The usability standard DIN EN 9241 is an important keystone for product development with regard to quality assurance of fitness for purpose and usability for both hard and software. However, the German Smart Energy Roadmap (German Electrotechnology, Electronic and Information Technology Commission in DIN and VDE 2010) noticed that on the rapidly growing Smart Home / Smart Energy market, the usability shortcomings of these products had resulted in serious problems which prevented the broad acceptance of the technology. On the one hand this can be explained by the large number of companies involved in the development of intelligent home solutions. Entry level to the market is low, which means that companies often release their own solutions but without integrated quality management. On the other hand, the field lacks an elaborated, clear and coherent concept of usability at the moment.
To support the competencies of small and medium-sized enterprises in developing solutions which are fit for use in everyday life, the user-centred innovation methods of the Living Lab are to be developed as a service within the project. The service is designed to field test the suitability of the approach for use in SMEs. Since most SMEs generally do not have their own usability department in which to specify design-guidelines, a further objective of the project is to develop universal guidelines for the Smart Home/Smart Energy field. The intention is that the ensuing usability measures will additionally be applied to concrete problems in the design of intuitively operable Smart Home solutions. These measures, which will take the form of pilot schemes, are designed to guarantee the practicability of the usability measures. At the same time, the implemented prototypes show successful usability and user experience for future Smart Home living environments. Innovative usability pilot schemes form the arrowhead of the coordinated measures of innovation methods suitable for SMEs, ergonomic guidelines for ease of use by SMEs and the showcases developed by SMEs, widening out to encompass a general anchoring of the topic of usability.
Until now, the Living Lab approach has been successfully established in the field of academic research as both a method as well as an infrastructure. The aim is to involve potential users at an early stage not only in development and design processes but also to involve them in the evaluation of actual use contexts. This allows issues of usability and user experience to be addressed adequately. Converting this approach to SMEs and their work processes does however result in a deficit due to the costly and complex organizational and administrational processes involved and which most SMEs cannot afford.
One objective of the SmartLive project is the new “Living Lab as a Service” approach. This service, designed to overcome the present usability constraints of Living Labs, is tailored to the specific needs of SMEs.The goal is that this approach will enable usability agents to operate Living Labs and to market them to SMEs as a service
This will allow SMEs to integrate users more flexibly and at a lower cost as co-designers and co-innovators in the development process and to evaluate prototypes as early as possible regarding their practicability.
To guarantee practicability, the approach will be developed within the framework of action research (Baskerville 1999), whereby Living Labs will be practically tested as a new innovation service. Above all, the individual modularisation, flexible design and realization of the approach will be used to generate a range of services which are tailor-made and will integrate supporting measures into the design process. The various method components and process modules necessary for this can be integrated step by step or point by point into SME practices. Correspondingly, various components such as workshops to generate ideas, participative workshops, usability tests in real-life contexts etc. can be initiated and offered separately and thus more cost effectively and this in turn ensures easy access for SME clients.
By using this course of action, the project additionally aims to remove the second barrier standing in the way of the development of applications suitable for every day Smart Home / Smart Energy use. In the course of developing and testing Smart Home solutions in Living Labs, general guidelines for the ergonomic design of these domains are being tested, adapting the usability criteria of EN ISO 9241 and taking up newer sustainable interaction design (SID) approaches. In this way, a favourable framework can be created within the project for the development of showcases for a successful user experience and usability of future Smart Home / Smart Energy living conditions. These showcases are important not only to illustrate the general guidelines but also to raise awareness about usability inside the SME domain (cf. Scheiber inter alia 2012; Woywode inter alia 2012).
Overall the project focuses on innovation in the following fields:
- Living Lab as Service: Development of an innovative methodology with a flexible modularization and design enabling SMEs to conceive and design for new living environments.
- Ergonomic guidelines: Specification of usability and user experience guidelines for the domain of Smart Home/Smart Energy.
- Showcases: Development and design of demonstrations in the Living Lab, which represent future user experiences in everyday life.