How Focusing on User Experience Leads to Better and Healthier Smart Buildings

One of the main reasons we find working as Smart building Master Systems Integrators so rewarding is the positive impact our efforts have on the people who live and work in these spaces.

We believe that the key to getting the most out of our projects in terms of human benefit lies in understanding exactly how people are going to use the buildings – whether they’re a resident, employee, or visitor.

What is building UX?

Building User Experience (or UX for short) describes how people interact with buildings and the technology contained within them as tools that help them live, learn, and work. This system-driven (as opposed to silo or unit-driven) approach brings some very unique challenges due to the number of service disciplines involved, but the potential rewards for all can be massive and highly sustainable.
Vanti Building User Experience.

Traditionally, building services existed as islands. Construction companies and their mechanical and electrical (M&E) consultants would specify and instruct isolated systems to be installed into buildings with no connectivity between them because it was easier than designing and integrating complex systems that would potentially provide a better user experience. However, as Master Systems Integrators, we strive to educate all stakeholders so they understand that they will gain more by enabling interaction between systems.

Thinking in this way allows the development of truly Smart buildings that contribute positively to the users’ experience, rather than simply acting as shells that we live and work in. In turn, this has led to the creation of building standards such as WELL, administered by the International WELL Building Institute.

The WELL Building Standard has been designed to recognise and reward buildings that actively improve factors like user nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance, by setting performance requirements in seven areas relevant to occupant health in the built environment – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. At Vanti, this has given us a strong vision: we are now striving to achieve Gold WELL Certification in every project where we act as Master Systems Integrator.

Tech for a purpose, not for the sake of it

One of the core principals of building UX is the notion that technology should be used to make spaces better rather than simply being deployed to save energy or money.

As the price of energy continues to rise, we’re always trying to conserve it yet we currently experience massive inefficiencies in building systems that are completely unaware of each other. Moving through any city, you will see entire buildings lit up with no one inside that are probably being heated or cooled at the same time too, consuming significant amounts of completely wasted energy (and money).

An access control system knows when there isn’t anyone in the building – this can be verified by installing simple (and cheap) motion sensors throughout the building. In an integrated world, as the last person goes home for the day, the building enters standby mode, consuming significantly less power; it then only powers up again once motion is detected or someone swipes into the building. Even then, power is supplied only to the area in which it’s required rather than reconstructing Blackpool Illuminations!

There are numerous other examples of this wastage and inefficiency within buildings; however, in our experience, just attempting to conserve energy often leads to frustration for the people who use the building. Everyone has been sat in a room or even a toilet where if you’re not doing star jumps every 30 seconds, you’re sat in the dark.

This is where people’s experience is critical – to create good UX and healthier spaces, a fully integrated building has to be designed and executed in a joined up and cohesive way. Smart & Intelligent buildings are currently viewed by some as boxes stuffed full of technology and the latest gadgets. The approach we must take is to work collaboratively with the people who use the building to define the problems we’re trying to solve, rather than starting with system specifications. Once the experience is defined, we can use fully integrated technology to effectively deliver, manage and optimise it over time.

No one buys a new mobile phone and looks for the manual to tell them how to use it. Smart buildings and spaces should be no different; technology installed into buildings should be there to support people in what they are doing and improve their lives, health, and wellbeing wherever possible, not get in their way.

Many thanks to Vanti for providing this insightful post. Vanti will be joining us at our Symposium on the 12th April 2018. For further details, please view the agenda here, or register to attend.