Being Your User

Nicholas Hill - Chief Executive Officer

By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

19th December 2018

Home » Smart Sensors

One of the important steps in the Design Council’s recommendations for good design is called “Being Your Users” and is a “Method to put yourself into the position of your user.” Its purpose is “building an understanding of and empathy with the users of your product …” Approaching product design from this perspective is critical to ensuring that the features incorporated are actually beneficial to the user – as opposed to features that are of benefit to the manufacturer, for example, or “because we can” features that have no obvious benefit at all.

It’s clear that domestic appliances are becoming more sophisticated, a trend which is facilitated by the availability of low-cost sensors and processing power. This has some clear benefits, such as the availability of more energy- or water-efficient wash cycles for example. And if designers stay focused on providing something of value to the end user this is a trend to be welcomed.

In practice, I see examples of what looks rather like engineers wondering what else they can do with all this additional sensor data, rather than being driven by user need. One example is the growing size of the error codes table in the back of most appliance manuals. These may occasionally add value, but for the most part, I see them as reasons why the product you paid good money for is refusing to do the job it is supposed to.

Here’s an example: the “smart” washing machine that I own doesn’t like low water pressure. It has a number of error codes associated with this. What does it do if the mains pressure drops temporarily – e.g. if simultaneously a toilet is flushed and the kitchen tap is running? It stops dead, displays the error code and refuses to do anything else until you power off the machine at the wall socket, forcing you to start the wash cycle again from scratch. This gets even more annoying if you’d set the timer and come back to a half-washed load. In the days before “smart” appliances, a temporary pressure drop would have either simply caused the water to fill more slowly, or else the machine would pause until pressure returned.

In what way does this behaviour benefit the user? Clearly, it doesn’t, and a few moments thought from a design team that was focussed on user needs, “being your user”, would have resulted in a different requirement specification being handed to the engineering team. It’s a good example of what happens when you start implementing a solution without properly considering the problem you are trying to solve.

My “intelligent” dishwasher has a different but equally maddening feature: it doesn’t like soft water. Its designers have clearly put water saving above all else, and the machine relies on either hard water or very dirty plates to counteract the natural foaming of the detergent tablets. With soft water, if you try washing lightly soiled dishes on a quick wash cycle (as you might expect appropriate), the machine is unable to rinse off the detergent. About 20 minutes into the cycle it skips to the end and gives up, leaving you with foamy, unrinsed plates.

I say unable, when the machine is actually unwilling, as all that is required is the application of sufficient water to rinse off the detergent – which is what I, as a user, then have to do manually. Who is working for whom here? Once again the user’s needs have not been at the top of the designer’s agenda when the requirement specification was passed to the engineering team. A truly smart device would finish the job properly, using as much water as was needed, and possibly suggest using less detergent next time.

Unless designers get a better grip, keeping the end user experience on the agenda, I fear examples of this type of machine behaviour will proliferate. We will see our devices, appliances and perhaps vehicles develop an increasingly long list of reasons why they can’t (won’t) perform the function you bought them for – because they’re having a bad hair day today, which becomes your problem to solve.

All to a refrain of “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

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One of the important steps in the Design Council’s recommendations for good design is called “Being Your Users” and is a “Method to put yourself into the position of your user.” Its purpose is “building an understanding of and empathy with the users of your product …” Approaching product design from this perspective is critical to ensuring that the features incorporated are actually beneficial to the user – as opposed to features that are of benefit to the manufacturer, for example, or “because we can” features that have no obvious benefit at all.

It’s clear that domestic appliances are becoming more sophisticated, a trend which is facilitated by the availability of low-cost sensors and processing power. This has some clear benefits, such as the availability of more energy- or water-efficient wash cycles for example. And if designers stay focused on providing something of value to the end user this is a trend to be welcomed.

In practice, I see examples of what looks rather like engineers wondering what else they can do with all this additional sensor data, rather than being driven by user need. One example is the growing size of the error codes table in the back of most appliance manuals. These may occasionally add value, but for the most part, I see them as reasons why the product you paid good money for is refusing to do the job it is supposed to.

