A long, long time ago — in internet years, anyway — usability pioneer Jakob Nielsen codified ten general principles for interface design. Nielsen had the then-new Web in mind, but some 20-plus years later these principles continue to be relevant.

My favorite of Nielsen’s principles has always been this:

User control and freedom
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo (emphasis mine).

I’ve been thinking a lot about these principles, because I recently replaced the nine-year old WiFi router in my house. At the same time I changed the network name and password to make access to the router more secure. If I had done this a few years ago, I’d have told my family what the new network name and passwords were, they’d have connected their smart phones (because smart phone makers long ago figured out how to support undo and redo), and all would have been well.

But now I’ve got a bunch of smart home devices — thermostats, security cameras, air quality monitors, smart lights, and more — and getting all of them to play nice with the new WiFi network has proven to be, well, adventurous. In this first of a series of blog posts, I’ll highlight the easiest, least frictional experience I had with one device that sets a high bar for the others, user-experience wise. That device is the Logitech POP Home Switch.

First, though, an acknowledgement: not all smart devices are the same. They do different things and require different levels of security regarding changes made to them. The steps I need to take reconfiguring my front porch security camera should be different than what I need to do to the POP Switch. Yet the reason I’m highlighting the POP Switch experience is because it is well-done and elegant, and security and elegance are not mutually exclusive. More “complicated” smart devices can learn lessons from it.

The POP Switch Experience

Logitech’s POP Switch comprises two parts — a bridge, which plugs directly into a wall outlet, and a switch, a 2.5” square rubberized controller that can work with things such as smart lights. Pressing the switch in various ways allows you to change lighting scenes (for example) without getting out your smart phone and using an app. Truth be told, it’s a sweet product.

But what makes it especially nice is the way it behaved when I fired up my new router with new credentials. The bridge immediately started blinking (because it was now offline), and finding where to go in the POP app to get the bridge back on line was a snap. And if a good interface captures 1) the task you’re performing, 2) instructions on how to accomplish the task, and 3) the status of what’s going on, the POP app hits it out of the park. Here are the sufficiently brief steps I had to take to get my POP Switch onto a new network, as experienced through the app:

It probably does without saying that my experience with other smart home devices in my house didn’t go as smoothly.

Why Is This Important?

Good design is always important. But it’s desperately needed in the still-new world of smart home devices. As the department within the National Association of REALTORS® that is most focused on smart home technology, CRT Labs has a responsibility to help shape the nascent world of smart home tech, both for homebuyers and for the REALTORS® they hire. IBM’s Security Intelligence blog recently pointed out in a thoughtful piece that many design decisions are made for the first owner of something, and that the needs of subsequent owners are often neglected.

“The needs of subsequent owners” sound a lot like the needs of a homebuyer, don’t they?

Over the coming months I’ll continue to document my experiences with smart home devices and changing configurations, documenting as best as I can which ones are painful and which ones are relatively painless. More and more smart devices will be included in real estate transactions, and the smart home industry has a lot riding on “support redo and undo.”