Stanford, Silicon Valley, California
Dr. Hatice Sadikoglu Asan is an architect, designer, and researcher. Currently, she serves as a postdoctoral design researcher at Stanford University, focusing on the evaluation of product design and housing design in terms of basic human needs. She received her doctorate in design from Istanbul Technical University. During her Ph.D. research, she worked as a design researcher in Housing Lab, La Sapienza University of Rome in Italy in 2014. She conducted post-doctoral research on ‘spatial quality and user experience’ at the Centre for Environmental Design Research at the University of California Berkeley in 2017. She served as a project coordinator in several design projects. She teaches basic design, graphic communication, and design studio courses. Recently, she has conducted field research on user experience regarding smart home environments.
VG: Hatice, smart home products, have entered the market very quickly in the last few years. Could you please explain to us what we mean by a smart home, and why it is gaining so much attention lately?
HSA: The development of smart home products and smart services has increased very rapidly in recent years. However, the initial ideas and thinking about smart homes dated back to 20th-century architecture and product design, with the aim of creating functional and intelligent buildings. Looking at ‘future homes’ has been a popular subject since then.
As a designer, I define a ‘smart home’ as a ‘reproduction of dwelling space’ with the help of computer technologies. We are surrounded by ubiquitous computing systems and networks; we have reached a level that means we are part of a constant network involving both people and products.
A smart home is a home equipped with computing technology and the main purpose of this is to improve the quality of life with the help of different smart products and services. These address needs such as health and well-being, security and entertainment, depending on the users’ needs.
The new technology and product design approach have been a game changer for the architectural and construction market, which means that concrete, steel, and glass are no longer the main components of buildings. The components of such smart products have also been embedded into buildings to provide increased convenience.
Since the ’90s, several smart home projects have been being developed in the labs of academic research institutions. The Aware Home Project by Georgia Institute of Technology, the MavHome by the University of Texas, Arlington, and Gator Tech Project by the University of Florida are the projects of some of the leading smart home lab projects. Academia has always had an interest in the ‘home futures’ but today the tech industry also has a strong focus on the smart home subject, specifically investors, developers, and construction companies who are excited about the possibility of building these smart homes. Today, many housing developments are equipped with voice control assistive technologies, security cameras, doorbells, automatic window blinds, and smart temperature monitoring systems.
Home developers and technology companies in North America and Britain are working in collaboration with the aim of building smart homes incorporating smart home products such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit.
Smart Home Ideas are gaining increasing attention because, for the industry, smart homes have promised new products and services for the market. The main reason is ‘the desire of being everywhere and anytime’.We live in a mobile age and want to control our house when we are not home, and we want to know what is happening outside the house.
VG: How do people usually get information about new smart home products in Silicon Valley? What are the common interests of the users with regard to smart home products?
HSA: The interest and interaction of people with smart home products in Silicon Valley are different from those in other geographical areas. Most of the products are very common and accessible, and the community is fairly familiar with these devices and services.
As one part of my post-doctoral research, I conducted a study focusing on the user experience of smart home products. According to the findings, the property type and ownership type have a great influence on both the user experience and their behaviors with regard to product purchasing. The common interests are changing in line with the ownership profile. The way in which people receive information also changes in terms of age and income groups. While adolescents and adults get information and news on these products by word of mouth or web advertisements, elderly people tend to have less interest in these types of products, and so their consumption behaviors are mostly impacted by their children and their healthcare services.
VG: How do people react with this sector? Are people willing to buy them?
HSA: Smart home adaption is still ongoing in the housing sector. On the one hand, there is an increasing trend towards newly built multi-family apartment buildings and condos that are equipped with smart home devices and services. However, on the other hand, retrofitting or refurbishment of the existing housing stock seems to frighten owners and they tend to mostly want portable smart home products such as voice assistants or entertainment boxes.
It can be said that people’s willingness to try these products is related to the users’ needs. The elderly and disabled purchase items such as health monitoring services, whilst some technologically-minded people just want to try them, while others are interested in smart entertainment devices and services. So here I can say that it depends on the user characteristics because the market provides millions of types of products for different income groups.
VG: In your opinion, what kind of smart home products are more attractive to owners and tenants?
HSA: According to my face-to-face interviews and survey findings, since homeowners are more attached and invested in their places, they tend to build compact systems including security, entertainment, home appliance control systems and doorbells. Tenants are mostly interested in voice and visual assistance, but this is not only related to ownership status, as building type and demographics also affect people’s interest in product purchase.
VG: Is the adaptation into a smart home easy or not? Can we say something about barriers to the use of these products?
HSA: My answer to this question is both yes and no. According to recent researches, people still have some concerns about privacy and data collection in their dwellings in relation to personal intimacy limits. Certain age groups such as children and the elderly cannot manage and control their own security, and so this aspect can be frightening. It can also create a feeling of loss of control, so coping with these products can be harder for them. The quality of both the software and hardware with regard to smart home products can affect user interaction and product performance negatively. Consequently, ease of use and understandability of the products, of course, helps them to cope with these challenges. Although householders might buy the same product, they might use it in different ways or for different services. A smart home should serve each individual in the same home according to their individual needs, so lack of personalization can be listed as another barrier to the adoption of the smart home. The last possible barrier is adaptability to existing buildings.
VG: Do you observe a difference in the design process of housing in Silicon Valley? Have designers incorporated the requirements of smart home products in the design process?
HSA: Since working in an innovative environment, it has become clear that the design process is closely attached to computer technology whatever the building type in Silicon Valley. In fact, there is no specific requirement list when it comes to designing a smart home. It can be explained by being part of the surrounding network and being able to create an individual smart space in one’s home but embedding smart home products into buildings is a game changer for housing design and construction systems.
Home environments can be turned into different spaces with the help of artificial intelligence systems and haptics technology. A home can learn from data collected from your previous habits. Today, not only technology companies use this, but so too do others. Furniture companies such as IKEA and newly developed furniture startups are searching for the optimum and most efficient use of the home environment with the use of controlling software. The main aim is to create a more flexible and more functional home environment.
VG: Do you think smart home products will be an answer to the housing crisis of the last few years? How could we use these products in a creative way to solve everyday housing problems in the global south?
HSA: It is possible that the housing crisis is due to the quality problems associated with an existing housing stock that requires refurbishment. Since the 20th century, there has been a huge existing housing stock with spatial quality problems, and these have been increasing. Unfortunately, supporting refurbishment and retrofitting policies isn’t commonplace, and the general tendency is to demolish existing stock and build new homes in the same area.
While computer technology is advancing rapidly, the housing sector isn’t keeping pace with these advancements. If the smart home industry thinks about refurbishing the existing stock and undertaking the necessary maintenance, then it can help to solve housing and urban problems. Smart home ideas should not be thought of separately smart city ideas. If designers combine smart devices and services for both, it will improve spatial quality and the overall quality of life in cities. It is obvious that smart home products can be used as practical tools to upgrade the environments of aging houses and buildings in cities.
Valina Geropanta and Hatice Sadikoglu Asan—