Beam: Solving the Smart Home Puzzle Through Collaboration and Innovation

Beam

There is a lot of buzz and banter about the smart home and the future of connectivity. Oftentimes, it can be a huge, complicated puzzle.

Since the day Apple announced HomeKit, the Mutual Mobile team has been inspired by Apple’s approach to solving this puzzle — creating a framework to connect all smart home products. With this framework, the Mutual Mobile team could create a way for people to control all of their smart home products through a single, simple, and beautiful mobile experience.

While creating an intuitively useful product is important, getting the full company behind an effort to design a quality product, create an innovation framework, sharpen our skills, and expand our offerings was the larger challenge (and most rewarding part).

The beginnings of Beam

Our group of business strategists, program managers, researchers, designers, and developers found themselves thinking about the clunky smart home experiences on the market and what could be done to quickly improve home automation. The largest barrier for smart home adoption continues to be the experience, or lack thereof, whereby people need multiple devices and apps to operate their home.

We dived into first-hand experiences with consumers, compared compatible HomeKit enabled products, dissected APIs, and spent hours iterating on the possibilities of a truly smart home. We believe anyone should be able to control their home with intuitive gestures, and that technology should be easy for anyone to pick up and use. With this, Beam was born.

Since the smart home market is still in its infancy, we created Beam, starting with HomeKit. As more devices enter the market and smart homes become more popular, Beam will continue to evolve in how devices are organized and managed based on experiences that people actually want — a home that’s safer and more comfortable.

Beam, a framework for company innovation

Not only is Beam a beautiful and intuitive product, it is also a purposeful innovation framework that encouraged participation from our entire company and provided learnings we can apply to future innovation efforts for clients.

“We treated Beam as a cross-functional experiment and training ground”

Consumer Insights

Beam uses some innovative interactions, so we conducted usability testing to ensure users could pick up gestures quickly and successfully. Our Designers experimented with Pixate for faster prototyping. Our Consumer Insight team experimented Ethn.io, which was used for recruiting user research participants.

Accessibility was a huge goal of ours; we wanted to ensure that everyone would be able to enjoy their smart home with Beam. Our team researched best practices for VoiceOver and partnered with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to conduct usability testing to validate and iterate on designs for the most useful experience.

Design

Our team of Designers implemented comprehensive design capabilities, from defining the product, brand voice, and visual identity to product development with supporting marketing communications.

The logo, an abstracted roof sitting on top of the logo type, illustrates the product name definition: Beam is the foundation of your home. The logo comes in several forms, including an outlined blueprint version and a full color version, like architectural blueprints of a home. We wanted to create designs that captured the current state or mood in your home, rather than design around each product on the market.

Many smart home apps currently use shades of gray to match the product design, whereas we were inspired by apps, like the Solar Weather app, that instantly display current and future states with bright, colorful gradients.

Beam provided the Mutual Mobile team with an avenue to practice new methods of prototyping, explore animations and illustrations, and work on a product more vibrant than what’s on the market.

Product Testing

Our team is so passionate about the smart home that our Quality Assurance team created a “Beam House” to test several smart home products, including the Ecobee Smart Thermostat and iHome iSP5WC plug.

Throughout the product development, we applied Agile software methodologies with supporting documentation. This allowed us to integrate team members who wanted to learn more about new technologies and work on innovation efforts as time allowed.

Beam didn’t just sharpen the skills of our cross-functional team, it also helped us gain a deeper understanding of our client partnerships. We served as the Client and Product Owner for Beam, gaining valuable insights into the challenges our partners face from a business, design, and technical perspective. These insights further sharpened our understanding of the importance of being empathetic to our client’s needs, tailoring solutions along the way.

What’s ahead

We are working on iterations of Beam with Apple as it prepares for public availability. We are excited about the learnings we have gained; looking ahead, we have even bigger plans for the future of smart home experiences.

We are exploring ways to expand our offering to clients across Consumer Insights, Design, and Technology, as well as ways that we can ultimately improve and expand Beam as people’s usage, adoption, and new products evolve. While we may not have solved all puzzles, we believe that we conquered several along our journey in creating Beam.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on November 6, 2015.

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