Presenting slimmer dimmer

The inclusive smart home design principles were not developed in isolation. They come from a specific context with a specific solution. The slimmer dimmer and an overview of its features are described in this chapter. Then the chapter gives insight into how the principles are integrated in an inclusive smart dimmer. Finally, the future explorations and implications of this product are discussed.

How the dimmer works

The slimmer dimmer was primarily developed to work just like any other dimmer. However, there are additional smart features that are hidden during non-enthusiast use. An overview of the dimmer is provided here.

Manual control/automatic control

The dimmer has two general modes it functions in. When the knob is turned or clicked, it is in manual mode. Manual mode is the first mode any user would encounter and it will disable any smart behavior for lights in the room. To enable these automations again, the button needs to be long pressed. Figure 1 shows the dimmer in manual mode and figure 2 shows when it has been put in automatic mode.

Figure 1:

The dimmer in manual mode, activated by clicking or turning

Figure 2:

The dimmer in automatic mode, activated by long pressing

Physical overview

Slimmer dimmer is situated in the wall, as a normal light switch would be. Here the slimmer dimmer can easily be found and used by any nonenthusiast. The slimmer dimmer can also be taken out of the wall, it then functions as a remote control. When placed in the wall, the dimmer gets charged. See figure 3 for a typical placement of the device.

The dimmer has one button and a LED ring surrounding it. This one button is used for all control, making some things easy to find and others much harder. The ring will normally indicate how bright the light is set, both in manual and automatic mode. When the dimmer has not been used for 10 seconds, most of the LEDs will turn off and show just one LED that indicates the brightness. When all the lights are off, the dimmer will not show any indicators. See figure 4 for a dimmer that is timed out.

Figure 3:

The dimmer placed on a wall next to a door, where it's expected.

Figure 4:

The dimmer when the lights are on, but haven’t been changed for 10 seconds. This indicator shows the current brightness of the lights.

Custom controls

Because the dimmer is targeted towards DIY smart home enthusiasts, it needs to be configurable. The dimmer can be configured to disable only a few automations or control only half of the lights in a room, but the fun part are the fully configurable controls.

First is a custom button, pressing twice sends a custom command. This command triggers an automation or integrates with a service like IFTTT. Triggering the custom command fills the LED ring, seen in figure 5. The second customization is a custom dimmer function. To use this function, you need to press and turn the knob. In this mode, turning the knob can execute any feature you like. The defaults can control RGB, specific lights, select scenes or color temperature as seen in figure 6.

Figure 5:

Custom command when triggered.

Figure 6:

Custom dimmer feature used for color temperature control.

Onboarding and insights

The dimmer comes with a companion app to configure the device. During the onboarding, the enthusiast is taught how to use the device and introduced to the concept of manual/automatic control. Alongside onboarding and configuration, the app provides the enthusiast with insights. See figure 7 for the onboarding.

These insights are made to help the enthusiast improve their automations. When the device is used, it is a moment that the automatic system is not sufficient. The dimmer gathers all these moments and displays them such, that it is easy to figure out if there are any issues and how big these issues are. Every issue has actionable data available, making it clear with whom, when and how things went wrong. See figure 8 for an example of these insights and actionable data.

Figure 7:

Some steps during the onboarding in chronological order

Figure 8:

An example of insights to help the enthusiast improve night mode

Incorporation of principles

To provide a better understanding of where the inclusive smart home design principles come from, this chapter will show how they were developed in the slimmer dimmer. First, the application of the principle is explained and then the findings that support the principle are mentioned.

Protect domestication

The slimmer dimmer protects domestication by being in exactly the same place as all other light switches. Somewhere near a door, at a height of about 105 cm. Then, when a user has found the dimmer, it will work similar to all other dimmers they have used. Turning the knob changes the brightness and clicking toggles the lights.

Proper placement solved most issues

“I’m looking for a way to get it brighter again, there is probably a sensor somewhere” ~ Scenario 1 “It is a smart living room, hmmm. Please, more light! Can it speak?” ~ Scenario 1

Figure 9:

A participant using gestures to try and control the brightness ~ Scenario 1

Figure 10:

A participant turned on the light with the physical switch. The light was too dim to read from the couch. ~ Scenario 1

During the final validation of the non-enthusiast experience, it was clear participants could easily find the dimmer. The device was where they expected it to be and when looking, the device kept their attention by displaying the change of lighting happening in the room. See figure 58 to see this in action.

“I see a knob here.” ~ Scenario 4 “Button with a light here!” ~ Scenario 4

Figure 11:

Participant using the dimmer while it's on the wall. ~ Scenario 4

Participants used the knob correctly every time

Figure 1 also shows the ease with which a participant is able to use the device. The usability testing showed that turning for dimming and clicking for toggling was very well understood. Even when participants had no feedback from their environment, they used the device correctly every time. Figure 12 and 13 show participants touching the device for the first time

Figure 12:

The first second the participant touched the prototype ~ Usability 2

Figure 13:

The first turn of the participant was the correct one. ~ Scenario 4

Participants never accidentally used a feature

During usability tests, but also in scenario tests, the participants never accidentally accessed an enthusiast feature. This was done by making it significantly more difficult to find these non-traditional features. This caused them to only find the features they were expecting. See figure 14 for a schematic overview of enthusiasm versus discoverability.

