Wemo: Smart Home Beginnings

wemo1

The Opportunity: In 2010, Belkin was making timer sockets, a line of smart energy products, and a line of Wi-Fi routers. A very smart man named Kevin Ashton (who coined the term “Internet of Things”) proposed that we take these things, combine them, and disrupt the “smart home” market. This space was historically only for the very wealthy and/or the very technically savvy customer, and usually required professional installers, hubs, and complex programatic dashboards.

plug plus router

Project: So we excitedly set out to make a Wi-Fi connected socket and motion sensor. That was where we started, and all of the rest was still up for grabs. What were the features? Was there an app? What kind and how many?

Team: The team consisted of Executive sponsors, Product Leads, Engineering Leads (EE, ME, Software), a Project Manager, a UX Lead (me), a fantastic UX Researcher, an Industrial Designer, a UI Designer, a iOS UI Developer, and Firmware and back-end Developers.

Process:process.001

We began by simultaneously kicking off user research and internal discussions about our objectives. We conducted a series of interviews with people about what they might imagine or want this product to do for them.I worked with our researcher on the set of questions and on analyzing the responses. (Some excerpts from this research is included in the video below.) With the product owner team, we decided on simplicity, speed of setup and use, and affordability as our objectives.

With these inputs, we whittled down our feature set, and began designing, prototyping and testing. (Again, video of some of the prototype testing is included below.) We went through MANY iterations as we encountered lots of very interesting challenges along the way.

Some of these were:

  • Installation and setup process – we had to figure out how this work at all, and then how to make that as easy as possible for the user. This included app and hardware behavior, instructions in the app and in the box helping the user to navigate between the hardware, phone Wi-Fi settings and back to the app, and lots of error handling.
  • Remote control – The UI designer and I worked hard and through numerous iterations on the remote power button. We wanted to make sure that it felt related to the product, and that it felt like a trust-worthy button. We gave the button some physicality, designed one specific animation to give the button a more tactile and less digital feel, and designed another animation to account for the transmit time of the command.
  • Schedule and Sensor automation – We wanted users to be able to schedule on and off times very simply, but also flexibly, as well as to be able to set a socket to be controlled by a sensor, without it seeming like “programming.” There was a large amount of complexity around this, which the software and firmware engineers and I had many discussions about. Our goal was to make the process as few steps and easy to understand as possible.

 

Results: I am proud of the product we created. It garnered wide press coverage when it was released, as well as placement in Target, Best Buy, the Apple Store, and many other US and International retailers. It won a UX Award, and brought a whole new type of product experience into the market.

Of course, that means that the minute it launched, it was ready for more iterations. In a future post, I will talk about the evolution of Wemo after its launch.

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