Here’s an example: the “smart” washing machine that I own doesn’t like low water pressure. It has a number of error codes associated with this. What does it do if the mains pressure drops temporarily – e.g. if simultaneously a toilet is flushed and the kitchen tap is running? It stops dead, displays the error code and refuses to do anything else until you power off the machine at the wall socket, forcing you to start the wash cycle again from scratch. This gets even more annoying if you’d set the timer and come back to a half-washed load. In the days before “smart” appliances, a temporary pressure drop would have either simply caused the water to fill more slowly, or else the machine would pause until pressure returned.

In what way does this behaviour benefit the user? Clearly, it doesn’t, and a few moments thought from a design team that was focussed on user needs, “being your user”, would have resulted in a different requirement specification being handed to the engineering team. It’s a good example of what happens when you start implementing a solution without properly considering the problem you are trying to solve.

My “intelligent” dishwasher has a different but equally maddening feature: it doesn’t like soft water. Its designers have clearly put water saving above all else, and the machine relies on either hard water or very dirty plates to counteract the natural foaming of the detergent tablets. With soft water, if you try washing lightly soiled dishes on a quick wash cycle (as you might expect appropriate), the machine is unable to rinse off the detergent. About 20 minutes into the cycle it skips to the end and gives up, leaving you with foamy, unrinsed plates.

I say unable, when the machine is actually unwilling, as all that is required is the application of sufficient water to rinse off the detergent – which is what I, as a user, then have to do manually. Who is working for whom here? Once again the user’s needs have not been at the top of the designer’s agenda when the requirement specification was passed to the engineering team. A truly smart device would finish the job properly, using as much water as was needed, and possibly suggest using less detergent next time.

Unless designers get a better grip, keeping the end user experience on the agenda, I fear examples of this type of machine behaviour will proliferate. We will see our devices, appliances and perhaps vehicles develop an increasingly long list of reasons why they can’t (won’t) perform the function you bought them for – because they’re having a bad hair day today, which becomes your problem to solve.

All to a refrain of “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

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Further Reading

Safe Cities: Combining Tech with Community Initiatives

Safe Cities: Combining Tech with Community Initiatives

Nicholas Koiza - Head of Business Development, Security

By: Nick Koiza
Head of Business, Security

18th April 2018

Home » Smart Sensors

With the growth of cities around the globe and the corresponding rise in life-threatening crime, Governments have an increased responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizens, organisations and infrastructure. This also places greater emphasis on IoT eco-systems required to support civilisation, particularly as cities become more connected.

In order to ensure your City is a Safe City, there are key elements to consider:

Integrated system – a shared infrastructure with common sensors connected by a shared network – evolved from a disparate set of sensors with no interoperability.

Multi-Agency collaboration – Moving beyond shared infrastructure to sharing intelligence, operational procedures and planning. For example, in the event of a disaster how does communication work, who takes direction from whom.

Situational awareness – Real-time information, with high priority alerts, traffic data, sensor positions, resource locations, weather and other intelligence.

Video data & analytics – Information collated from an array of city sensors, watch-lists and other databases combined with video analytics, LPR, face recognition, behavioural analysis etc.

Automated processes – all relevant camera and other sensor information displayed on a single screen, with meaningful alerts and the generation of appropriate operational procedures to act on etc.

(source: https://www.ifsecglobal.com/safe-cities/)


In addition to the technology to support safe connected systems, communities need to be vigilant to look out for terrorism threats and the UK Counter Terrorism Police have just launched their four-week campaign to highlight what communities should do to if they suspect an attack. The public already contribute intelligence to around a third of the most serious terrorism investigations, but with educated communities, this will rise.

The threat is becoming more varied and the move towards low-tech attacks on crowded places, like those we have seen in major European cities and beyond, makes it even more important everyone remains vigilant and acts, by calling us confidentially, if they are concerned about suspicious activity.” – Mark Rowley, National Counter Terrorism Policing Lead


At Plextek we have been developing solutions to combat threats with advanced sensors and communication systems. With cities adopting great technology and enabling their habitants to alert the authorities easier than ever before, we are setting the foundations for a more secure future.

