Plan the Wood Before Planting the Trees: A High-Level Approach to Systems Integration


By Peter Aylett, Archimedia Middle East. As an industry we frequently get caught up in technologies and products to the point that oft...

Peter AylettBy Peter Aylett, Archimedia Middle East. As an industry we frequently get caught up in technologies and products to the point that often the technology drives the design rather than focusing on the design to ensure that the needs of the users are met. For many years now, I have been striving to make all of our systems “Human Centered”. This approach puts the needs and emotional responses of the user first to then find the technologies and products that meet those Human-Centered needs. To help identify if a system design is Human Centered, the following factors can be applied to both User Interfaces and subsystem/infrastructure elements at the sales and design stages to ensure that we remain truly client focused and not ruled by product. I call this approach Design For L.I.F.E. Lifestyle Noun: The way in which a person or group lives.
  • The system design should acknowledge and embrace specific client lifestyle requests.
  • Functionality should not be biased by the personal preferences of the integrator. Though we’d love to live in many of the properties in which we work, it’s our clients who live there, not us.
  • System design should balance client requests, with expert advice. People come to us because we’re the experts. Our job is to guide or clients towards making the correct purchasing decision. Often this needs existing customer preconceptions to be broken in order for them to see a better way.
Intuitive Adjective: Using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive. Easy to use and understand.
  • User Interfaces should be intuitive enough for any intended user to operate without the need for instruction. Whilst higher and more advanced functionality will need to be explained, a User should be able to operate basic system functionality without instruction
  • All User Interfaces should contain as few touch points, functions and graphical elements as to make the system usable.
  • The user should not be aware of individually controllable elements when a macro is more appropriate.
  • All buttons and user-accessible sockets should be labeled with their function.
Flexible Adjective: Able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances or conditions.
  • System design should acknowledge the possibility of future room use changes.
  • The system design should allow for the potential needs of different future owners of the property.
  • The system design should allow for new technologies, devices and guest’s technology to be used. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is a cornerstone of the new mobile device enabled world we live in.
Ergonomic and Efficient Ergonomic - Adjective: Designed to minimise physical effort and discomfort, and hence maximise efficiency.
  • User interfaces should need a minimum of interactions for any given function, and never more than three. Do not bury functions behind multiple menus and page flips on touch screens.
  • User interfaces should be specified so as to be ergonomically appropriate for the [caption id="attachment_8130" align="alignright" width="359"]Often the simplest UIs are the best for a task. Often the simplest UIs are the best for a task.[/caption] task. If necessary, multiple User Interfaces may be specified for different task scenarios. Though we try and find the one User Interface to rule them all, it does not yet exist. Acknowledge and balance the speed of hard buttons with the rich graphical possibilities of a touchscreen.
  • Any individual User Interface or component that needs user interaction should be positioned appropriately for all users.
Efficient Adjective: (of a system or machine) Achieving maximum productivity and performance with minimum wasted effort or expense.
  • Subsystem design should be as minimally complex as possible to meet the functionality requirements of all users. Just because it can be done, does not necessarily mean it should be.
  • Systems should be designed to minimise failure modes and maximise uptime. [caption id="attachment_8131" align="alignright" width="400"]Have you taken all of the practical steps to minimise failure modes? Have you taken all of the practical steps to minimise failure modes?[/caption] Common failure modes should be minimised by design.
  • The performance of all installed components should be maximised by design. Embrace industry standards and recommended practices to ensure that all installed components perform to their maximum capability.
Conclusion The above factors can be applied as a test for all of your system designs. Try introducing them one by one into your design and design review processes until they become an intuitive part of your process. Ignore some of them and add your own if you like. Just ensure that you take a Human-Centered design approach to meet you customers’ needs. Peter Aylett is a world-renowned speaker and lecturer in residential technology, and the Technical Director at Archimedia, a multinational high-end residential integrator in The Middle East. He is also currently Chair of CEDIA’s International Technology Council Applied Content Action Team, and a regular contributor to HiddenWires.