A home automation system designed for simplicity

Demand for home automation systems is growing by leaps and bounds. However, as such systems add capabilities, they also become increasingly complex. With a view to providing the simplest and easiest-to-manage user interface, ABB has introduced a home automation system that has already won the international Red Dot Design Award for user interface design.

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Alexander Grams ABB Aesthetical and UX Design, Smart Buildings, Electrification Lüdenscheid, Germany, alexander.grams@de.abb.com; Til Martensmeier ABB UX/UI Design, Smart Buildings, Electrification Lüdenscheid, Germany, til.martensmeier@de.abb.com

From luxury homes to “handyman specials,” people are building and upgrading properties with home automation systems in mind. Indeed, the global market for home automation market is projected to grow from $40.8 billion in 2020 to $63.2 billion by 2025 [1]. Such systems not only provide convenience but save energy and enhance security. In addition, depending on the system, they may also result in reduced insurance costs and improved communications. Furthermore, driven by growing urbanization and increased wealth, the trend toward home automation is spreading to many developing countries.

01 Behind the develop­ment of ABB’s enhanced UX feature is a straightforward proposition: use simplicity to hide complexity.
01 Behind the develop­ment of ABB’s enhanced UX feature is a straightforward proposition: use simplicity to hide complexity.

But as such systems proliferate, consumers are demanding interfaces that are so simple as to be self-evident →01. In view of this, ABB recently introduced its latest home automation offering, the ABB-free@home® app Next →02, which is designed to control the ABB-free@home® system quickly and intuitively.

02 ABB’s new app has received the Red Dot Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in product and communication design.
02 ABB’s new app has received the Red Dot Award, which recognizes outstanding achievements in product and communication design.

The app is the first product to be launched under ABB’s new company-wide user experience (UX) guidelines for digital brand experience design. The guidelines, which benefit from user interviews and feedback, broadly define brand experience features such as information presentation, architecture, and navigation. Behind the development of the enhanced UX feature is a straightforward proposition: Use simplicity to hide complexity. The guidelines are thus designed to convey a feeling of empowerment and control to users. These objectives are supported by a standardized set of software components and pictograms that are used consistently and repetitively throughout the application with a view to creating a predictable and easy-to-understand user environment.

In designing the ABB-free@home interface designers were confronted with a unique challenge: Although the product’s appearance had to comply with ABB’s digital brand experience essentials, in terms of design and implementation it also had to fit in with requirements set by Busch-Jaeger, under whose brand ABB’s Home Automation offering is sold in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. In all other countries the offering is branded as ABB.

The ABB-free@home mobile app enables users to control their home automation and accessories such as appliances, blinds, lights, lighting color, music, heating, air conditioning and scheduling. The app uses ABB’s MyBuildings software to connect to the Internet, allowing users to conveniently check up on and manage their homes from anywhere by simply clicking “house status.” User experience is further enhanced by a functionality that supports all major voice control devices.

Additionally, by checking “status,” users can see exactly how many lights are on, how many shutters are open, whether windows are open, and whether the alarm system has been activated. Devices can be turned on or off by simply tapping an icon. A weather icon provides information from the ABB-free@home weather station, and a “Next switching times” icon displays functions that are about to be automatically switched on or off. All such events can be suspended or rescheduled using a slider.

Navigating the app is intuitive. Users can configure the app themselves, making it easy to sort and organize devices such as blinds, lights and music by rooms, and access status messages and upcoming system actions. All devices are sorted according to their device class, such as lights, blinds, etc. Devices are also displayed according to their installation locations.

Launched in May 2020, the app has since received a Red Dot Award [2,3], a UX Design Award nomination, a German Design Award Special Mention for 2021, and, thanks to its outstanding user interface, the app is a finalist in IF Design Award 2021.

Red Dot Design Awards recognize outstanding achievements in product and communication design. This year, the Red Dot Jury’s panel of international design experts placed special emphasis on revolutionary designs, highlighting design work that best demonstrates progressive interactivity.

To date, more than five million ABB-free@home® components have been installed in homes worldwide, thereby transforming conventional homes into smart buildings that are integrated with the Internet of Things. 

[1] MarketsandMarkets, “Home Automation System Market worth $63.2 billion by 2025.” Available at: https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/home-automation-control-systems. asp. [Accessed July 1, 2021].
[2] Red Dot. Available at: https://www.red-dot.org/. [Accessed July 1, 2021].
[3] ABB, “ABB’s smart home app wins Red Dot Design Award.” Available at: https://new.abb.com/news/detail/65893/abbs-smart-home-app-wins-red-dot-design-award. [Accessed July 1, 2021].


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