One morning I was going through my facebook feed as usual and I saw a post in UX Malaysia group which caught my attention. A designer called Philip Seifi designed an AC remote control that does not suck. It caught my attention mainly because I never noticed AC remote control and I never realised that most AC remote designs suck.
Do check out how he solves the problem on Medium !
The theory on why I do not notice is because it is habitual. In a TED talk by Tony Fadell, he mentioned that we tend to not notice things and problems around us when we grow a habit of it. And this is true, at least to me. It has become a habit for me to go to my room, turn the air cond on and off, and that is it, I do this everyday for the past 10 years or more.
So I decided to take up this challenge and redesign an AC remote control with my analysis, my research, my way.
The problem with air conditioning remote control is that how it operates is complicated and that many buttons are not intuitive, which makes most of my survey respondents admit to only use few out of many buttons that are available.
I want to make AC that makes every single button understandable by the user, whether it is a new user or a user that has never used AC before.
The problem I am trying to solve here is the lack of awareness of what each button does and it tends to make people only use the ON/OFF button to do anything. This is a problem because my mother tends to wake up early in the morning just to turn the air conditioner off. And she has a habit of not being able to sleep after waking up. And for some other people that I know (including me) we would rather just let the air conditioner run until we have the energy to get up and turn it off. Plus, by only utilising the ON/OFF button, it might be such a waste of electricity and wear out the compressor and fan controls because the air conditioner consumes energy to power up every time it turns on.
I gathered 6 photos of an AC remote control that is used by people around me. Some have new air conditioners and some own an old one. Here’s what I find :
They all tend to have 1 prominent ON/OFF button and temperature UP and DOWN are depicted with arrows. They also have similar functions such as timer, fan speed, auto mode, etc. Some I noticed “hide” their less important button by having a sliding door cover, this I noticed only in older model ones.
Some of the newer version of the AC remote would have extra functions such as Power, Quiet, Sleep, or even ECO, which is a function to save electricity and the environment. And I also noticed there is a slight improvement on the remote design in the newer AC model. However, I am still not satisfied with the design and its impact on the user.
I personally find it a problem that these buttons work in a way that you have to press several times to get the right setting and the setting is reflected in a tiny screen with an icon that may make users confused. Especially the fact that different air cond brand will have different icon. This just further the confusion.
In this project, I decided to assess the users’ mind and how they work with the remote by asking some questions.
The questions are :
Here’s the reason why I asked :
Q1 and Q6 : I want to know what is often used and connect it to their knowledge. I’d like to know if how they use it is caused purely by choice or not knowing what the buttons are for.
Q2, Q3, and Q4 : these are the most common problems, and I’d like to know how users solve these problems and if they are aware that there is a specific button that helps them to solve the problem other than ON/OFF button.
Q5 : this question intends to know how users deal with a financial dilemma of having to have comfortable temperature but limited financially or environmentally.
Here's a snapshot of some of the responses via WhatsApp :
Elderly and senior citizen : Frequent air conditioner user that wants to save electricity, therefore only opens it when really necessary. They tend to sleep and wake up at regular hours (sleep at 9-11pm and wake up at 6-8AM). Their knowledge on AC and its function is generally narrow.
Young Parent : Frequent air conditioner user that wants to keep having air conditioner on throughout the day because most of the time they are indoor with their kids. Sometimes they would be out buying groceries, do a shopping, running errands. They tend to sleep and wake up at late hours (sleep at 11PM-12AM and wake up at 8-10AM). Their knowledge on AC and its function is generally wide.
Working Young Adult : Frequent air conditioner user but only use it when they are indoor. On weekday they tend to be at the workplace so they mostly uses air conditioner at night, on weekend, or whenever they are at home. This group does not focus so much about saving electricity but they will turn AC off when they are not at home. They sleep and wake up at late hours (sleep at 11PM-1AM and wake up at 10AM-12PM). Their knowledge on AC and its function is generally wide.
Design Process : Draft
I started my process by translating the data I receive into actionable key points.
Based on the interview i conducted, this is the raw data I may conclude :
And this is the actionable key points I got :
1. That other than ON/OFF, TEMPERATURE UP and TEMPERATURE DOWN button, A/C remote control buttons are not intuitive enough.
2. They might be readable, but not necessarily understandable. I have to make button designs that self explanatory.
And there are some drafts that I made.
Out of these drafts, I try to ask my respondents what they can understand about the drawing. Out of their answers, I got to know what are still unclear and what I get right.
Design Process : Final
In the final draft version, I finally get it right, at least to the group of my interview respondents.
And here’s my solution to the AC remote control problem :
Here’s what I did differently :
I incorporate clear icons and label to clearly emphasize the function without any instruction manual needed.
I remove the whole system where anyone need to press a button so many times to get a setting right.
I simplify the timer into 3 major hours. To set a timer, user only has to press how many hours they want and it is all set. The timer works in a way that when user press it at a specific hour, it will automatically set the timer on that same time user press it for the first time. To cancel the timer, user only has to press 1 button and no time settings will be applied.
I incorporate colors into each button as well. For example, to make the room temperature hotter, they may pess UP arrow with + symbol embossed on it. Red is a warm color, therefore it may incorporate user to “make it warm, press UP arrow”. While for save energy button, I use green to highlight that this is the button to save the earth and money (which is also associated with green)
Glow in the dark paint on the highlight button and body which makes it much easier to spot it in the dark. In the dark, user can still see red and blue and green. The power button is in white glow in the dark paint.
Lesser emphasis on ON/OFF button as user has been know how to use them intuitively.
I have tested this on all 4 other respondents (other than myself, of course). And I am proud that even my mother who is 56 years old that does not speak English, understands what each of the icons are for, except for AUTO as she doesn’t know and never heard or know about this function.
I am glad with the outcome so far. This needs to be tested in larger scale to know for sure if it can actually solves the problem on a bigger scale.
So here is my version of solving the AC remote control problem! I highly encourage you to try to solve this problem as well or probably solve other problems that you encountered in real life.
See you in my next post!