Some people take one look at their stack of remote controls and throw their hands up in despair. It’s true that technology can be pretty intimidating at times.
Unfortunately, it can also be downright ugly.
Consider the evolution of the desktop computer. In comparison to the injected plastic works of art we have today, some of the machines we had ten years ago were just not that good looking. We tolerated them because they were relatively new and we thought they could do a lot. Computers are now so prevalent that manufacturers set themselves apart by style as much as they do by anything else. Some people get sucked into them just because they look so cool.
Well, the eternal task for the technology and home automation manufacturer is to create a product that does amazing things, is brain-dead easy to use and appeals to the customer’s sense of style and good taste. In today’s markets, people are demanding pieces that exhibit exceptional functionality, and that are as easy to use as they are aesthetically pleasing.
A CASE STUDY
In the lighting control industry we face a unique challenge – that of breaking the addiction to the toggle switch. It’s quite daunting because the toggle switch and even the spinning dimmer are so intuitive. In fact, they are so very easy to use that people are willing to forgive them for their looks. Even when you’ve got four or five or eight in a row on the wall, people have a hard time letting go of them for an advanced technology.
There are ways to overcome this however.
Lighting control systems were developed with the idea that we shouldn’t be limited to controlling the light or lights most immediate to the switch. We’re no longer in the Stone Age. We’ve got technology. We can control any light in the house! We can even integrate the control of other home automation systems!
Lighting control manufacturers have started to understand this need for intuitive controls. Rather than creating an interface that’s hard to get to or manipulate, they developed systems that put the control stations in places people are already accustomed to going. For example, you still have the lighting keypad in exactly the same convenient places people have normal light switches.
It also means that you have control of all the home systems in one spot in the room. There’s none of this “thermometer next to the light switch next to the security panel next toâ€¦” It’s all integrated into one easy-to-read controller mounted on the wall.
With the help of a few marketing people, these manufacturers created control stations that were easy to use and understand and weren’t something a homeowner would be ashamed of. In fact, they are so easy and cool that it’s not uncommon to catch visitors playing with the lights! Here are just some of the many options lighting control system manufacturers offer:
* Custom engraved buttons. With up to nine buttons in a single gang (a faceplate the size of a standard toggle switch), it can be confusing as to what each button is supposed to do. You eliminate that hassle by having each button engraved to read whatever you like. The clean engraving does as much for the aesthetics as it does for the intuitive mind.
* Back-lit buttons. Even custom engraving won’t help strangers when enter a dark room and feel for the right button to press. A few manufacturers have developed buttons that light up at night so you can read them in any condition. They also have a mode that won’t keep you awake at night.
* Button styles. Different tastes and personalities have different wants and needs. For example, an enlarged button with extra large engraving might be just what you need.
* Button colors. Choose the button color you want!
* Custom punched faceplates. You could put a picture of your mother-in-law next to the light buttons – if you wanted.
* Custom paint or wallpaper ready. There’s no need to be limited by what a home improvement store offers.
* Elegant faceplate finishes. Choose a light switch faceplate that really shows off the house. You can find anything from a sturdy plastic to 24 karat gold.
* No more screws! Most lighting control manufacturers have faceplates that mount over the screws. Trust me. It looks 100 percent better.
* Eliminate wall clutter. For very large rooms it’s not uncommon to see banks of toggle or dimmer switches 7 and 8 units wide. With a lighting control system you could control all those loads – and thousands more – from a keypad the size of a single toggle switch.
* LED indicates load status. The LED next to each button lights up to show if it is active or not. But then that idea is so intuitive no one really needs to say it.
The cool thing is that the very options that make these buttons beautiful are the same things that make them functional and intuitive.
NEVER GO BACK
AirVac Pers 2400a
The truth is that once a homeowner gets a taste of how much lighting control simplifies their life, they don’t want to go back to the old way. One family I know had a sophisticated lighting control system in their home before moving up to a resort town a few miles from the city center. This new house had standard toggle switches. They had grown so accustomed to having control over all their lights at the touch of a button that they had a retrofit system installed.
Another older couple in the western United States retired and moved from a rather modest home into a 14,000 square foot estate. Rather than walking around the house at the end of the day to turn off the lights, they have a “Master Off” button that turns all the house lights off. You will not find that kind of functionality in a single toggle switch. And because the button is engraved, it’s not hard at all for them to know which button to press at the end of the day.
HOME AUTOMATION OPTIONS
I am frequently asked what kind of work I am in. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand “lighting control.” But once I talk about having control over any light in the house from anywhere in the house and integrating it with my heating and cooling and A/V, I invariably hear something like, “That is so cool!”
At this point they begin to wonder how difficult it is to manipulate. So I talk about how simple these keypads are to use – how each button is engraved and that the stations are mounted in the places where you would normally find toggle switches. They are easy to reach, easy to read and all you do is touch a button. By then it’s not long before they are dreaming of their own house with that kind of control.
I also like “before” and “after” pictures. Show someone a home with a bank of seven or eight toggle switches and then one with a mounted 9-button keypad and the eye naturally gravitates to the keypad. They just look sharp!
As I said, technology can be scary at times. And I’m not just talking about the technical stuff! Luckily, a home’s technology doesn’t need to be intimidating or ugly. The fact is that there are enough options out there to get just about anything you want. So, no matter what kind of home controls you end up going with, make sure they give you the kind of functionality, ease of use and aesthetics you’re looking for.
Greg Giauque, corporate trainer, for LiteTouch, Inc. comes to the home automation industry from a background in Marketing and Communications with experience in the performing arts. He was also the only one in his house growing up who knew how to work the VCR.
LiteTouch, Inc. was the pioneer of the residential lighting control industry over 20 years ago. LiteTouch Systems are now installed in thousands of luxury homes throughout the world. www.litetouch.com