Some highlights from Canvas

Canvas Conference 2015

Each year we hold a conference called Canvas. Canvas reveals the insider stories from teams building some of the world’s most useful products & services. Over a one day conference, we heard from people who are solving problems at the intersection of technology & business. This was our fourth Canvas, and in my mind the best yet. The first two talks of the day focused on connected things, an area that I’m really passionate about.

Tom Guy; Hive

Up first was Tom Guy from Hive; a startup division within British Gas who make smart products for the home. Their first product is Hive Heating, a smart thermostat that uses geolocation, smart schedules and a remote app to help you control the heating in your home.

Tom spoke about the culture within Hive. This isn’t just a sub team of existing British Gas people that are playing at being a startup. This is an actual startup made up of people who have real, tangible experience from sectors not related to heating or utilities. This blended with the experience and knowledge of British Gas engineers resulted in a diverse team perfectly balanced to understand user need and design, yet deliver a technically complex product into the home of tens of thousands of consumers.

Tom then gave us an overview of how the design for Hive 2 came to be. I have a number of factors that any smart device must subscribe to:

Look beautiful; this ‘thing’ is going to be on show in your home, amongst a set of carefully selected furniture items and decor. Unless the product is designed to be put out of sight, a beige box just isn’t going to cut it in the world of ultra thin TV sets (remember when all TV’s where square and black).

Maintain regular UI conventions; a smart device is one that you feel comfortable using from initial setup. If users have to re-learn how to turn the temperature up, are they going to interact with it day to day?

Be smart, not just convenient. I’ve written before about how the connected home at the minute is convenient, but not fully smart. If all we’re doing is moving the controls from the hall to the palm of your hand, how much utility are we offering to users? On the same note, they must also be connected for a purpose.

Use a remote app to augment functionality. A remote app should help the user to control the device, but not be the primary means for interaction. Core functionality should be controllable directly from the device itself. This point is tied to maintaining regular UI conventions. We’re already bombarded with screens of all sizes (I now have a touch screen on my washing machine), so is adding another screen to the mix the best way to control things? This point was echoed by Yves Béhar who Hive partnered with on the industrial design for Hive2.

The future for Hive looks promising; like any self respectig connected home startup, they’re branching out into other devices including plug sockets, sensors and lights. With this comes a new challenge; how do you create an interface to manage multiple devices, whilst keeping it simple. As Tom points out, perhaps the hardest challenge is actually getting the general public (not just geeks like me) to understand the benefits of connected products and to use them day in, day out.

Julien de Preaumont; Withings

Julien, Chief Marketing Officer at Withings gave a great talk explaining the history and reasons why Withings exists. Making the most of innovation, technology and design, Withings invents smart products and apps that fit into any lifestyle that lets you track what matters so you can improve your everyday well-being and aim for better long term health. Their ecosystem empowers you to shape every aspect of your health and achieve your personal idea of a balanced lifestyle.

He used the analogy of a dashboard for your body. You wouldn’t drive a car without the dashboard dials and displays letting you know how fast you were travelling, how much fuel you had left or if your engine was running too hot, yet most of us don’t have an accurate idea of what our bodies are doing.

The range of devices span activity trackers, sleeps sensors, smart scales, connected cameras with air quality sensors and connected alarm clocks all working together to take measurements and present back meaningful insights that allow their users to fine tune what they eat or how much they exercise in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Julien explained that Withings aim to get out of the way when it comes to syncing data from their products; probably best demonstrated with their smart scales which automatically recognise user profiles and upload data over WiFi to the cloud without any user interaction. This means that recording your weight takes seconds each day and doesn’t disrupt your morning routine. From personal experience of trying to manually record data, you can only make meaning when you have a complete data set from taking accurate recordings each day.

When it comes to wearable tech the Withings Activité is a ‘game changer’: A stunning Swiss-made watch that combines time and activity tracking in a watch that doesn’t look like a smart watch (there isn’t a touch screen and it doesn’t have apps), appealing to people to favour style over functionality.

You can watch the rest of the talks from Canvas 2015 over on the 383 blog:

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