A little over year ago I upgrade all the thermostats in my house to Nest thermostats and have been in love ever since. But I work up in Los Angeles this morning and went to check on my house in New York City to find that they had updated the app that controls the thermostats. Then some weird happened, something that had never happened before and something that really freaked me out. I had an experience with Nest that was badly designed.
I love Nest because their founders Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers brought all their experience and attention to detail designing the iPod and iPod software at Apple to Nest. So every aspect of the packaging, product design and apps were simple, elegant and extremely easy to use. This why seeing an app that was so badly designed really shook me up this morning.
The app has always been based around a simple interface with Home which would control setting for the entire house and then individual displays for each thermostat in the house. In the past you would touch one of the thermostat displays like in this case ‘Upstairs’, the thermostats would zoom up showing you the current temperature, energy usage for the past two weeks and the heating/cooling schedule for their thermostat. It was simple and you could easily access everything you needed right from this interface.
Today when I launched the app I saw an interface that looked similar to the what I was used to but noticed a menu hamburger icon in the upper right hand corner of the app and that’s where all the trouble started.
Design cues are too subtle
When I first launched the new app and touched on one of the thermostats, it zoomed in and I was completely confused. Where did all the options go? What is happening here? I knew there was no way that they took all that functionality away so I spent the next five minutes touching around trying to figure out what I was missing. Then I finally saw it. Up in the corner of the app the main menu hamburger icon had change in a REALLY subtle way. The four lines of the hamburger had changed into four lines with a small dot at the end of the line. I touched on it and finally found the functionality I was looking for.
The reality is that these types of interface design choices are just way too subtle for the average user – and even for me. When I use an app and I see that hamburger icon my expectation is that the functionality will remain the same throughout the app because that is a usability convention I have come to understand through hundreds of other apps that do that. So if you are going to break that convention then you really need to make it obvious or it will be missed. Looking at the reviews of the new app proves out this opinion because there is a HUGE amount of frustration from user who aren’t as patient as I am and just wrote off the app for having lost previous functionality.
Functionality is all buried
The other problem that I found with the app is that now all the functionality I want is buried. Actions that used to take me two touches now take me three. That is so frustrating because the app got me accustomed to a level of simplicity and I firmly believe that when you evolve an app you can never go backwards to make things more complicated or take more steps to accomplish the same user goal. It is one of those cases when you the clichéd line is true where you have to approach design as an evolution and not a revolution.
I am curious to see how Nest recovers from this mis-step because as I said before the initial reviews have been pretty dismal and consumers aren’t happy. I would hope that they would go back to the drawing bird to concept a better usability system that would allow easier access to information and use more inventive usability conventions than just cramming everything into a menu.