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How smart is your home, Bilgi?

One day our homes will be so  smart  we will not call them  smart  homes anymore, just homes. At least that is what Bilgi, who works with User Experience at IKEA, predicts.  We talked to him about Inclusive Design, roller coasters and how smart his own home really is. 

Unsurprisingly, Bilgi’s home is full of prototypes, different stages of ideas and solutions that will, hopefully, make it all the way to you, the customer. Now and then he replaces one of the prototypes with an actual product. That is what he did with the TRÅDFRI shortcut button he keeps at elbow height next to the other fridge magnets in the kitchen. The white square button is an IKEA Home smart product that lets you, with a single push, activate any scene. In Bilgi’s case, a push stops the music, closes the connected blinds and turns the lights off. He has another one next to the bed he calls “good morning”, and to Bilgi a morning is good if it includes jazz.
 
Every smart home is different, because homes themselves are different. It all depends on what you need your home to be and how you want the products to be connected to each other. This is something Bilgi Karan thinks about on a daily basis in his work with how we interact with Home smart solutions. His interest in the functions in our life at home and the social impact of design started in Turkey, where he grew up.
 
“I was fascinated by the thought that everything around me at home was designed by someone. When I started studying Industrial Design in Ankara, I understood that there is more to it than just making nice looking objects. I wanted to understand the place the object takes in a person’s life, emotionally,” says Bilgi.


Bilgi started working with heating and cooling equipment. It was a small team in Turkey, so he was working with everything from Industrial Design, Interaction Design, Packaging Design, and even colour and materials for all of his projects.

“I realized that even a tiny display with a button is important because it is about how you interact with the product, and it takes up space in your life.”


The experience of how you use a product, together with a big dose of curiosity, brought him to further studies in Sweden. And, long story short, today he works with User Experience, or “UX Design”, at IKEA. But what is UX Design? Bilgi takes us to an amusement park to share an example.

“How do you ideally design a roller coaster? You can start with the steel rods, the structure, the safety and the ticketing system. But what you are really looking for is the thrill, and maybe a roller coaster is not the answer. It might be a video game, or something else. I think that depicts the changing role of design and where UX Design comes in,” says Bilgi.

Portrait of Bilgi Karan.

 

A wall with animal decorations and two TRÅDLÖS remote controls with stickers.

 

The very first IKEA Home smart product was the wireless charger. To Bilgi, the charger is the exact opposite of what you would expect from a technical product. It makes things tidy and gives you exactly what you need, the power without the plug. Today, IKEA Home smart ecosystem includes lights, blinds, motion sensors, sockets, chargers, switches, and a sound remote for the SYMFONISK speakers. For all these products Bilgi and his team started with the need, and the problem, if there is one to solve.

“When we started working with lighting, we didn’t say ‘Let´s put a connectivity chip into a bulb and use it from an app to produce millions of colours’. We started with the fact that if you have a lamp and would like to make it dimmable to create a nice atmosphere, it could be a very expensive endeavour. If we create a kit with a bulb and a preconfigured remote-control, that solves your problem.”

So, what is good design to you?

“A good design fulfils a need. That is the first and the most obvious criteria, but totally underrated. Especially when you talk about technological products. Sometimes we say technology is a solution looking for a problem. I think it is important not to think about the technology when you start. The first thing we do is to learn how people live and what kind of problem we can solve. If the problem doesn’t exist, we step back.”

The word design can be very loaded, and to many people, it translates to something exclusive, hard to reach. Something specially made for you and so expensive only a few people can afford it. That is what Bilgi refers to as exclusive design. Inclusive design, on the other hand, is quite the opposite and engraved in the culture of IKEA.

“If as a user, you feel rejected, stupid or feel that you are not a part of the gang, someone has taken the wrong turn in the design process,” says Bilgi.

A design sketch of products in the IKEA Home smart system.

 

A hand peeling off stickers and a TRÅDLÖS remote control.

 

It is easy for the tech-geek in the family to get the benefit of a smart home, but what about the kids, grandparents babysitting, guests, differently-abled? That is why Bilgi and his team is not focusing on just an app. To include everyone, the team focuses on four different ways to interact with the home: voice control, physical controls like remote controls, automation like motion sensors, and apps.

“What if only one person has access to the app, and everyone else asks that person to control the lights and the blinds. We came to the realization with a couple of studies, and home visits that some people don’t necessarily want to use the app. They are perfectly happy with using physical remote control, a wireless dimmer or a timer.”

Just recently Bilgi and his team started collaborating with people with visual impairment to learn what is needed for screen reading to work.

“If you use a picture in the app it is important to add the correct caption, the code behind the picture so that when you run your finger over the picture can hear what the picture consists of. It is a very simple thing and really not that hard to do, but it can be easily missed. That is why testing is so important,” says Bilgi.

Ever thought about letting pets test your products?

“The TRÅDFRI shortcut button is just one button that activates a certain ‘scene’ you have preconfigured. Anyone can press it. Some people said that they would like to put the shortcut button on a height that a dog can reach it with its paw. Why not?”

A while back, Bilgi and his team started working on a remote control for both sound and light. This experience provided a great example of why testing is so important instead of just assuming what people need.

“We came pretty far in calling it a sound and light remote. When we started testing the prototype, we realized that the usage of sound and light are very different. Even the places where you would put the remote are completely different. You turn on the light when you enter a room, so you might want to have the remote near the entrance. The sound controls the ambience of the room while you are in it. We decided to separate sound and light controls for now,” says Bilgi.

How smart is your own home, really?  

“I am trying out everything we have in development right now. All the beta features and new products that haven’t made it to the market yet. This is not always harmonious for the other residents of the home, meaning my wife. On the other hand, I don’t think my home looks smart, you can’t see the technology. It blends in with the furnishing.”  

Is there anything in your own home that you have kept manual?  

“Sometimes I feel like there will never be a perfect system for controlling the blinds in our bedroom. Sometimes you watch tv, and you want less light, but maybe not if it is a cloudy day. Maybe I have a slight headache, or I might want the sun in my eyes. I am happy to have a remote control nearby so that I can finetune.”

What will our connected homes look like in the future?

“I hope that the experience, and the esthetics, of the smart home, will be more or less invisible. We are in a transition where you need to add the smartness to your home, blinds and bulbs one by one. The biggest challenge today is the harmonization of all of these things, and the cost. Today there is a certain formula to the smartness. Right now, the technology is not advanced enough to understand that you want to sleep right now or turn off the lights which the teenagers never seem to learn to do.”  

Not everything needs to be smart. Some things can remain “dumb”, Bilgi says.

“But If the home has ambient smartness, then we will not call it smart anymore. Then we will just call it home. Elevators don’t need operators anymore, but you don’t call them automatic elevators. I think designers and developers are important during this transition period. In the future, you might be surprised if you find non-automatic blinds.”  

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  • Technology