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Capturing user requirements for smart hometechnology, to support industry practice

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posted on 25.02.2011, 10:11 by William Green
The home-orientated technology industry has grown rapidly since the 1980s. This movement has been catalysed by an intensive evolution in technology development and is reflected by academic and industry interest in the area. In combination with the ubiquity of digital consumer products, such interest has driven the re-emergence of the smart home as an ideal that, with a paradigmatic shift in human interaction with their environment, will improve lifestyle and support independent living. Accordingly, the smart home has come to represent an aspirational vision of the future. However, despite the renewed interest in the area and a legacy of technology that has resulted in confused, frustrated and disillusioned users, little research has been undertaken to identify the perception of the user towards the smart home. Consequently, the provision of guidance for industry practice and designers is severely limited. To counteract technology that does not support user needs and to ensure the efficacy of the smart home, this research captures the perception of the user towards existing and future technology and reflects on the needs of state of the art industry practice. In study one, eight workshops (N=55) captured positive anticipation and attitudes of users towards the smart home but with some concerns and contradictory needs and requirements. A contextual enquiry (N=12), incorporating a probe study and home interview, explored technology usage in more depth. Differences in basic technology usage, such as heating and lighting, revealed complex meanings behind the assumed use of technology. User needs were embodied in a co-design workshop (N=8) in which prototypes for the control of their smart home were modelled. Concepts for the smart home are distinguished by functionality, the locus of control for human-system interaction, and the nature of interaction. Despite the acknowledgement of the value of perceptive and aware technology, users must perceive empowerment and ownership of all activity in the home. To explore current practice in design and development for the smart home, interviews were conducted with industry professionals (N=18) from twelve companies and analysed according to a grounded theory method with a constructionist approach. User centred design was found to be prevalent in the smart home industry but compromises remained. The user perceptions towards the smart home illustrate the challenges that the industry must overcome, and provide a case study example of including the user throughout the `fuzzy front end' of the design process. Although user centred design is often deemed a panacea in the development of successful products, this study has found that disparate views on user centred design have caused a misrepresentation of the user and their importance. It is clear that companies want to be people-centred but effective user centred design practice is seemingly not arbitrary. The most immediate needs for successful professional practice of user centred smart home design have been identified in this study and are supported with the provision of guidance that will contribute to their understanding.



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© William Green

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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