About - Hone Design Project

Overview: Hone - The Smart Home Show Home and Assistant


Sales of Smart Home technologies in the UK, such as thermostats, web-connected cameras and appliances are reported to have slowed (Titcomb, 2016). In part due to the higher prices of these systems as compared to their conventional counterparts. However, ongoing developments such as the falling price of components and the release of next generation smart technologies (e.g. Thread Group certification) suggest that the market will eventually grow (Klubnikin, 2016; Asmus, 2017). To address the sales plateau, and prepare future users it is necessary to communicate the value of Smart Home technologies by stressing; accumulative utility expenditure reductions; environmentally conscious decision-making; timesaving, and convenience. The customer experience is a central consideration. Unlike conventional home appliances, where there might be a physical showroom, there is not a way to road-test smart home technologies in a domestic setting, even be it a simulated one. These devices need to be configured and maintained to make sure that they are secure and information about setup/maintenance needs to be provided in a clear accessible way.


Hone is a mobile application (app), which allows the user to create a simplified model of their home, and try out smart home products to understand the benefits of a system, in relation to initial expenditure and energy usage. This demonstration aspect of the app will start with two smart home design patterns: a smart thermostat with accessories, and a smart security camera system. Additional smart home system design patterns may be added in iterative updates based on user requests. Hone is essentially a virtual catalogue for learning about, test-driving, and then finally onboarding the physical use of smart home devices.


  • Hone offers a trustworthy and approachable introduction to smart home technologies.
  • Hone allows users to build a virtual model of their smart home technologies, helping users to manage their devices.
  • Hone connects potential customers with vendors and approved installers, to help ensure a quality service, from enquiry to installation.
  • Hone helps to de-stress smart home technologies, by providing tips for device configuration, a health checkup (in-app purchase) and a subscription-based coaching service to provide advice on security and maintenance.
  • UK-specific information related to utilities and housing is provided. This is particularly important as 20% of the UK housing stock pre-dates 1919 and retrofitting may be required for certain types of appliance (Dept. for Communities and Local Government, 2016, p. 5).


This app is not limited to smart home enthusiasts. It is also for those who would like to start dipping their toes in the water, but don’t know where to start swimming. Specifically, Hone is aimed at home owners in their 30s, 40s and 50s (Brighton & Hove City Council, 2016a, p. 216, 4.211). Brighton and Hove municipality represents an area with relatively high disposable income (Office for National Statistics, 2016), inner city housing stock pre-dating 1919 and inter-war period (“43.4%”, Brighton & Hove City Council, 2016a, p.168) and local incentives to promote energy efficiency (Brighton & Hove City Council, 2016b, p. 3); for these reasons it can be used as an effective pilot area.

About Fiona MacNeill

Fiona MacNeill has 8 years experience working in the eLearning field and prior to that several years working in digital media and performance art. MacNeill has lived both in the UK and the United States and values the breadth of experience that she gained from working in Higher Education, and the arts, on both sides of the Atlantic. As part of her day job as a Learning Technologies Adviser at the University of Brighton, she works to create meaningful efficiencies for end users by consulting on strategies for the integration of technology into learning and teaching. Considering how users learn interfaces is central to her ethos and this is something that influences her design approach leading to interests such as onboarding, accessibility and usable security (Sasse, 2015). The usable security specialism resulted in a research project analysing five Internet of Things (IoT) systems and their user interfaces as a means to assess possible security weaknesses and to consider the best means of designing trustworthy interfaces. After the project some of the core recommendations were refined as a blog post (MacNeill, 2016). The IDM22 module offers an opportunity for the ideas and recommendations from the prior project to be put into practice as part of a virtual sales and onboarding tool entitled, Hone. Also as a final tidbit, MacNeill worked in sustainable energy for a time prior to moving to the United States and as a consequence the use of technology to manage fuel consumption has been and ongoing interest.

Specific learning goals:

  • To learn more about prototyping.
    I am looking forward to exploring the merits of low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes as I have only touched on this in prior modules.
  • User research.
    As I am getting close to my final project I am eager to get some more experience with user testing.
  • Challenging myself by design.
    Although I have visual arts training I have not generally considered myself a designer as a lot of my professional work is utilitarian in nature or based on front-end development of existing web application packages. It is both exciting and slightly daunting to design quite an ambitious interface from scratch. As research is my comfort zone I will need to push myself to keep creating throughout the process.
  • Learn more about specific prototyping packages.
    I have been trying out a few packages after having used LucidChart, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Fireworks for prototyping during IMD21 (it was a while back). Specially I have looked at Marvel, InVision and Adobe Captivate. Adobe Captivate is most relevant to my day job, but it may not produce the best prototypes for this project. I will need to consider the merits of each and use this project as an excuse to learn.


Asmus, G. (2017, February 9). Thread group takes leap forward with availability of first certified software stacks from ARM, NXP, OpenThread and Silicon Labs; launches product certification program [Press release]. Retrieved from http://threadgroup.org/news-events/press-releases/ID/145/Thread-Group-Takes-Leap-Forward-with-Availability-of-First-Certified-Software-Stacks-from-ARM-NXP-OpenThread-and-Silicon-Labs-Launches-Product-Certification-Program

Brighton & Hove City Council. (2016a). Brighton & Hove city plan part one. Retrieved from http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/sites/brighton-hove.gov.uk/files/FINAL%20version%20cityplan%20March%202016compreswith%20forward_0.pdf

Brighton & Hove City Council. (2016b). Sustainability appraisal/strategic environmental assessment post adoption statement, March 2016. Retrieved from http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/sites/brighton-hove.gov.uk/files/FINAL%20SEA%20SA%20post%20adoption%20statement%2021.03.16.pdf

Department for Communities and Local Government. (2016). English housing survey. Housing stock report, 2014-15. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/539600/Housing_Stock_report.pdf

Klubnikin, A. (2016, October 21). Internet of Things: How much does it cost to build IoT solution? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://r-stylelab.com/company/blog/it-trends/internet-of-things-how-much-does-it-cost-to-build-iot-solution

MacNeill, F. (2016, June 14). [Talk] Factors of trust in IoT app interfaces redux [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/fjm15/2016/06/14/trust-in-iot-app-interfaces-redux/

Office for National Statistics. (2016). Regional gross disposable household income (GDHI): 1997 to 2014. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/regionalaccounts/grossdisposablehouseholdincome/bulletins/regionalgrossdisposablehouseholdincomegdhi/2014

Sasse, A. (2015). Scaring and bullying people into security won’t work. IEEE Security & Privacy 13(3), 80-83. doi:10.1109/MSP.2015.65

Titcomb, J. (2016, August 27). Internet of things struggles as use of smart home gadgets flatlines. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/08/27/internet-of-things-struggles-as-use-of-smart-home-gadgets-flatli/

Fiona MacNeill
Fiona MacNeill
Learning Consultant &
UX Researcher

Passionate about creating inclusive and accessible experiences, tools, and services for learning and doing.