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Finding Comfort in Thermostat Design

When will all hotels replace their thermostats with the Nest?

I’m currently traveling in the Bay Area and staying at a hotel. On the first night here, it was cold so I tried to turn up the heat. I pressed the “up” button and the temperature on the display increased. After a few minutes, the room didn’t seem to be heating up though so I tried the other buttons. There’s an icon on the screen – I switched it from frost to sun, hoping that would do the trick (it didn’t).

The on-call technician came and explained that I should’ve used the auto mode, which is represented by a square icon with little arrows (like a poorly designed “refresh” icon). Aren’t poorly executed icons frustrating?

Left: What I had to deal with. Right: Nest.

Confusing icons aside, the bigger problem here was a lack of feedback; that most basic design principle that we’re all familiar with but often neglect. As a user, we look for feedback to answer the simple question of “did it work?” In this case, I wanted to know if what I did with the thermostat worked. I was looking for a “got it – I will now give you some heat” kind of confirmation. For example, the thermostat could’ve turned red, or displayed the word “heat”, or sang me a tune – anything.

More importantly, beyond the thermostat interface, I wanted some kind of physical feedback to tell me that the room was heating up. In a car, this feedback is literally in your face: you turn up the heat, and can feel the warm air coming out of the vent. That can be harder in a room where the vent could be out of reach. Personally, the feedback I’m used to is the clinking, mechanical sound of the heating system in a house or building. However, that audible feedback seems to be disappearing with better technology. I don’t know the mechanics of it, but it would be nice for the thermostat to receive information from the overall heating/air conditioning system and tell me what’s going on.

Disclaimer: I don’t own a Nest, and I cannot speak for its usability. I was thinking about my little problem with this hotel’s thermostat and thought of the gorgeous new thermostat. From everything I can gather from their site, it looks to be an amazing product, and I love its dial input.

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This was posted in Design.