Figure 14:

Traditional controls should be easily found for non-enthusiasts, novel controls should only be found by enthusiasts.

Give immediate control

The slimmer dimmer disables any automatic behavior related to the lights you are controlling. This gives the user immediate control when they are using the device.

Users expect control

During scenario testing, participants were confused when they did not get immediate control. They felt out of control when they had given input that the system ignored.

“Things going off when I turned them on was definitely not control.“ ~ Scenario 1 “When turning the dial, it should know I don't want it to be automated?” ~ Scenario 2 “I didn’t expect the light to turn off again, because I felt I had overruled it.” ~ Scenario 2

The following scenario test disabled automatic behavior immediately. Participants were a lot more ambivalent about their feeling of control. Some thought they had control over the situation, others wondered how they can change the system or control different lights. However, the idea that the system is still in charge was no longer a concern.

“Definitely, the manual aspect. It gives me a lot of control” ~ Scenario 3 “If I have the knowledge to change it, then I have control” ~ Scenario 3 “Now, I can control this light, what if I want to change another one?” ~ Scenario 3

Enthusiasts are the ones who can adapt

Aside from non-enthusiasts gaining control, enthusiasts do not lose anything. During tests with enthusiasts, they were able to understand the behavior of the device in less than a minute. When their automations don’t work, they know how to enable them.

“You can turn it on/off, dim it, that is in manual mode, to get back to automatic mode, you long press.” ~ Communicating 2 “The main thing is control lights. You can do it manually. You can also hold the button and set it to self-adjustable mode.” ~ Communicating 2

Facilitate adaption

The slimmer dimmer keeps track of all moments when the dimmer is used. When the dimmer is used, the automatic system is not sufficient. This information is transformed into insights and they are made to help the enthusiast improve their automations. This facilitates them to adapt their system when behavior changes or exceptions are found.

Tensions between enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts

This need was originally found when analyzing the contextmapping session. When enthusiasts do not keep up with fixing the small problems that arise, tensions between inhabitants and technology can increase. Facilitating adaption tackles this issue by giving the enthusiast tools to keep those tensions at bay.

AI does something similar

Literature also mentioned how households are socially complex and routinely involve breakdowns, improvisations, compromises and conflicts (Davidoff et al., 2006). Some closed source products deal with this unpredictability by learning from user behavior, such as the Nest thermostat. The thermostat utilizes AI and implements findings by itself. DIY smart homes don’t have AI, but they have an enthusiast. This enthusiast needs similar information as the AI, but presented in a way that is usable for them.

Enthusiasts recognize the need

When communicating these insights to the enthusiasts, they were very receptive. They put these issues in their own words and obviously recognize the need for these insights.

“Basically, these devices. They are smart, but not that smart. They don’t allow for improvisation. This allows me to overrule that and hopefully train the system behind it to be more adaptive to me.” ~ Communicating 2 It makes it easier as long as the automations work. And then you can use the insights to improve them. The better you configure the automations, the less you use the device. You just don’t need it at some point.” ~ Communicating 2 “That is very valuable. Those insights.” ~ Coaches during green light meeting

Directions for development

Since the device has been developed into a fully functional prototype, it makes thinking about the next steps very tangible. Could this device be used to teach your home? What happens when you have 10 of these devices in a pile? This chapter gives some answers, mostly open-ended.

Now an enthusiast, later an AI?

The insights are now aimed at an enthusiast, but the insights could also be aimed at an AI that improves your automations. This is not being done for entire homes, but products like the Nest thermostat already adjust their own behavior on a smaller scale.

The insights could also be aimed at both the enthusiast and the AI. Some insights might be easy to implement and could be done automatically, where larger issues might require a change of sensors or actuators.

Training the house

Instead of only learning when mistakes happen, the device could also be used to make suggestions for automations. The device could then be used for a month, without any automations in the home. By carefully looking at your usage of the device, the dimmer could suggest automatic behavior to introduce.

It will likely be a long time before this can actually replace the creative aspect of an enthusiast. An enthusiast thinks of new behavior to add to their house, things that currently can’t be measured yet. For an AI to take this role, they need a lot of additional information.

Insights provide an explicit moment to ask permission

Enthusiast systems are very privacy-focused, but sometimes functionality can be received by giving some information away. The insights could be a place where permission for correlating data is explicitly given. When it is clear how the data could improve the system and it asks explicit permission, an enthusiast might be willing to take the step.

What happens when you have 10?

Currently, the vision is that the slimmer dimmer is in every room. Since they are all wireless, you could put them all in one pile and spend a while separating them. This could be solved in multiple ways, with labeling or color coding being the most boring ones.

Since the dimmers have a hole in the wall that doesn’t move, they could be paired to any room by placing the dimmer in the hole. This makes the remotes interchangeable per room. This also makes it possible to use all of them at the same time in one room! The dimmer could also determine its position by checking signal strength towards the lights around it. This could triangulate the room you are in and automatically control the correct lights.

Controlling specific lights

In addition to determining a room through signal strength, the dimmer could also use this to control specific lights. A user could walk up to a lamp and whichever lamp is closest, is then controlled by the dimmer.

Extra controls

Currently the dimmer only supports double-clicking for a custom button and press turning for custom control. This could be expanded to triple clicks or more. This can definitely be implemented, but is not as easy to use. However, since the dimmer is aimed at enthusiasts, it is probably best to implement this feature.

Next chapter: Concluding