Managing your smart home and family life with a single app

Managing your smart home and family life with a single app

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Managing your smart home and family life with a single app

The Magenta Zuhause App focuses on families, so we support Deutsche Telekom in a project that brings more relaxation to many households.

The digital family: Annoyed and inefficient in the app jungle.

Digitization does not stop at families. For example, it has long been common practice to manage appointments – from daycare trips to soccer training to upcoming doctor's visits – in shared calendars. Even our four walls are becoming more digital: Thanks to smart home technology, the lights can now be switched on with a cell phone, and the heating turns off when a window is opened, thanks to intelligent sensors and home networking.

The modern family sounds wonderful – until you take a closer look. In reality, the light switch is often still used instead of the cell phone because not all family members know which app is responsible for the lights (...or they are annoyed at having to use a mobile phone for this in the first place). And the calendar – the central management tool of the household – is often not set up correctly.

What appears to be the dream of an efficiently organized family quickly becomes a nightmare of general dissatisfaction.

It's often frustrating for the 'family administrator,' as they are usually the first to notice that not all family members are willing to engage with new technical possibilities—especially when various apps are required. And even if that's the case, certain functions' relevance often varies among family members.

In this context, Deutsche Telekom commissioned us to develop a new concept for their Smart Home app, which focuses on families. We were familiar with the problems described above from our own experience and were therefore motivated to find a suitable solution for all our fellow family administrators.

The Family App: Where the ideal meets a wide range of demands and expectations.

To ensure that the app's integration into family life is successful, we quickly realized that certain primary conditions must be met:

  • The entry must be as easy as possible so that even someone who does not want to deal with it can quickly find what they seek.
  • The depth of immersion in the functions must be variable. Not all family members want (or should) have access to all functions. Everyone has different preferences, and the app should reflect these.
  • The functions should not be divided among various apps.

So, the challenges were clear. But how do we solve them?

A modular app guides its users on individual paths to core functions

In initial workshops, we received input from various stakeholders. Afterward, we outlined various use cases for family members in an extensive concept phase that could be depicted in the app. We soon had all the building blocks but had not yet established a connection between them. Simply adding everything to the app would not be the solution. Instead, the app should adapt to the needs of individual family members.

Initial sketches from a stakeholder workshop

Then we had the idea to design all functions in a modular way so that everyone finds precisely the functions that are relevant for them. This would require a sophisticated onboarding process, though.

Although the freedom to set up one's interface according to one's needs is excellent from a conceptual perspective, it still carries the risk that users might overlook certain functions or become confused. To counteract this, we focused firmly on 'the best subsequent actions.' Every time users set up a new device or information widget, we would show what would be sensible to do next. In this way, we ensured that relevant information was available, but the decision of when and where to deal with it was still firmly in the hands of the users.

Individual widgets - like this one for energy consumption - have their own guided setup process and end with a note for users on what to set up next.

We let the users explore the app freely. But whenever it was relevant, we pointed out what was possible. For us, this form of onboarding is one of the best methods to familiarize users with core functions.

From paper to a clever simulation

Once the conceptual framework was set, the implementation phase began. The main difficulty was linking the individual modules together - and documenting their respective states so that development could implement them.

Complex systems become tangible in a prototype

With the elaborate onboarding process, we focused 100% on the user experience. However, this meant we had to juggle many permutations and states. Expressing this in a concept document was fine for individual steps, but to capture the full extent of how the system would look and behave, we needed something else that felt 'real.'

Therefore, we developed a 'low-code' prototype capable of simulating all the different states. For example, users could set up the family, add a weather widget, and activate some smart home devices while the rest of the system remained untouched. The prototype would correctly display and handle this.

When the system's complexity exceeded what a concept document could achieve, the prototype was a huge help in testing and iteratively improving the individual parts of the system. We could finally see how they would function with all the other moving parts.

A story makes complexity relatable

Another way to manage the complexity of the application was to produce a short video focusing on the new use cases. This was practical for the product owners to create a shared understanding with internal stakeholders and quickly demonstrate the tool's capabilities. However, it later proved to be extremely valuable in discussions with customers.

A springboard for future innovation.

Ultimately, we had the blueprint for a tailor-made onboarding concept, a prototype that made the complex system tangible, and a video that gave stakeholders and customers an impression of the app's new capabilities. We significantly contributed to developing the Magenta Zuhause App, which now more closely meets families' real-life conditions. Here's to family administrators losing fewer hairs and to the success of organizing the digital family.