Hello EO

An artist at heart, I was drawn to Electric Objects, a NYC-based startup creating a connected art display for your home. In the fall of 2016, I joined EO as their first dedicated product designer.

EO sells a display and a subscription service: Art Club serves subscribers artwork from emerging artists and museums in formats like stills, gifs, video— even generative web art. As we prepared for the upcoming holiday season in anticipation of our third generation display, we also iterated on our software for a completely reconsidered art experience.

Where we were

Customers control their display through our Android app or web app, but 85% of them use iOS. Originally designed as a social network, customers were limited to uploading images and following other users. Over time, we introduced new features like Art Club and Playlists, a way to queue up artwork for your display.

App aptitude

Our app broke down into 5 experiences—Art Club: browse art, genres, artists, and more; Upload: import your own images, take a photo, add them to the community, or keep them private; Community: browse through uploads by popular or newly added; My Profile: access your uploads, favorites, and display history as well as display settings. The app performed its job; it looked and felt like a social app.

Know thy customer

We dove into our customer feedback— compiled, organized, and presented findings to the rest of the team. Users found the app difficult to use. The icons confused them. They said our UI was “inconvenient.” Users had difficulty controlling their display; they couldn’t find display controls, like brightness, sleep, and wake. Others wanted to know what art was playing and wanted to learn more about it. Some just wanted to upload images, like family photos, and didn’t want their photos to be broadcast to social network. They clamored for search and new ways to discover art. They wanted a lot. And we needed to deliver.

1

Act like a remote

Problem: The app was really a remote! A remote should act like a remote. And a premium piece of hardware deserves a premium piece of software. Controls like brightness, sleeping, waking, and scheduling had been hidden under the My Profile tab, which functioned as a social profile rather than a place to control your display. Solution: We needed to promote controls to the front seat.

2

Give me status

Problem: Because EO is an ambient display, it doesn’t portray connection status. All status needed to be communicated in the app. Is my display connected? Is there a problem? We had failed at providing a reflection of the display and it’s status. Solution: We needed to give the user direct access to this information.

3

Tell me what’s up

Problem: A friend visits your home and asks about the art on display. Open the app and you’re lost. What’s the title? Who’s the artist? Solution: We needed a way to present your current artwork, allowing you to learn about the art.

4

Set it and forget it

Problem: Some customers came from a holiday gift guide, under the impression that our display only played classic art. Users wanted a way to play specific genres or moods. Solution: We needed to create a guided art experience for our users.

5

Clean up our act

Problem: Our visual branding is strong, so strong that it started to weigh the art down. Solution: We needed a new design language that respected the art and elevated it, like a white space gallery. One that made the app feel easier to use, and fun.

Designing design

Our app redesign team consisted of three team members: Luke led the way, directing the design process, Rob tackled iOS development, and I hammered through research, user experience design, interaction design, visual design, and prototyping. We worked in 5-day sprints, setting design goals on Mondays and presenting designs on Fridays. Our workflow relied upon sketching, prototyping, and user testing. We employed a range of tools like whiteboards, notebooks, Illustrator, Sketch, and Flinto. But the star of the show was Framer which let us easily experiment with realistic designs, share prototypes with the rest of the team, and test with our users.

A new way to display

Redesigning EO’s remote was an exercise in hierarchy. Everything defers to Home, a view responsible for containing Now Playing and Display Controls. Home acts as a launcher for three separate experiences: Browse, Upload, and Me.

Home is where the art is

Now Playing is the centerpiece of Home: a new feature that renders a reflection of your display status and current artwork. Tapping on the display reveals more information about the art: the title, the artist, the description—and controls: next and previous, or like and dislike. Scrolling exposes the display’s queue and the display’s history.

A display on display

Remote, controlled.

Home provides quick and easy access to controls like display settings, brightness, sleep and wake, as well as the ability to switch between multiple displays— actions once buried behind multiple taps in My Profile

Brightness. Display Selector. Settings. All at your fingertips.

Delivering on discovery

One of the biggest additions to Browse is the Channel feature, allowing you to play a radio station of shuffled artworks. You can like or dislike artwork to improve recommendations. Search finally made it’s way into the Browse experience, allowing you to pinpoint your favorite art. We opened the collection layout to expose rich visuals that once hid behind banners.