I believe the numerous IoT-based safe city solutions out there in the marketplace have enabled customers to effectively combat wide-ranging threats. For example, Plextek have developed a leading edge smart street lighting system for increasing public safety which is now widely deployed and has helped to reduce crime and improve driving conditions.

If you’d like to discuss safe cities or technology developments in the security sector, then contact me through security@plextek.com.

With the growth of cities around the globe and the corresponding rise in life-threatening crime, Governments have an increased responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizens, organisations and infrastructure. This also places greater emphasis on IoT eco-systems required to support civilisation, particularly as cities become more connected.

In order to ensure your City is a Safe City, there are key elements to consider:

Integrated system – a shared infrastructure with common sensors connected by a shared network – evolved from a disparate set of sensors with no interoperability.

Multi-Agency collaboration – Moving beyond shared infrastructure to sharing intelligence, operational procedures and planning. For example, in the event of a disaster how does communication work, who takes direction from whom.

Situational awareness – Real-time information, with high priority alerts, traffic data, sensor positions, resource locations, weather and other intelligence.

Video data & analytics – Information collated from an array of city sensors, watch-lists and other databases combined with video analytics, LPR, face recognition, behavioural analysis etc.

Automated processes – all relevant camera and other sensor information displayed on a single screen, with meaningful alerts and the generation of appropriate operational procedures to act on etc.

(source: https://www.ifsecglobal.com/safe-cities/)


In addition to the technology to support safe connected systems, communities need to be vigilant to look out for terrorism threats and the UK Counter Terrorism Police have just launched their four-week campaign to highlight what communities should do to if they suspect an attack. The public already contribute intelligence to around a third of the most serious terrorism investigations, but with educated communities, this will rise.

The threat is becoming more varied and the move towards low-tech attacks on crowded places, like those we have seen in major European cities and beyond, makes it even more important everyone remains vigilant and acts, by calling us confidentially, if they are concerned about suspicious activity.” – Mark Rowley, National Counter Terrorism Policing Lead


At Plextek we have been developing solutions to combat threats with advanced sensors and communication systems. With cities adopting great technology and enabling their habitants to alert the authorities easier than ever before, we are setting the foundations for a more secure future.

I believe the numerous IoT-based safe city solutions out there in the marketplace have enabled customers to effectively combat wide-ranging threats. For example, Plextek have developed a leading edge smart street lighting system for increasing public safety which is now widely deployed and has helped to reduce crime and improve driving conditions.

If you’d like to discuss safe cities or technology developments in the security sector, then contact me through security@plextek.com.

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Further Reading

Cambridge, UK – 9th November 2016 – Plextek are proud to announce that effective immediately, we’ll be providing our design, innovation and engineering consultancy service to a new fourth market.

Medical, Defence and Security will now be joined by SMART SENSORS. This new market will pave the way in providing new and developing technologies to the sensor systems community.

Practically every application of technology starts with sensing a physical condition of a person, a machine, a structure or a device. Whether you want to acquire pressure, temperature, strain, magnetic field, acoustic noise level or any other internal or external factor, simply sensing and transmitting the electrical equivalent of the measured condition is frequently not enough.

Our team of highly skilled engineers and consultants understand sensor data typically needs to be filtered, conditioned, calibrated, aggregated with other sensor outputs and analysed intelligently to ensure accurate results. This is how we define a Smart Sensor.

Notes to editors

Based near Cambridge, UK, electronic design and product innovation consultancy, Plextek specialises in solving complex engineering challenges for customers in a range of key markets including defence, security, medical and IoT.

In business for over 25 years, Plextek’s capabilities range from innovation and concept development to product and system design and equipment manufacture and supply. Other core areas of technology expertise include embedded solutions; sensor systems; RF systems; signal processing; and artificial intelligence and data analytics. By efficiently using a broad range of skills, Plextek delivers innovative solutions that meet the highest standards for robustness, reliability and ease of manufacture.

Trusted by organisations worldwide, Plextek’s team deliver maximum value and competitive advantage from its clients’ investments in technology.

For more information call us on 01799 533200 or email: press@plextek.com