Aug. 24, 2021 - Access to a simpler, more convenient, and more secure lifestyle for everyone is at the center of today’s smart home design concept. Not only does this enable everyone to enjoy a more relaxed and user-friendly home experience, it also increases a home’s overall value.
The practice of Universal Design ensures that products and spaces can be used and enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their level of ability or disability. By coupling the 7 Principles of Universal Design with automation and assistive technologies, people of all abilities can perform their daily tasks and duties as independently and enjoyably as possible.
Principle 1: Equitable – The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities *1.
Thanks to smart home technology, we have the opportunity to create a more enjoyable and safer environment for every member of the household. Motorized shades provide privacy and security and are easy to operate using a range of control devices, or even without any user interaction at all. Motion and photo sensors can trigger shade positions and lighting to adjust based on preset schedules and preferences. For example, when triggered during the day, shades and lighting can adjust to maximize natural light levels; during the late-night hours, shades remain closed for privacy, while soft pathway lights illuminate the hallway for a safer trip to the bathroom.
Principle 2: Flexibility – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities *1.
Universally designed smart homes provide a wide variety of choices in control options. Each user can access the same system benefits, regardless of their device preference or abilities. Some may prefer touch screens and wall mounted keypads (which can be customized to accommodate visual impairments), while others may find that voice control is the most convenient method of operation.
Many homes also feature various entry options, including biometric and coded locks for people with compromised manual dexterity. This technology also offers the ability to restrict entry to certain individuals on specific days and times, and even specific doors, thereby eliminating the need to provide physical keys to multiple people, such as caregivers and assistants.
Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive – The design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level *1.
Providing a simple and consistent smart control interface promotes the universal experience in a well-designed home. The interface should be identical, whether accessed through a mobile device, a 7" wall mounted touch screen, or a 10" tabletop touch screen. Icons should have a consistent and intuitive look, label, and placement to meet user expectations.
Principle 4: Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
This principle helps users to easily zero in on essential information from its surroundings and employs different modes to present the same information for all to understand.
This keypad, for example, is designed so that the essential information is easily identified and legible. The rocker design uses pictorial cues combined with textual and spatial cues to clearly communicate the keypad’s function – lighting control with a dimming option.
Principle 5: Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions *1.
When designing a touch screen interface, system icons can be arranged to minimize hazards and errors. Commonly used and "safe" system icons are front and center, while other more sensitive system icons can be isolated. In this case, controls for lights, shades, audio, and video are placed at the top of the front page, while the security and life safety system icons are moved to a back page, password protected, or only accessible from a specific account or device.
Principle 6: Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue *1.
Activating a Scene or Quick Action triggers multiple effects at once and, thereby, virtually eliminates manual operation and minimizes physical exertion. Scenes and Quick Actions operate across devices and systems.
For example, a "TV" Scene could power on the TV, source a preset channel, activate surround sound, lower the shades, and dim the lights to eliminate glare, all at once. An "All Off" Scene could turn off all interior lights, power off all audio/video sources and TVs, and lower every motorized shade across the home.
In both scenarios, living in a traditional home, you would need to exert a great deal of energy and time to accomplish these tasks. With integrated technology, it’s all done with the simple tap of a button or a single voice command.
Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach Use – Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility *1.
While this principle is more applicable to the physical layout of the space and accommodations for assistive devices, we can also apply it to the placement of any of the technologies integrated in the home.
The major systems in the home must be accessible to everyone. Keypads and touch screens should be strategically placed so that they’re easily accessible to everyone, seated or standing, and regardless of height. Extra-large tabletop touch screens (up to 21.5") provide a user-friendly interface for someone who may have visual impairments and a more accessible and versatile control option for anyone using mobility assistance.
Universal Design seeks to create environments and products that offer safety and comfort for all people with no need for adaptation or functional changes. Integrated control technologies, such as those from Crestron, can be applied to support this effort and create a barrier-free smart home experience.
*1 The 7 Principles of Universal Design were developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace (Design Pioneer, internationally recognized Architect) in North Carolina State University.
By JoAnn Arcenal, Sr. Business Development Manager