When the home automation industry was in its infancy, it was not only acceptable for control interfaces to look and feel cumbersome, it was the norm. There seemed to be a quiet understanding between homeowners and electronics professionals that automation was a fledgling venture, so everyone kept their expectations in check. This understanding, of course, led to a series of polite nods and grins, accompanied by silent hopes for future improvement.

Not so anymore. As the gamut of controllers has expanded to include everything from electronic thermostats to the digital pool and spa automation systems I work with every day, meeting the demand for aesthetically appealing, intuitive interfaces has become the paramount concern of manufacturers worldwide. The “look and feel” era is upon us. Quality design, encompassing both appearance and performance, means everything.

To be more specific, here are four reasons controllers need to look great and work intuitively:

1. It has to look good to feel good.
A handsome control panel draws in the user like a magnet as it murmurs low-voltage invitations to be touched, manipulated and programmed. It captures its owner and becomes a significant, yet low profile, part of the home. Quite simply, it gets used. Conversely, let’s assume for a moment that you actually purchase a clunky, bulky or outdated controller. Its downfall begins when you hear yourself “selling” (i.e., rationalizing) your new toy to friends while using clichés like “cutting edge.” Soon after, bitterness sets in. You won’t be proud to display your system, the control panel will be hidden away (which will lead to a lack of use), and you will have wasted your time and money.

2. If you have to go it alone, you’ll be lonely.
Even if you are the self-proclaimed Master of Household Technology, the other members of your family should feel comfortable with the controllers in your home. Simple, intuitive systems facilitate a sense of shared involvement. It might make you feel special to be the only one capable of adjusting the temperature of your spa, for example, but if you are indifferent to your loved one(s) lack of confidence in using the control panel, you are missing the point of even having a spa. That is, bringing everyone together.

3. The whole idea is to be in control.
Poorly designed controllers lead to – you guessed it – a lack of control. If you become frustrated and confused by your automation system, logic dictates that you will contact your installer, or another professional who charges by the hour, to request assistance. That’s hardly why you bought the system in the first place. The objective is to empower yourself to control, program and troubleshoot your own equipment using your inherent perceptive abilities. By definition, a control system that takes you beyond direct perception cannot be described as “intuitive.” Ultimately, such a system will be relegated to the (literal or figurative) scrap heap.

4. You can judge a controller by its cover.
In the world of automation interfaces, the concepts of “looking nice” and “working intuitively” are inexorably linked. It may be possible to have one without the other, but it definitely is not likely. In the pool and spa industry, I have yet to see a full-featured digital control panel that is unattractive and easy to use. It all starts with the product design team. If all team members stay committed to producing a final product that is ahead of the competition – instead of each individual focusing narrow-mindedly on only one aspect of the project – success usually results.

For a satisfying automation experience, incorporate aesthetically pleasing, intuitively simple control interfaces into your home. Throughout your search, just keep in mind that if you don’t really want to live with it, you won’t really use it.

Robyn Gabel is Product Manager for Jandy Electronics, part of the pool and spa products division of Water Pik Technologies, Inc. Jandy® AquaLink® RS, recipient of several significant design awards, is the most widely used automation system in the pool and spa industry. Wireless systems are now available. Jandy® AquaLink® RS can easily be integrated into a complete home automation system with a Jandy® Serial Adapter. For more information about Jandy controls, visit www.jandy.com . Ms. Gabel’s email address is rgabel@laars.com .