Background

I am a huge fan of Google’s smart assistants. They are not perfect, but after running Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home for a while, I’ve had better time with Home – even if speaking ‘Hey Google’ instead of ‘Alexa’ feels still dumb.

So I added a Google Home Hub and Google Home Mini to a previously non-automated rooms to better control Phillips Hue lights. And guess what, hit some snafus on the UI end of things. Since the lapses in UI design are elementary, I figured I’d take a few minutes to illustrate a few improvements.

Scoping

Specific issues I ran into were simple:

  • How do you add a new room to the Home app?

  • How do you sync your Philips Hue lights so that the app can see them all?

Now, with the risk of sounding presumptuous, these features should just work.

Google Home App

Let’s have a look at the default view of the Home app first.

At first glance, this looks promising. There is a nice clear list of rooms, quick actions and a button to add stuff. There’s even a clear settings button too.

This can’t be so hard, can it now?┬áSo let’s start exploring stuff.

So, you can’t add rooms. This is a little weird. You also don’t seem to have any option for scanning new devices.

Okay, what about home settings then?

Okay, you a list of rooms again, but nothing that would let you add or remove them.

At this point, I rather keep this short – the way to add new rooms is to assign devices to new rooms. That is the time this apps lets you to change room configurations. And it asks you to remove rooms when they are empty, e.g. you have moved all the devices to somewhere else.

The situation is even worse for syncing devices. This needs to be done by the voice assistant. While this is a fantastic feature to be supported, the fact it is the only way to do so is illogical, given how extensive the rest of the app is. There is no clear indication that part of the functionality is in a hidden voice UI.

Now, this is just bad UI design. If you have a list of elements that can be added, removed or edited, it would be expected that those controls are in immediate vicinity of where they are shown. There is no way around this, this part of the app is like a school project.

Quick Improvements

I don’t have time or patience to do a full review of this app, or to test the outcomes. Given that we have an existing, shipping app that is used in the wild, these problems can be addressed even in non-optimal manner.

In fact, you would do fine just adjusting one, single screen. This is because of the prominence of Add -button on the home page. All that would likely be enough is to make two changes to it.

This proposal simply adds two items to the list of actions one can take from the home screen “+”/Add button; one for syncing devices, one for adding a new room.

Discussion

This solution is not perfect. It would be good to create a standard flow and screens for adding rooms that could be invoked from multiple places in the UI, as it appears that the list of rooms is present in multiple places as well. These all should include an affordance for editing the list.

This also does not take into account for editing rooms, or deleting them. I gave no deeper consideration to copy text nor the exact order of elements in the list.

Perhaps more importantly, I did not go through the usage flows after the change and thus it is likely that some considerations would need to be given to these. I also omitted middle stages, like what happens while scanning for new devices. However, these modifications are most likely trivial and definitely solvable.

Nonetheless, this proposal should improve the usability of the app considerably.