Smart home design can be dumb

The new hip and happening buzz around designing homes, neighbourhoods and cities is an idea called Smart Design. Here, by “smart” we mean the optimized use of energy and minimizing a person’s interaction with their homes for the sake of comfort. These system use thermostats and sensor-driven devices to operate. According to Modern theory, this is architecture’s new relationship with technology.

The real problem with this relationship if you will, is the reduction of home occupant’s involvement in the creation of their comfort. Smart systems are often not conforming to the way prefer to regulate comfort. In a study conducted in Europe, residents were not even aware that their buildings had smart controls. People have a hard time understanding the workings of a smart interface with a mechanical system like lights, ventilation, air conditioning.

In a book that I read a while back, called the Smart Utopia, I discovered that people are still skeptical to live in a smart home where they transfer their control of comfort to some technological system. This shows that a designer's intention and people's usage, dont often match when it comes to using these smart home systems. This is because, the designers are imagining a typical household energy consumer as this “data-hungry and educated decision maker of the house, who is also techno-savvy and would adapt his or her lifestyle around energy savings. But, this doesn't correspond to each of us.

The rethinking of “smart systems” should be following our knowledge about heating, cooling etc. The building, neighbourhoods should be adaptable. The design should not disable the flexibility of an occupant to suit their own needs of light, air etc. Smart is dumb if it means locking people into predetermined patterns and disabling our use cases. Design should be cognizant of people’s right to exercise their knowledge when it comes to using any service.

I think “Design is smart” when all decisions of control don’t get snatched away from the user. Instead, you control for the cumulative measure but let the user do the fine tuning.