Browse, Channels, and Search. Oh my.

All your art in one place

Me functions as a folder for all of your stuff: your uploads, your likes, your playlists, your history. Before, this tab acted like a social profile, but now helps you quickly access your art.

It's all about Me

From art to artwork

The artwork detail page sits at the center of the app’s flow; it’s the atomic unit of the app. We cleaned up the visual design and retained familiar actions like zoom, favorite, and add to playlist. We redesigned the display action to make the experience of displaying artwork feel more confident and delightful.

Artwork detail page showing off favorite, display, and add to playlist actions.

Up up and away

Uploading to your display is nothing new, but we found room for improvement. We sped up the upload experience by creating low resolution assets to blur into the display as the high resolution versions fade in, much like how Instagram loads images over slower connections.

Subscribe and delight

How much of an experience do non-subscribers get? Can you display the art for a limited amount of time? What about a watermark? We decided to give non-subscribers a taste, but once they hit the display button, we prompt them to start their trial. Without Art Club, you still get access to community and uploads, but really miss out on all the fun.

Users can look at the art, but can't touch it.

First class first impressions

Onboarding will make or break your product. At EO, designing our onboarding flow with care was essential because without it, the you can’t use your display. Onboarding challenged design because of tight technical constraints—but we managed to find harmony in the initial, fragile relationship between the phone and the display.

We introduced a tour at the beginning of the flow, explaining the EO product. Many non-EO customers downloaded the app without context. The guests could get a taste of the artwork in Browse without having to set up a device.

We added a progress bar and step indicator, helping you understand where you are in the onboarding process. We also included a reveal password button to help you from entering the wrong WiFi password— the most frequent problem during onboarding.

We replaced a 6 digit pairing code with a scannable QR code, preventing you from punching in the wrong digits.

Many of our customers didn’t know about our sleep and wake scheduling feature, so we helped them set their clocks.

Oh, (trouble) shoot

Designing for successful pairing was easy; designing for unsuccessful pairing was a whole other beast. The display uses Bluetooth and WiFi to connect to your phone and router. During the connecting phase, things can go very wrong very quickly. Maybe you typed in the wrong SSID. Maybe your display is too far away from the router. Maybe the connection times out. Every case needed to be covered and lend a hand to the customer to walk them through the problem and the solution.

A troubleshooting mode to guide the user through errors in onboarding

During the connecting step, when the display attempts to connect to the WiFi network, the phone can’t see the connection progress. It’s clueless. All we can tell you is that the display is trying to connect, until it times out. However, we can inform you of the error on the display. From this challenge arose a solution: a troubleshooting mode to walk you through error diagnosis. If there is an error, you can match the respective error on the display to their phone. We give you an explanation and next steps to solve the problem. At the end of every path is the option to contact support. There’s never a dead end, so we never leave you hanging.

Navigating navigation

Playing with established patterns can be taboo. There lies a tension between usability and creativity. Although it bucks conventions, user testing described our nav as “fun” and “delightful,” even “elegant,” with little learning effort required. Going back to the app’s hierarchy, our new navigation sets Home, at the absolute top. Instead of 4 equally weighted tabs, we designed one predominant platform for 3 secondary experiences. And, Home is always a swipe away.

In retrospect, I realized that despite its success in user testing, and our need for hierarchy, we were solving a problem that didn’t really exist. The navigation was cool. But the core problem was the accessibility of display controls and the need of a Now Playing feature, not the navigation. Users are committed to using the app once they purchase an EO, but forcing them to use something entirely new is a little rough. That said, there is always room for innovation. Many apps are exploring unique navigation patterns and EO is a unique product in itself.

Fun, but risky. Familiar, yet boring. Recognizable and, in the end, unfriendly.

So it goes

Startups are hard. On June 27th, EO shut down. The app never made it into the hands of our customers, but I'm proud of the work we did and grateful for the opportunity. I'd like to thank the EO team for all of their support. Thanks Dylan and Chris for the video and hosting tips. And thank you Ariel, Mark, Allan, Hannah, Felix, Rob, Jake, and Luke for all the feedback.

Eli Rousso designs products in New York City. Available for fulltime, freelance, and omakase.

eli.rousso@gmail.com