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Building an awesome UX

May 24, 2018
Whether you view “building” as a noun or a verb, we as an industry need to create Awesome User Experiences.

UX is User Experience and refers to a person's emotions and attitudes about using a service. Whether you view “building” as a noun or a verb, we as an industry need to create Awesome User Experiences.

As an old guy who's been writing about building automation for over 20 years, I see from history that change is very slow. Before I was working as an energy/automation consultant renaming Energy Management Control Systems (EMCS) to Client Comfort Systems (CCS), the start of Humanistic Digital Inclusion and the acknowledgment of the client as the User. During this project, I learned the power of HTML and Internet as a valuable part of any UX. The CCS Manual is still online today proving the longevity of an online user interface and the virtual word.

In 1999 we started, during the dot-com days, we wrote, We have selected this article to be in our first launch issue because we think it sends us all a wake-up call as to how significant the internet is going to be in the future. The concept of a large building as an internet identity with its own web address is now the latest step in presenting and managing your Automated Buildings.

What has changed in 20 years of Internet? Cost is down; speed is up, everything has an IP address, the internet has become clouded with powerful microcomputers that are out on the edge, self-learning and sharing their intelligence with everyone – and everyone is continuously connected. 

This column talks about using the tools of the day to build and deliver an Awesome UX. Why are we all involved in that process? Because we are all involved in the process of providing the total user experience for our buildings. This includes Creating empathic people-centric buildings and all the other concepts outlined in my many ramblings. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective is called empathy, and we could do with a lot more of it. Our users (the people in and of our buildings) want out of the box usability, they want to connect and interact and be part of the buildings user experience. Let's all get involved delivering today's Awesome UX!

In this video from last years' Realcomm IBcon event in San Diego, -- The "Uberization" of comfort -- I call for a change in how we view the building automation industry. 

This article from Brad White, Principal, SES Consulting Inc. helps with how we will change - Cope with the IOT Revolution by Staying Agile. Money quote:

As the smart building industry rapidly evolves, management strategies pioneered by software developers can help us successfully adapt.

This blog post from, 5 Awesome UX Design Trends for 2018, 
talks about the delicate balance between usability and appearance common to the design of both buildings and software. 

Our smart building automation industry needs to follow the auto industry in reinventing ourselves to look and think like the self-learning software companies we are morphing into. Who will become the new Building Data Architects and the virtual building software companies of our future? We have much to learn from the rapidly evolving self-driving, autonomous cars: How can we make our smart buildings more self-driving? How can we and improve our client/customer experience with continuous connection?

UX is a Life Force, Not a Layer - read this article from human-centered design strategist Shin Sano writing on, and substitute the word “building” for “car.”

 Important point:

One of the defining characteristics of Concept-愛i is the introduction of an AI assistant. In this case, the assistant’s name is “Yui.” Designing Yui was a challenge because we felt from the beginning that she should be an integral part of the car and not a separate software system. AI can sometimes be developed as something like an agent — a disembodied 3rd party that guides and assists in actions related to the car. It feels like a separate entity. But there is so much opportunity to build a user experience that is truly integrated. Where does this ambiguous, intelligent system that can drive your car live? Does it move? How do you communicate with it? Does it have a personality? What does it control? Ultimately the question became — can it just be the car?

As an industry, we are still struggling with UI -- the User Interface. We are designing as if the user is the building owner, or as if they were the operators. Recently we’ve come full circle, designing as if the users were the designers! None of them are the user. As we leave our past connection to brick and mortar and transition to the bits and bytes, let’s not forget the flesh and bones of our building users.

This book provides insight into our task: Designing Connected Products: UX for the consumer internet of things. From the introduction:

Networked thermostats, fitness monitors, and door locks show that IoT devices can (and will) provide abundant ways for people to interact with the world around them. But designing connected products for consumers is a challenge that involves issues beyond UI and interaction design. This book provides experienced UX designers and technologists with a clear and practical roadmap for approaching consumer product strategy and design in this novel market. By drawing on the best of current design practice and academic research, Designing Connected Products delivers sound advice for working with cross-device interactions and complex ecosystems inherent in IoT technology.

This website (a section of provides some more definitions: The Difference Between UX and UI Design - A Layman’s Guide. It also contains some great quotes: 

As Rahul Varshney, Co-creator of puts it: User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) are some of the most confused and misused terms in our field. A UI without UX is like a painter slapping paint onto canvas without thought; while UX without UI is like the frame of a sculpture with no paper mache on it. A great product experience starts with UX followed by UI. Both are essential for the product’s success.

Helga Moreno, who her article The Gap Between UX And UI Design put it quite eloquently: “Something that looks great but is difficult to use is exemplary of great UI and poor UX. While Something very usable that looks terrible is exemplary of great UX and poor UI.”

Plus our UX needs to be Digitally Mindful, which is the thinking behind Digital Mindfulness presents itself as “A platform for individuals and companies to develop next-generation approaches to a digital transformation that elegantly blend digital approaches with unique human needs and qualities.”

More definition from this article by Subrata Bhattacharya, Managing Director, Johnson Controls, India Engineering Center, Transcendental Coalescence: In the Age of IoT and Analytics:

Before we start deliberating on this topic lets first qualify some definitions: Transcendental: As per Oxford dictionary, mathematically it is something that is not capable of being produced by the mathematical operations; in philosophical terms, it is something beyond the physical realm. Coalescence: Coalescence as a process of “joining or merging of elements to form one mass or whole.”

Transcendental Coalescence: Is more than mashing-up of technologies and use cases owned by separate business/industry verticals. It is the fusion of people, processes, and technology to provide most intuitive and optimized business outcome.

This June article, from Roee Peled, Sales Executive, PointGrab, Smart Buildings Start with the People 
discusses how the digital age has changed people’s expectations for what their experiences should look and feel like.

Productivity is an elusive and complex study, as is the happiness of an individual. Harvard University has spearheaded the “The Health and Human Performance Index” (HaPI) to gain a better understanding of human productivity. To assess overall performance, the Index specifies a measurement of “Built Environment” influences in addition to more traditional measurements such as Well-being, Productivity, Engagement, and Culture.  Relevant to the discussion on employee satisfaction, Built Environment elements defined by HaPI are:

Quality of space (a type of workspace, thermal comfort, air quality) and access to healthy amenities or opportunities (adjustable desks, fitness centers, shower facilities, healthy food options, views to outdoors and the ability to work at home). These HaPI productivity measures have a strong correlation to major trends in the workplace, such as mobile workforce support, hot desking, occupant-based heating, lighting, and services


Is Industry responding? Yes. The hard companies that have mindlessly dominated the leases of our buildings are being replaced with mindfulness, empathic/humanistic softer companies that understand the true value of their people and their User Experience. Lindsay Baker is an industry pioneer exploring UX with a product called Comfy. Her new title at her new post is a great example of that change: Head of Sustainability and Wellbeing at WeWork.

As is her passion: “Catalyzing at the cutting edge of healthy and sustainable buildings and communities. From research to non-profit work, from startups to corporates, I work wherever I can have a large scale impact. Carrying a special torch for human-centered building operations and design.”

Hoping to engage thought on Creating an Awesome UX in this discussion at the Nordic Smart Building Convention  in a few days in Helsinki. Our session:

“Empathic, Healing & Anticipatory Buildings”

– The physical and psychological implications of smart buildings

– Anticipating users’ needs for friction-free UX

We all need to learn more about providing a Transcendental, Mindful, HaPI, Life Force, UX. We need to think more like software designers, catching the vibe of our building to agilely creating our awesome UX.

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