I recently started re-watching The X-Files, particularly the “mytharc” episodes. You know, the conspiracy-crazed ones with the aliens hell-bent on colonizing Earth. And it was right at the end of a particularly long binge session – a few minutes into the first season finale – that I realized showrunner Chris Carter and his creative team all would have made excellent user experience designers.

It’s in that episode (“The Erlenleyer Flask”) that we’re introduced to one of the first alien/human hybrids. And not to be gruesome, but the important thing for this discussion is that this hybrid gets shot while fleeing the police. He bleeds, and he bleeds green:

Up until this happens, we don’t know anything about the person trying to get away from the cops. But when the camera pans down to his spilled green blood, we know exactly what he is.

He’s an alien.

The X-Files was a creative tour-de-force, inventing and re-inventing ways to tell stories about the stuff of our wildest science fiction dreams. But some stories are best left unchanged. Some things don’t need to be reinvented. And alien blood needs to be green.

What’s This Got to Do With User Experience?

Companies are tripping over each other trying to bring the latest and greatest smart thermostat or lock or smoke detector to market (and into your home), and to a great extent their success or failure will depend on the user experience their engineers and designers have brought to the product. Because smart devices require their users to learn new (and sometimes fairly complex) things, the best experiences will be the ones that don’t force users to learn too much or to unlearn the helpful, leading truths they already know.

So why do the LED status lights on the front of one smart hub we have in the CRT Labs glow green when everything is OK, and the other glow blue?

Why does one hub blink blue when there’s a connection problem, and why does the other hub blink purple?

And what could magenta, pink, and white possibly mean?

Smart hubs have an important job: they need to clearly communicate the state of a complex smart home network. But indicating the status of a complex system need not be complex itself, and from what I’ve seen, we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Designers and engineers need to honor what the user brings to the experience, keep the cognitive load low, and pump their smart devices full of some alien blood.

We’ll know what it means.