doesn't look like a utilitarian box you want to try to cover up.

Matthias Tingstrom, Experience Design Director at Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions: Applying HUE principles to commercial products can be challenging, as we learned with our new smart gas detectors &endash; the Sensepoint XCL and XRL. These wall-mounted devices are used to detect volatile and toxic gases in commercial and industrial applications. They need to be dependable, rugged ç even explosion-proof &endash; but that doesn't mean they can't be intuitive and easy to use like a consumer device. We worked closely with installers and safety managers to better understand how we could make these critical safety devices faster to install and easier to use. I believe that customer focus along with a strong commitment to craftsmanship and design quality were what the Red Dot judges saw in these new products.

Q: Why did the world need another thermostat, like the T Series?

Rajat Shail, Senior Director Experience Design at Honeywell Home and Building Technologies: The world needs lesser, better products with simpler and easier to use interfaces. The T series is designed around a key user segment and aims to make the entire end-to-end user experience &endash; from buying to installing to using &endash; more intuitive and frictionless for the customer. We also hope to turn the thermostat market on its head by making the installation and upgradability really simple through a plug and play, universal wall plate design. Recognizing the pain points of contractors and home owners led us to a solution that is not only quicker to install and operate but also provides users with more choice and flexibility over the way they control their home comfort.

Q: How do you find inspiration to make something like an air purifier that people won't want to hide away in a corner?

Shail: Air purifiers address a key need in the world today. People are living in geographies with high levels of air pollution. The inspiration for this category much like most of our other home products comes from the home itself. We believe that home products need to fit in the home and be inspired from furniture and home décor rather than consumer electronics. We see a future where technology is ubiquitous but not glaring, rather subtle: stand out by fitting seamlessly in the lives of our customers.

Dean Butcher, Honeywell Environmental and Energy Solutions Experience Design Director: The inspiration really comes from observing people, understanding how they live their lives and what solutions are meaningful to them. Air quality is incredibly important to our long-term and sustained health, and this is equally important in our homes as it is on our streets and in our buildings. We want to provide solutions that fit more seamlessly into people's homes. Not only because they're more desirable but because it promotes greater interaction and use rather than being relegated to the distant corner of a room.

Q: Tell us about the design process for the Sensepoint XCL and XRL smart gas detectors. Honeywell won awards for digital design and physical design on those products.

Tingstrom: For the Sensepoint gas detectors, we spent a lot of time doing observational research with users in their work environments. Watching how they commission, install, use and maintain their gas detectors helped us find the pain points they experience so we could improve upon those in Sensepoint. It's faster to install, requiring only four screws, and you can replace a sensor with one screw. The device works seamlessly with a Bluetooth app that streamlines the calibration and maintenance of the devices. Best of all, it performs automated, instant reporting, a major time-saver for safety managers who need these reports. But it all started with understanding how customers use the devices and how we could make that experience better.

Q: Tell us more about the process for testing products and making sure people can use them right out of the box. What happens when you test something and it isn't quite “there” yet? How do you make sure your design thinking translates into happy customers?

Travis Read, Manager Experience Design, Honeywell Home and Building Technologies: It's easy to design a product for yourself but it's very difficult to make something that is intuitive for everyone. We take an iterative design approach starting with our most thoughtful design and then begin to test that with users. We'll test and refine as many times as we can to make sure the ‘out of box experience' is delightful and not painful.

Tingstrom: That's what's great about HUE &endash; your users will let you know very quickly if the product isn't quite “there” yet. We don't just get customer input up front &endash; it's an iterative process. We take our early concepts and prototypes and test them with users, incorporate their feedback, and then go back and see what they think. We do this throughout the design process. It's the surest way to make them happy with the results.

Q: How exactly do you design for “connected” products? What's different about a smart product than traditional hardware?

Butcher: The key design challenge is to understand the sum of all parts. Connected products, by definition, work as part of a larger eco-system, all of which have an important role to play. Ensuring that you're adding to the overall user experience and that it works in harmony is key to success. There is also a greater degree of complexity marrying the hardware, software and services so that they deliver the outcomes and experience that people expect and desire.

Beaudet: All of Honeywell is focused on enhancing experience with our products. As we move toward more connected environments, we're partnering with other industries to make sure our products work seamlessly with your existing systems. Our Lyric connected home ecosystem allows you to connect thermostats, water leak detectors and our new awareness cameras to our Lyric App. In fact, Lyric is the only thermostat directly supported by the big four home automation systems - Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung. Beyond Lyric, other Honeywell products have truly amazing integration with Alexa and HomeKit.

Shail: Connected products shouldn't just be connected through technology to better our lives. They need to have a cohesive look and feel. They need to fit into our lives as a suite of solutions working together to resolve key pain points around comfort, security and awareness. Smartness comes from how people interact with these devices, how versus traditional hardware. Smart products evolve and learn to seamlessly fit into our ever changing lifestyles.

Q: What's your advice for an aspiring designer?

Tingstrom: Take a broad view of the field. Consumer products are popular with designers because they are used by millions of people. But the need is great, if not greater, to bring better design to the devices and tools workers use every day in commercial and industrial settings. People want the equipment they use on the job to be as simple, intuitive and easy to use as their personal devices. There is tremendous opportunity for designers to help make that a reality. How often do you get to design awesome-looking and functional stuff that also saves peoples' lives?

Shail: These are great times to be a designer. Technology is at the precipice of mass humanization and designers can lead the way to a better world enhanced by its offerings. My advice to aspiring designers is that to constantly keep learning and evolving.

Butcher: Successful design is about understanding people &endash; their needs, wants, desires and aspirations. I would advise any aspiring designer to really spend time observing and understanding people. It is often the subtlety in people's behavior that leads to new ideas and opportunities. As children, we play with a mindset of “What if...” designers never lose that or the curiosity to ask the most important question: “Why?”

Trent Perrotto